So what do TV critics watch when they’re on vacation? For my part, largely what my children let me. Tuned In Jr. the Eldest, for instance, is in a game-show phase, which means I’m becoming reacquainted with Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune after a long, long time.
On the TV beat, you tend to focus on the new stuff to the exclusion of TV fixtures like these. You’d think these decades-old shows would be unchanging. And in some ways that’s true. Pat and Vanna are so well preserved, for instance, I’m sure that CGI is involved. But good Lord, Wheel of Fortune has become loaded up with stunts now. There are prize rounds. There are toss-up rounds. There is a million-dollar space, various prize spaces, a Jackpot space and a mystery space. There are so many damn flashing lights on that wheel now, it looks like the cover of an ELO album.
At risk of sounding like an old man, I remember when the wheel had dollars, Bankrupts, Lose a Turns and Free Spins on it, and that was it. And when you had to spend all your winnings on a shopping spree, blowing your last bit of cash on the ceramic flamingo. And a salami sandwich cost a nickel! Did the game really need to be re-complicated? Isn’t it at it’s best when it’s just about consonants, numbers and a medieval metaphor for the capricious nature of fate?
Jeopardy!, meanwhile, is less tarted up, though it now constantly flogs promotional and movie tie-ins to clue categories. Perhaps the saddest thing I saw on my vacation was Adam Sandler, who will not do most media interviews but was conscripted to sullenly offer up video Jeopardy clues for a category tied in to his new movie, Bedtime Stories. What is relentless product placement, Alex?