Sunday, November 21, 2010

I have ranked the top 68 television shows of the '00s, and will be presenting them, one-by-one, starting with 68 and working down. The rankings are more or less based on the show's popularity, it's cult status, it's critical acclaim, and my personal liking of it, with a heavy dose of arbitrariness added in. If a show was a big enough phenomena, I'll keep it on the list - but if I don't like it, I may drop it some spots. One other caveat - these are primetime shows (I apologize if I put a cable show that wasn't, I thought they were all primetime shows - the main point of this is just that no talk shows, no Colbert and Daily show that would be on otherwise).

24: Deal or No Deal

Of all the absolute crazes over a show, the craze that emerged at the beginning of the run of Deal or No Deal is possibly (probably?) the stupidest. Not so much because it's the worst show, so to speak, but because, and I honestly mean this in the least pejorative way possible, it's really stupid. Just about never before has so little happened over the course of an hour of TV programming (maybe some of those super stretched out American Idol elimination hours, but you get the point). The premise was relatively simple - there are women holding 26 suitcases, each worth an amount of money, between one cent and one million dollars. The contestant slowly eliminates cases, with the idea that if he or she went all the way, there would be one box remaining, and the contestant would walk away with that amount of money. However, to hedge his or her bets, a mysterious banker offers the contestant a deal after every few cases are eliminated, depending on the values of the cases which were eliminated - for example, if the eliminated cases had relatively low values - it's most likely the offer will be higher than if the eliminated cases had relatively high values. There's absolutely no skill whatsoever - the choice of cases is random - the only thought process is calculation the expected value of the remaining cases and comparing it to the banker's offer along with one's personal risk aversion.
Deal or No Deal truly did create one of the great villains in game show history - the banker (doesn't it just sound evil? If only it had been popular a little longer it might have picked up on the investment banker and banks in general hatred wave of the bailouts) (at least second in outright villainy to the insane Inquizitor). The banker was shrouded in mystery - a silhouette who we only knew through the offers he placed via Howie Mandel. Was he a capitalist big wig trying to make a buck off the working man with sinisterly lowall offers, or merely trying to help take away some risk so a contestant could at least bring back something to show for their efforts? Who can say - you decide.

The eponymous catch phase is mentioned by Mandel each time the contestant must choose - whether to accept the banker's offer (Deal) or not (No Deal.) This decision is replete with a button - pressed when the contestant wants to make the deal. The unsung heros - the models - Wikipedia has an insanely (yes, I think it's insane) comprehensive list of the models used along with which case they held (imagine what an opening that would be at parties: "I held 17 originally, but was moved later to 21.") There was even a model search in which viewers could vote for models who tried out in various episodes. Of course, as well, this was a total resurrection of Howie Mandel's career (making him the second big-time OCD game show host) even leading to his starring in an insane Candid Camera-style show called Howie Do It (let's all groan at once.)

I want to say it's oddly compelling, but it's really not. It almost is - I mean it has the ingredients to be the show that you shouldn't want to watch but you actually can't turn away from, but it just never quite did it.

Somehow, this was big (and internationally - it started out in the Netherlands and spread to over 20 countries - among them Tunisia, Malta and Bulgaria) - and when I explain this to people in forty years, they're going to laugh and say why was this so popular, this is ridiculous, but it was true, and we were there.

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