Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

Family Feud’s return confirms the state of game shows in Australia

Family Feud returns to our television screens tonight as part of Ten’s desperate scramble to remain a viable entity, and is scheduled to compete with Seven and Nine’s main news bulletins at 6pm. For those…

Grant Denyer gets ready for action on set. Channel 10

Family Feud returns to our television screens tonight as part of Ten’s desperate scramble to remain a viable entity, and is scheduled to compete with Seven and Nine’s main news bulletins at 6pm.

For those unfamiliar, Feud’s format is based upon identifying the most popular responses to survey questions, essentially rewarding “inside-the-box” thinking. Prizes accrue by “knowing” what everyone else knows. Forget general knowledge – just be general.

Does Feud’s reincarnation speak to a broader cultural malaise of celebrating mediocrity? Case in point from Ten’s contestant call for Feud:

Name something you pull up. If you said ‘pants’ you guessed the top answer! 58 out of 100 guessed ‘pants’ too!

To be fair, there is humour to be found in this format, but one that is necessarily of the broadest kind.

Consider that when Feud returns it will take back the mantle of Australia’s longest running primetime game show still on the air from Seven’s Deal or No Deal. Last year Deal sailed past a staggering 2,000 episodes, of which Andrew O’Keefe hosted every single damn one. I thought we had labour laws against such dehumanising monotony.

Anyway, though Deal is now airing in repeats and no new episodes are currently being produced its curious longevity nevertheless paints a sorry picture of game shows in Australia.

There is something painfully telling in recognising that a format based entirely on dumb luck, basic probability and gross avarice only began to show its age after 11 years.

“Champions” on Deal are ultimately made through vice, for the format entails that the only way to win the grand A$200,000 prize requires a final gamble, risking in a single decision vast, potentially life-changing sums of money, say, around A$100,000 in one particular case:

It is difficult to think of any other venue where an individual could behave as such and not be met with universal derision and scorn. It’s hard to argue with 2,000-plus episodes in the can though.

Prior to its (re-)cancellation in 2012 The Price is Right held the honour of longest-running game show still airing. Indeed the format’s clever incorporation of brand names into quirky games succeeded for a long time, but now seems embarrassingly dated.

Guessing, for instance, whether hair clips are more expensive than shaving cream suggests an idea conceived by Don Draper and targeted at Betty.

Hair clips or shaving cream? Pick a gold briefcase and cross your fingers. Our survey said “pants”. These formats have dominated the Australian game show landscape for decades.

Yes, I am being an insufferable grump. Andrew O’Keefe is certainly likeable, Family Feud does have the promise of laughs for all ages, and The Price is Right found a way to inject fun and suspense into our everyday consumption habits.

Still, does there have to be such a discord between meaningful talent and reward? Can the right set-up measure some quality worth having, worth celebrating?

Can we take comfort in knowing that a contestant’s victory is – at least in some limited way – earned by way of virtuous talent?

Sure. Indeed the most intellectually challenging game shows often feel no compulsion to provide lavish prizes. Rather, the public confirmation of one’s capabilities is deemed to be sufficient compensation.

Contestants on the grey-matter stimulating Letters and Numbers (sadly “rested” in 2012) received a Macquarie dictionary, a token gesture symbolic of their erudition.

Would there be any value in similarly playing Price, Deal, or Feud solely for pride? The suggestion is absurd as these constructs do not provide anything meaningful upon which to hang a sense of achievement.

A million monkeys with a million gold briefcases would amount to an awful lot of Deal champions, the most decidedly “average” punter you know would likely make for an ideal Feud contestant, and the skilled Price player probably reads too much junk mail.

Roo Reynolds

Yet as viewers we admire the successful contestants of knowledge-based game shows not because the trivia questions matter in and of themselves, but rather because the ability to consistently answer them suggests a concerted engagement with the world, an accessible display of rigour and discipline in search of wisdom.

Winners of these testing contests do not chance upon victory, rather their success constitutes – albeit within a small prism – the work of a lifetime.

Many of our popular game show formats past and present only slake the affective and emotional aspects of game show appeal, disguising the banality of their setups behind garish set designs, host shtick, and oversized cheques.

Even Eddie McGuire’s Millionaire has only survived through a heavy injection of luck and musical chairs into its format.

Million Dollar Minute is a rare exception to this trend of celebrating mediocrity and vice, here’s hoping Feud doesn’t cut into its audience share.

