‘Game shows’ include radio and television quizzes and panel shows. Distinctions are made in terms of the kinds of questions asked and the people involved. Quizzes are generally seen as asking more serious questions about matters of fact, while game shows can be more frivolous. Both are likely to include ordinary members of the public being asked questions or set tasks by a presenter. Panel shows feature—and sometimes create—celebrities.
The popularity of the genre fluctuates, partly reflected in scheduling. Conventionally late-afternoon programs, they move into prime time either when the prizes are large or the risks or innuendo are substantial. The prize pool necessary for prime-time presence shifted from Coles £3000/$6000 Question (1960–72) and the cars offered in Sale of the Century (1970–2002) to the titular amount of the international format Who Wants to be a Millionaire? (1999–2010), hosted by sports celebrity and Nine Network CEO (2006–07) Eddie McGuire.
Game shows have been more important for commercial radio and television than for public broadcasting, probably because the usual aim is to win prizes. Public broadcasting shows focus more on the kudos of winning, and tend to be more serious, such as ABC’s Mastermind (1978–84) and The (New) Inventors (1970–81, 2004–10), and SBS’s Letters and Numbers (2010–12). Both commercial and public broadcasters also screen panel shows without prizes, featuring ordinary and celebrity participants (Graham Kennedy’s Blankety Blanks, 1977–78), but more commonly mixing comedians with other celebrities (Spicks and Specks 2005–11, 2014– ).
An important early radio example, Quiz Kids, started in 1942 and became a staple of Sunday evening listening. Host John Dease asked factual questions, submitted by listeners for modest cash prizes, of a rotating number of young children. It transferred with Dease to television, first to ATN7 in 1957 then, after a break, to the ABC (1964–68). The transfer of popular radio shows to television was common: Bob Dyer and his wife Dolly took Pick-a-Box from the Macquarie Network to ATN7 (1957–71). Following their televisual success, game shows disappeared from radio, although questions with prizes continued, integrated into regular programs.
The centrality of game shows can be seen from the first night of official television broadcasting, 16 September 1956. Name that Tune, based on an American original, followed the opening documentary about the medium, both presented by Bruce Gyngell. Formats were not initially licensed, although game shows have subsequently become one of the most lucrative types of franchise. Reg Grundy founded the Grundy Organisation on game shows, starting on radio in 1957 with Wheel of Fortune; he sold a television version of the show to TCN9 before developing a large stable of mainly American-derived shows and then adding Australian-generated soaps.
Overwhelmingly, like Wheel of Fortune, game shows are hosted by men, still often accompanied by decorative women (‘hostesses’), who introduce contestants, set up props and display prizes, but do not ask the questions. The Weakest Link (2001–02) reversed the hosting convention as well as the customary genial relationship between those on screen by having a minatory female questioner, Cornelia Frances, increasing the show’s characteristic humiliation of unsuccessful contestants.
Compatibility shows, where contestants choose dates (Perfect Match/Blind Date, various versions between 1967 and 2002), or couples reveal the extent of their knowledge of one another (The Marriage Game, 1966–70), enable game shows to draw questions from everyday understandings. The Price is Right (1958–2012, intermittently) used knowledge of household commodity prices, although it was best known for the catchphrase ‘Come on down’ to summon a contestant from the studio audience.
Game shows are valuable places for acquiring and displaying celebrity. Very successful contestants—like future politician Barry Jones, who started on Quiz Kids and was Pick-a-Box’s biggest winner—can gain a high profile. Short spin-off series matching champions against one another provide a staging post, though recently such variants have more often involved celebrities playing to win money for charity (Celebrity Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?).
Talent shows pitting ordinary contestants with entertainment talent against one another have been designed to bring some kind of fame to the winner since they began on radio. More recent examples, like Australia’s Got Talent (2007–14) and The Voice (2012– ), are centred more on the celebrity judges or coaches. Unlike other game show types, most of these allow viewer votes to help determine outcomes.
REFs: A. Moran and C. Keating, Historical Dictionary of Australian Radio and Television (2007) and Wheel of Fortune (2003).