Entertainment Talk

Hollywood Game Night turns 5. How much lies ahead?

Hollywood Game Night Jane Lynch
(Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Any viewer or veteran of Hollywood Game Night should know to assume nothing. With that said, logic dictates a game show of its mold should bear evergreen appeal.

So far, the program has tamed its frequency of new episodes while hardly controlling its variety of games. That alone is a recipe for sustained appetites.

Sextets of celebrities seeking a diversion from their usual serious fun are not likely to run out of stock. Neither are common Americans looking to join them in a living room within millions of living rooms.

Granted, other current shows provide the same fundamental opportunity. HGN, however, features key distinctions in its setting and format.

NBC’s Jane Lynch vehicle, which premiered on July 11, 2013, provides TV’s best mix of luminaries and lower profiles. Like all such blends, it paradoxically exalts and humbles. But it does so with a greater vibe of intimacy.

ABC contemporary Match Game keeps those whose Twitter accounts lack a blue checkmark across the studio from the luminaries. In their bygone runs, Hollywood Squares and What’s My Line? maintained the same virtual moat.

By exhilarating contrast, Hollywood Game Night puts a mixture of each class on two couches. A quartet of competitors go by the team name of the one player savoring an otherwise elusive spotlight.

By night’s end, those not still chasing big bucks are “banished” to the bar. There the unity is gelled all the more.

Other game shows, past and present, have had celebrities influencing their guest’s fortunes in a non-allying manner. They are either impartial objects or deliberate hurdles.

While that dynamic does not rob the everyday contestant of an enthralling experience, HGN uniquely enhances the encounter. The audience is either left to laugh at or sympathize with the VIPs facing minute pressures. One cannot go wrong with either angle.

Yes, dating back four-and-a-half decades, each version of Pyramid has promoted similar coalitions. But Hollywood Game Night gives stakeholders a merrier myriad of famous teammates and a less predictable rotation of contests.

Whether they are playing for their new friend or for charity, the stars are given to competitive oomph. And their readiness for anything at a moment’s notice faces visible tests.

The most recent installment, a rare all-celebrity edition for Red Nose Day, brought no shortage of that spirit.

Kelly Clarkson, no stranger to the strategic staged separation of household and non-household names, literally stood out with her exuberance. The singer who rose to fame as a successful American Idol contestant was now caught up in Clue-Boom. When she fielded the hints with two teammates, she could barely stay seated.

“We are so getting the extra game at the end!” she declared when a “boom” went against her opponents.

When strapped for words as the clue-reader, teammate Sarah Silverman infectiously and incoherently screamed out of desperation. The combination of a desire to win and fear of being on the wrong side of the imminent pop could not have been clearer.

Their squad clinched in the next round, prompting another emphatic Clarkson couch-clear.

It is easy to dismiss these displays as a shinier way of packaging the trite celebrities-are-just-like-you-and-me lesson. It is harder to argue with the accolades.

Hollywood Game Night shot out to four straight Writers Guild of America championship for best quiz-and-audience-participation program. Lynch contended for Emmys as a reality/competition host, winning on her first two bids.

Add the fact that the show has inspired at least 16 copycats worldwide. Canada and diverse sections of Europe and Asia have fostered their answer to Hollywood Game Night.

But as the show turns five, one wonders whether this particular embodiment of the concept has long-term legs. With fewer awards to speak of from Seasons 4 or 5, it has certainly lost its novelty. Perhaps new celebrity guests and new games can only do so much as long as the brand stays the same.

TV Series Finale, a ratings aggregator and assessor, may have uncovered the key to sufficient freshness. On March 20, six months after the most recent season ended, the website’s evaluation was in.

Hollywood Game Night has the means to become a rare timeless institution, much like NBC cohabitant Saturday Night Live.

Over 10 summertime episode premieres, the show retained an average of 4.091 million viewers. That was tellingly up from the 3.767 million median of Season 4. Although the numbers dipped among the crucial 18-49 age group.

Per TV Series Finale. “Hollywood Game Night dropped off quite a bit in the ratings, during its fourth season. Maybe that’s why NBC renewed it for a short fifth season but delayed its premiere from mid-season to summer. Whether or not that will help remains to be seen.”

Indeed, even the premiere date for the sixth season remains a mystery. The show’s social media channels have been dormant since the one-off Red Nose Day special in May. (While the Internet Movie Database files that under Season 6, the bona fide season premiere will be the one featuring non-VIP players.)

But to the March 20 release’s point, the available evidence signals a favorable direction. The fourth season featured 12 episodes, with most premiering in the winter months.

Competition with scripted sitcoms and dramas doubtlessly dented the ratings. The award-winning first three campaigns premiered, in whole or in part, during less crowded periods. Two immersed themselves in the dog days, while the sophomore season sprinkled 19 episodes from January to July.

With that sample size of mixed strategies and mixed results, the formula to success should be HGN’s plainest element.

Hollywood Game Night has the means to become a rare timeless institution, much like NBC cohabitant Saturday Night Live. If its run does not last, its format would be easy to reincarnate.

But for now, as long as it keeps picking open spots and avoids overloaded servings, it has forseeable staying power. More people will want in on more volatile challenges to tackle together while the rest of us cheer and chuckle.

Al Daniel

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