“What is a Game Show Host?”

…according to a guy who has never hosted a game show in his life (except for on internet livestreams).

There has now become some debate as to what is a “game show host” and what is their purpose of the show. And the weird part is, everybody has a different definition. For some people, like Steve Harvey, they are your face of the show that gets people coming back. For others like Alex Trebek, they administer the questions. There are so many ways you can look at this one silly occupation.

And rather than go into a lengthy talk about it (It’s almost 2AM) I am going to just list off everything I know about what a game show host does.

  • The Face – While the contestants change every episode, aside from possible returning champions or carry-overs. They are the only person you see every episode. They are the “face” of your game. A different host every episode would be an interesting gimmick, but possibly make the game unwatchable, aside from various episodes with “your favorite” host. It’s always the reason why whenever there is a new host (Drew Carey for Price, Cedric for Millionaire) that there is this weird “will they be better than the last guy” debate, and frankly – it’s a dumb question to have, because….
  • Personality every host has a different personality. Modern day hosting might have a “comedian”, but that’s because what they do  in comedy is personify themselves by a character through the types of jokes that they tell. Steve Harvey is a guy who tells jokes about families, dating, marriage and relationships. So he’s a perfect fit for a game show like “Family Feud” which involve questions like “Name something your wife has that’s big”. Other shows try and use a “name” to attract the show, but considering the “goal” of the show, and the kind of show it is, you need a host that matches your concept well. Think “John Anderson” and “John Henson” – Anderson is a sports journalist, and Henson is a wisecracking comedian. For a show about contestants running through a physical challenge, an obstacle course, designed to knock them down. You get the “professionalism” of a sports broadcast, with the “slapstick comedy” of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Just attaching a “celebrity” or “comedian” to the show, does NOT mean it will get people buzzing. It needs to suit their personality and the characterization of who they are.
  • “The Producer” although most hosts don’t really get producer credit, some of the best hosts act almost as an on-camera producer. Building up the drama, letting contestants know that they can begin their turn, or what is going on. They are the only person you see that is keeping the show going, besides the possibility of an announcer and model. When there is a huge crew running around going nuts in the background. And in the event of a technical problem, they are the ones to calm down, address the problem and fix it. (even though there is Standards & Practices who actually do it). Oh and let’s not forget when they will tell you what happens WHEN WE COME BACK!
  • Your friend that consoles you If you didn’t get that job, or you had that bad day at work. They are the person there for you letting you know that “maybe it’ll be better tomorrow” or that “you’ll do better next time”. But on a game show, all they could do is say “tough luck”, and look at the lighter side with optimism like “at least you had fun, right?”
  • Your friend that congratulates you. If you got that job, and you ended up getting a raise or engaged. They are the person there for you that’s celebrating with you. They are your biggest supporter and rooting you on. Even though this person has barely met you aside from what was printed on the card, they see the moment as a celebration and we are gonna get excited together. But this is your moment.
  • The Straightman Sure, they might tell a joke at the contestants expense. But the purpose of the straightman is to always sell the joke being delivered, and make their partner look good. This is the same with a game show. Even on something like “The Weakest Link” where Anne Robinson is personified as a ruthless interrogator who has little emotion. She acts as the straightman for the contestant’s responses, which are generally hilarious retorts back to her.

It’s not just “a guy who reads questions” or “reads the teleprompter”, because while I could list off game shows where that’s all they did. Those are generally the shows that don’t really do so well and don’t become the “phenomenons” that they are today.

Look at Howie Mandel on Deal or No Deal – he was able to make the contestant the star for the span of an hour. Stretched out time at the right moments. Made sure the game was never stopped, unless it was to have “an event” take place (the gimmick). With a background in comedy that focused on “playing off the insecurities of others” (he loves hidden camera bits that do this). So for him to basically go “Are you sure? Do you want to do this? If you take this, you might have given away $1,000,000…”  is pretty much his ace in the hole. Same with Jeff Foxworthy on “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader”?

I mean, we do have “legit hosts” like Tom Bergeron and Mark L. Walberg who can honestly do all of these things, and do them very well. When the host can do their job well. Then it’s a matter of “if the format was good enough” or “did the network have confidence in the show” that explains why the show ended.

Formats are just as hard to figure out, but that’s another problem for another day… (Is it easy to understand? What’s the goal? Can I explain this to my 5 year old?)

Your Thoughts?

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