One by one, as streaming services grow in popularity, old standbys of the TV landscape fall by the wayside.
The number of soap operas, a decades-old hub of daytime television, has dwindled to a handful. Popular daytime talk shows — once hosted by the likes of Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey, and Ellen DeGeneres — are becoming rarer by the year. Late night shows are declining.
But one golden oldie is still standing: game shows.
ABC’s lineup this fall is populated by many of them. On CBS, one of the longest-running shows, “The Price Is Right,” is getting a new studio. And reviews for “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune,” tops in the category, are among the most watched programs on television — outside of live sports, at least. Both attract about nine million viewers on a typical night and generate tens of millions of dollars in profits each year.
This week, Sony, the studio behind both “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune”, gave the genre an emphatic vote of confidence. The company signed Ryan Seacrest, one of television’s most recognizable personalities, to a long-term deal to replace Pat Sajak as the next ‘Wheel of Fortune’ host.
The audience for Sony’s two shows is, in the words of an executive at a rival studio, “shockingly large”. Adam Nedeff, a researcher with the National Archives of Game Show History at the Strong National Museum of Play, said that “Wheel of Fortune” “survived even beyond the wildest expectations of success.”
“‘Wheel of Fortune’ remains this giant,” said Mr. Nedeff, who is the author of “Game Shows FAQ,” a history of the format. “As the TV business changes and streaming takes over the world, ‘Wheel’ is one of the things that remains on the old traditional TV model.”
Game shows offer two major benefits to executives: They’re one of the cheapest programs to make, in part because many episodes can be filmed in a short amount of time. And they appeal to the largest demographic that still uses traditional television: people 60 and older.
The median “Wheel of Fortune” viewership is in the oldest age bracket Nielsen tracks: “65+.” (The median ages of many of the higher-rated prime-time entertainment shows in the most recent television season — “Survivor” (62.1), “Abbott Elementary” (60.2), “The Voice” (64.8) — are not far behind.)
Among adults under 50, the demographic that most interests advertisers, the two game shows draw similar ratings: “Jeopardy!” averaged 1.1 million viewers in that category and “Wheel of Fortune” one million.
Game shows have been around since the early days of television. From the quiz shows of the 1950s to the dating shows of the 1960s and 1970s, game shows are as much of a tradition for American television as Sunday afternoon football.
Today’s greatest success stories are thoroughbreds that have lasted for decades. “Family Feud,” which began in 1976 and is currently hosted by Steve Harvey, draws nearly eight million viewers per episode, one of the highest ratings of all syndicated television, according to Nielsen. CBS announced that “The Price Is Right,” hosted by Drew Carey since 2007, will move to a “state-of-the-art facility” in Glendale, California this year for the show’s 52nd season.
Beginning in September, the ABC lineup will release an hour-long edition of “Celebrity Jeopardy!” on Tuesday nights and a full Thursday prime-time lineup of “Celebrity Wheel of Fortune,” “Press Your Luck,” and “The $100,000 Pyramid.”
Many of the current primetime game shows on the network aren’t exactly ratings blockbusters. But their relatively small budgets make them easy for network executives to swallow, especially when compared to the skyrocketing production costs of scripted television.
Sony’s new deal with Mr. Seacrest suggests that the company intends to continue “Wheel of Fortune” well into the future. The deal is expected to last until the early 2030s, a person familiar with it said.
Selecting Mr. However, Seacrest is not without risk. When Merv Griffin created “Wheel of Fortune” in 1975 as television’s answer to executioner, it spent its early years racking up ratings. Only when Mr. Sajak and Vanna White, his co-host, joined in the early 1980s, the show took off. By the mid-1980s, it was attracting over 40 million viewers per night.
Whether viewers will drop out because Mr. Sajak is not on stage is an open question. According to Q Score, the research firm that measures celebrity likability, he and Ms. White both have an above-average positive image with viewers. However, Mr Seacrest is below average, according to Q Score, suggesting he may be polarizing towards some of the public.
In addition, Ms. White’s future with the show is uncertain. She is under contract for another year and is negotiating a new deal. Puck reported last week that Ms. White was making significantly less money than Mr. Sajak and had not received a raise in nearly 20 years. Many “Wheel of Fortune” fans on social media had expressed hope that she could replace Mr. Sajak – if she leaves, will crowds of viewers leave with her?
However, Mr. Seacrest has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to lend a firm hand to long-term franchises. He successfully took over Dick Clark’s long-running New Year’s Eve show. He took a seat that once belonged to Regis Philbin — as well as Michael Strahan — on “Live,” the show he co-hosted with Kelly Ripa for six years. And in 2004, he took over the radio show once hosted by Casey Kasem.
The swift appointment of Mr. Seacrest – Mr. Sajak said just two weeks ago that he would leave “Wheel of Fortune” in 2024 – is also a way for Sony executives to avoid the succession crisis that “Jeopardy!” two years ago. In 2021, Sony executives quickly pushed Alex Trebek’s successor, Mike Richards, away amid a public outcry after sexist and offensive comments from Mr Richards surfaced online. Sony eventually named Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik as Mr. Trebek’s permanent successors.
Mr. Nedeff, the game show’s historian, said that as long as Mr. Seacrest recognized who the real star was, he should be successful.
“The big driver for the show is the game,” he said. “The game is the star of the show.”
Brooks Barnes And Benjamin Mullin reporting contributed.