Last summer, ABC capitalized on the Steve Harvey Family Feud craze by bringing Celebrity Family Feud to the public on Sunday nights. The show was an overwhelming success by taking all of the raunchy questions that only appear about once or twice every normal episode and just cram them all into a one-hour version of the Feud. But, for the summer of 2016, ABC has decided to add two new versions of old game shows into the lineup with Family Feud: The $100,000 Pyramid and Match Game. ABC seems to have hits on their hands, as the Game Show block swept the ratings for network television. Pyramid led the night with 7.97 million viewers, followed by Feud with 7.79 million and Match Game with 6.66 million viewers. So let’s take a look at the debut of our two new summer game show favorites.
With Celebrity Family Feud as its lead in, there were sure to be a lot of eyes on the $100,000 Pyramid. Because all of the ABC Sunday Game Night shows are two half hour episodes put together into one hour block, Pyramid was the tale of two episodes. The first half hour was what I feared Pyramid might be, while the second half hour was exactly what Pyramid should be.
First off, Michael Strahan did a great job as host of the $100,000 Pyramid. The best part about Dick Clark was that he seemed invested in the game itself, how people played it and trying to help contestants get prepared for the Winner’s Circle. Strahan pulled that off, of course with a little overexcitement that comes with game shows in 2016. His handling of the Winner’s Circle was reminiscent of Clark, slowly walking out of the picture right as the round is ready to get started. He also comes back to help with some of the missed answers from the round, great job hosting by Strahan for sure.
When I think of The $100,000 Pyramid, I think of the celebrities who were so good at the game: Vicki Lawrence, Billy Crystal, Betty White, Martha Smith, etc. The celebrities knew how the game worked, how to stay calm and give and receive clues to be a partner to the contestant. In the first half hour of Pyramid, we did not get that… in fact we got the exact opposite of that. Sherri Shepherd was a really good celebrity contestant to play the game, but she was more concerned about rubbing it in against opponent Anthony Anderson. Anderson on the other hand… was awful. It was painful to watch, as Anderson had NO CHILL. He never stopped guessing to let his partner get any good clues out. By the end of the episode, one contestant even snatched the clue screen away from Anderson to keep him from giving clues.
The second half-hour of the show was like watching the Pyramid in the 1980s. Rosie O’Donnell and Cathy Nijimy were two perfect celebrities for the debut of this show. In fact, I would have been perfectly fine if the first and second half hours were swapped. Show how the game is supposed to be played, then have Anthony Anderson have his, whatever it was, in the second half hour. O’Donnell and Nijimy, in the first round, led their partners to perfect 21-of-21 scores, coming down to a tie-breaker to determine who goes to the Winner’s Circle. After they both went 7-7 after the first category, Rosie said “now we know”, as in, “Game On”. When two celebrities get on the show who know how to properly play Pyramid, it’s a great thing to watch, and that’s what we got with Rosie and Nijimy.
The overall game remains the same, with the Mystery 7 returning to give contestants a chance to win an additional trip. Winner of the first Winner’s Circle gets $50,000. If they go back for a second time, they could win another $100,000 for a total of $150,000. The Pyramid stays true to the original with the actual turning boards for every category on the Pyramid, instead of switching out for television screens, which would have taken away from the recreation. The $100,000 is a perfect modern implementation of what Dick Clark gave us years ago.
At 10:00 PM, we got the new edition of Match Game, hosted by Alec Baldwin. I worried how Baldwin was going to pull off the show, as original host Gene Rayburn was such a staple of that show. However, Baldwin might be the perfect host for the reincarnation of Match Game. His performance on the show is about half-interested/half-this is a payday. But, that amount of apathy makes his hosting duties outstanding. He’s not afraid to joke at the expense of the contestants, in a way that’s funny and not too cutting. At times, it feels like Match Game is an SNL sketch in an episode hosted by Baldwin, because the jokes that come out of his mouth feel like they should be on at 11:35 on a Saturday night.
The format of the show stays true to the original which is for the best. Two civilian contestants with six celebrity panelists, trying to match in fill in the blank questions. Some questions are tough, some are gimmes, but that’s a great catch-up mechanic. The digital screen in the Super Match is pretty unnecessary and actually slows down the show for a few seconds, but I understand in 2016 that you kind of have to have it. The audience is essentially panelist #7, booing the contestants and panelists for terrible answers (mostly J.B.), which also stays true to the original.
For the panelists, we had an interesting mix: Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Rosie O’Donnell ($100,000 Pyramid panelist), Michael Ian Black (Wet Hot American Summer), Debra Messing (The Mysteries of Laura), JB Smoove (Friend of KSR) & Sutton Foster (Broadway Actress). Rosie takes on the Brett Sommers seat very well, while Michael Ian Black will be great in the Charles Nelson Reilly seat.
The one issue I took with the show was JB Smoove in the Richard Dawson spot. The bottom center is supposed to be the general of Match Game, playing the game well and being the go-to person you can count on for good answers. Smoove was not that on the first two half-hour episodes, being more concerned with either trying to get a big laugh or take the spotlight in a way that did not highlight the game itself. Maybe it’s the game show purist in me, but to the question “If a group of geese are called a gaggle, what would a group of Baldwins be called”, a panelist should never leave a card blank and call it “nothingness”, give the contestant a chance. Also, about half the show he spends looking at other people’s cards trying to come up with answers. By the end of the show he kind-of got better, but the focus of the show needs to be on Baldwin, Rosie and Michael Ian Black.
By the way, Michael, how did you feel about J.B. Smoove’s performance on the first episode of Match Game?
Overall, the $100,000 Pyramid and Match Game were true representations of their 70s/80s counterparts and will be a delight to watch for the remainder of the summer.