Hi folks, I am thinking about doing a podcast soon about game shows. Because it is something I talk about constantly, and analyze all the time.
Instead of talking, I am going to spend a bit of time talking about the game show “Deal or No Deal”.
On a basic paper - it’s all random luck in the hopes of making $1,000,000. It’s a game that could be played and finished in less than 5 minutes. And makes for really bad video game adaptations (If people like BigJon and Pacdude can make better versions for less money, that’s saying something)
CNBC’s revival of the game show is very good and picks up where the show last left off - with one twist in the form of “The Counter Offer”, where once per game the contestant can flip the script and give “The Banker” an offer to buy back their case.
If you’ve never seen Deal or No Deal. a contestant picks one of 26 cases, that case belongs to them and the contents inside as well, it could be $1,000,000 or one penny or anything in between. The contestant then opens a few cases. Much like “Guess Who” if you just randomly draw a card from the pile and knock off the board. the process of elimination reveals what your case does NOT contain.
After a few openings, a “Banker” (probably some producer) calculates an offer to “buy” the case back. And the contestant can accept it, or refuse it to open more cases to get more information about what is inside their case.
At the end, the contestant will either make a “Deal” and sell the case, or “No Deal” and take home whatever is inside.
But the show, is not about the “game”, it’s about the story.
So many game shows, “The Price is Right”, “Let’s Make a Deal”, “Wheel of Fortune” work because the format barely changes, and it’s fast. You know many people, where they are from, what they do for a living, and if they own a dog or not.
On “Deal or No Deal”, you aren’t getting a “contestant”, the producers designed the show to make the show secondary to a story. Sure, some contestants are sob stories (and to me, that’s a risky play - because if a show does that, the “payoff” of them winning anything, could blow up in their face, if they leave with nothing)
On a typical game of “Deal or No Deal”, given the set dressing, the models and atmosphere of the audience. It’s more of a thriller. Ignoring the contestants backstory for just a second. The player has 26 models who are holding cases. Cases of money. In the CNBC series, they have more personality and do offer advice and are nervous for players. But essentially, they are the keepers of these cases.
The contestant receives a case, yes they have a choice. But once that case is selected. The game begins. And I would associate it more to a crime thriller, such as a hostage negotiation scene, but instead of a person, it’s a briefcase with “$50,000” written inside it.
It’s set along a city skyline, with lots of spotlights, similar to helicopter lights. But the audience is positioned in a way that they aren’t really viewing the model,s but more the contestant and banker and Howie Mandel, this is to maximize the tension when it comes to “The Offers”
Each round, is almost an “act” played in two halves, the “breifcase opening” deduction round. (They pick 12, the model opens up 12, it’s $25. We now know they can’t win $25.)
When it’s early on, it goes fast, but when you get down to 6 cases left, and it’s one at a time. Each case means more than the last, so the tension grows. If the contestant picks a wrong case, and that case has $1,000,000. The next offer might crash and burn the contestant.
The game isn’t about the case selected at the start, but rather a choice of two cases at the end. The one you selected at start, and the one left over from picking every other case.
The tension here is a drama of making sure contestants don’t choose incorrectly (which yes, is random and luck) and making sure the lowest possible values are eliminated (Because theoretically, if you are left with $5,000 or $100,000 or $750,000. You guarantee yourself $5,000 no matter what, even if you turn down offers)
But after a few cases opened. The phone rings.
At this part of the game, “The Banker” calls. He or She wants that case back and will stop at nothing to make sure it’s theirs. If you have the million dollars in play, the offers will grow the less cases available. They really hope you either leave the game with $0.01 or just leave with some guarantee money so they don’t have to pay off the million.
The worst contestants seem to think a “win” is $100,000. When in reality, no matter what they win. But in the context of “the story" or the game. A “win” for the player is making a deal, and their case having a low value (Selling a $5 case for $81,000) or going all the way and getting the most amount of money possible in your game ($200,000 case where the biggest offer was $108,000)
Some people really hate when they “gimmick” the show, and it’s understandable, if all you care about was “the game” itself. but on Deal, the “story” comes first.
And on Deal, that “story” comes at the offer.
If a contestant’s dream is to play in the NFL, the contestant might get a phone call offering money and a trip to a city to attend a training camp. And tickets to The Super Bowl. This adds a hook to the game, that’s something money can’t buy- the dream (ignore the taxes and coordination)
Other times, a contestant might be nervous, and disappointed they couldn’t get their husband to attend the show, or their kids are far away and they want to win money to see them. So the producers knowingly make that happen.
So now, win or lose, that dream came true. You saw your family, what else do you want?
If the show was just about picking numbers, it would be boring.
If the show was just about $1,000,000 - people would stop watching when it’s knocked out.
The show is about the contestant, and it’s the storytelling that makes the contestant the star of this negotiation-game show, and plays into their deepest desires, and fear of the unknown.
On Let’s Make a Deal - Wayne Brady and Jonathan Mangum will croon to you about a Ski Vacation behind Curtain 2, and it’s upbeat. On Deal or No Deal, you are in front of your kids and wife, saying you’re playing for them, and hearing them cry for you to “stop playing and give him the case” because you’ll be getting $185,000 and that will change your life.
Every game show has some sort of “Risk vs Reward” scenario. Jeopardy has the Daily Double, Wheel has “Bankrupt”, Press Your Luck has a whammy. A mistake could cost you everything, but avoiding it could make a huge fortune.
On Deal or No Deal, you get offers of guaranteed big money, but giving it up is to risk it for more money (maybe you play “one more time” just to knock out one more small amount, so the offer is a little higher)
The negative of “Deal or No Deal” is sometimes The Banker does challenges, on CNBC’s version The Banker offered a contestant $5,000 per family member to eliminate from attending the game (She loved her family, so there is your story) to giving a contestant $10,000 to cut his beard.
That stuff, is pretty stupid, and in my opinion does nothing to elevate the contestant as a character or advance the story.
If the “gimmick” of the contestant is family - make a prize offer - a family vacation or something that would benefit a family member the strongest.
If the “gimmick” of a contestant is a beard - just have fun with it, by giving fake beards to the models and Howie.
The concept of the show is about making dreams come true, while telling an interpersonal story between the contestant and you, the viewer.
Originally, Howie had to ask “What would $x,000 mean to you?” to tell the story about how that could get a contestant to stop working two jobs or being able to pay off bills. But as the show grows, and it’s return, it needs to be less about making contestants do stupid things, and more about making the contestant feel special, and make “The Banker” somewhat of a dreammaker as well.
The Banker wants to stop at nothing to get the contestant to sell their case and leave. Why would they play stupid mini-games where the contestant has to play to a producer-lead gimmick?
Additionally, I wish the game was played out more, so in the event somebody dealt early, we continue playing until the end. It hasn’t happened yet, but I am sure that will happen soon. And we should have that few extra minutes of relief or console at the end of the game, when we reveal the contents of the contestants case. But hey, that’s just nitpicking.
This is a show about story, and we need to make sure the contestants are shown to be caring and sympathetic so we can root for them even more.