This is a long shot, but if Ten insists on dredging up tired vessels then why not bring back University Challenge? Sadly, an Australian version ran for just a few years in the 80s on the ABC.

Challenge’s return could be especially enlivening to our pop culture landscape given that the long-running British version is where so many future public intellectuals first appeared on our screens – Clive James, Stephen Fry, Christopher Hitchens, Sebastian Faulks, and The Wizard of New Zealand, to name a few – and recent champions are widely feted for their astounding capabilities.

Pants chance of that happening though.


Family Feud premieres at 6pm tonight on Channel 10.

Articles also by This Author

Sign in to Favourite

Join the conversation

25 Comments sorted by

  1. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    Solution - all Australian game shows should be designed by PhD students.

    report
    1. Matthew Wade

      PhD Student in Sociology at Australian National University

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Sarcasm noted James, certainly in Groucho Marx fashion I would not want to watch a game show devised by myself.

      I should briefly acknowledge that part of the inspiration for this piece comes from the classic 1980 essay Within the Context of No Context by late US media critic George W. S. Trow. Trow observed the shifting terrain of popular culture into the ‘grid of two hundred million’. The replacement of older civic institutions with television saturation – Trow argued – results in a hollow simulacrum…

      Read more
    2. James Jenkin

      EFL Teacher Trainer

      In reply to Matthew Wade

      Ha I didn't mean to be too sarcastic Matthew, sorry. But maybe light entertainment should be light? And a simple (even banal)format can be a good vehicle for appealing personalities and banter.

      report
    3. Matthew Wade

      PhD Student in Sociology at Australian National University

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Yes, I won't deny that I'm being somewhat of a wet blanket. Like I state in the article though there's humour and fun to be found in these formats. Steve Harvey as host of the current US version has certainly wrung a great deal of wit out of the format. Many questions on this version mine the territory of things-we-all-know-but-won't-admit-to-in-public, which creates some genuinely comedic moments. My impression from the media releases from Feud here suggest their version will be tamer though (for better or worse).

      report
  2. Mike Swinbourne

    logged in via Facebook

    I stopped watching free-to-air TV years ago.

    This just validates my choice.

    report
  3. christopher mallon

    PhD student at Swinburne University of Technology

    Australian game shows! Anybody see question time recently?

    report
  4. Damien Van Brink

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    "A million monkeys with a million gold briefcases would amount to an awful lot of Deal champions."

    Brilliant! People should play around with this phrase more often. Spat my morning coffee :)

    Why reward trivia though? Purveyors of general knowledge like Stephen Fry are certainly very interesting and make good television, but should he be rewarded? I'll trade 10 Steven Fry's for 1 imaginative scientist.
    Having just said that I hope show's like QI are the future, a delightful mix of comedy and education - which makes a mockery of scoring and reward.

    report
    1. Kwame Abdullah

      Social Researcher, Victoria University

      In reply to Matthew Wade

      Maybe Peter Berner as host? Shaun Micallef? Sadly, I think the one of the zany Chaser "boys" would be more likely though.

      We could put a decent panel together - if we got another three funny, smart people together, we could balance them out with Dave Hughes.

      report
  5. Kirsty Leishman

    PhD Candidate, Media and Cultural Studies at University of Queensland

    Oh dear, I wish you'd drawn on some sources from television studies. Or, since you're in sociology, at least Bourdieu for some self-reflection on taste.

    I expect to see this kind of prejudice and ignorance about popular cultural television forms in the pages of the Australian, not The Conversation.

    report
    1. Stephen McDonough

      Business Process Analyst

      In reply to Kirsty Leishman

      Interesting - I think it's quite possible to design a game show that simultaneously appeals to the everyman and espouses positive attributes, which I read this piece as a yearning for, but I'd be interested to hear your opinion on the familiar formats that are somewhat derided in this piece.

      report
    2. Matthew Wade

      PhD Student in Sociology at Australian National University

      In reply to Kirsty Leishman

      Sure Kirsty, hard to do in an 800 word article though that a) looks to provide a broad overview and necessary context-setting and b) is written for a wide audience. Note my comment above re: George Trow.

      With your Bourdieu comment I worry that you’re implying I’m engaging in some kind of class warfare here, which I think is wholly unfair. My critique is fairly mild in questioning whether it is simply odd that we ‘value’ (w/r/t hefty prizes and our attentive gaze) guessing games or setups that…

      Read more
    3. Kirsty Leishman

      PhD Candidate, Media and Cultural Studies at University of Queensland

      In reply to Matthew Wade

      Matthew, I did note your comment about George Trow, which is what prompted my wish that you consider some writing in an appropriate field (television studies) to inform your exploration of the game show format. I do understand the limits of word length, but I'm responding to the tone of your article where your use of words like 'mediocrity', 'banality', 'garish' and other pejorative turns of phrase to describe the object of your article. I don't think this is so much a matter of word length, but…

      Read more
    4. Wendy Davis

      Senior Lecturer (Adjunct) at Central Queensland University

      In reply to Kirsty Leishman

      Excellent point in your final paragraph Kirsty. (all paragraphs actually). Understanding the what, how and why of television should be the aim of all good television writing (in my humble opinion at least). This is the value of a cultural studies approach to television and cultural studies as a discipline.

      report
    5. Matthew Wade

      PhD Student in Sociology at Australian National University

      In reply to Kirsty Leishman

      Cheers Kirsty, while I suspect we won’t quite agree here’s just a couple of quick replies:

      “The knowledge in Family Feud and The Price is Right is everyday knowledge: it's about daily life and interactions and grocery prices, which actually are valued by people when they're at the supermarket and getting along with their families and friends. And for good reason: these are the things we have in common, that join us together.”

      Sure, I take your point, I did include a qualifier in that the Price…

      Read more
    6. Pierre B

      worker

      In reply to Kirsty Leishman

      Kirsty, with respect, sometimes you have to call a spade a spade.

      Family Feud asks questions like 'what is the first thing you do in the morning'. We ask things like this of children when they are learning to talk. These activities are not for adults.

      This article makes a good point about a trend that I'm sure is clear to many.

      Analysing things like this to an academic level is not useful.

      I take your point about elitism though.

      report
    7. Kirsty Leishman

      PhD Candidate, Media and Cultural Studies at University of Queensland

      In reply to Matthew Wade

      Matthew,

      The main point of departure between our viewpoints goes to the heart, I think, of what television is for. Your remark that everyday knowledge isn't a lasting basis for a television format relies on a view of television that it should be morally uplifting. In this, you're certainly in-step with the Reithian imperative of public service broadcasting, to 'inform, educate and entertain' (well, the first two anyway). Of course, many have already critiqued this vision of television as elitist…

      Read more
    8. Kirsty Leishman

      PhD Candidate, Media and Cultural Studies at University of Queensland

      In reply to Pierre B

      Well, let's all pack up and go home, Pierre. Why do The Conversation and the academy even exist if we can't discuss and analyse our assumptions about what is apparently obvious? Obvious to whom?

      report
    9. Pierre B

      worker

      In reply to Kirsty Leishman

      Kristy, I certainly don't want to stifle debate here. I appreciate the alternative view on this. I'm sure a bunch of people will agree with you.

      It seems to me that the answers to the questions in these shows are obtained through daily experience, and so are known by anyone with the ability to observe and reason. I take this to be obvious to the majority of people.

      An opinon: there should be no reward for displaying this knowledge above the age at which it is usually acquired.

      report
    10. Kirsty Leishman

      PhD Candidate, Media and Cultural Studies at University of Queensland

      In reply to Pierre B

      Thanks for your reply, Pierre. I don't know if there should be a reward or not for demonstrating such knowledge. On the one hand, I question what is obvious. Certainly, if we're all part of the same culture, then there is common knowledge that we have. I was interested, because I did watch Family Feud tonight, to see that there wasn't much consensus on what constitutes outback Australia. On the other hand, the audience plays a role here too. Isn't part of the pleasure of watching such shows playing along at home, trying to guess what the top answer is? With this in mind then, it's appropriate that anyone appearing on the show should have the chance at a monetary reward since if the show is attracting a commercial audience that shareholders are making money from, it's only right that the contestants be rewarded for their labour towards this profit.

      report
  6. Lynne Black

    Latte Sipper

    I can guarantee you I won't be watching it! (Eggheads, anyone?)

    report
  7. Murray McGrath

    logged in via Facebook

    For a several years I have been concerned and often embarrassed by the content/talent of Australian Television shows particularly the hosts of some shows - its good to see some constructive review of the situation.

    report