If you’ve watched network TV anytime within the past five years, you’ve probably noticed a big uptick in the number of game shows in the programming schedule. Now, game shows haven’t exactly been dormant. They’ve been a part of TV since the medium’s initial popularity in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Even after the widespread game show fixing scandals in the ‘50s, they have remained a constant presence with big ones like The Price Is Right, Jeopardy!, and Wheel of Fortune still netting good ratings and profits. But for the most part, game shows have been big in daytime and/or syndicated time slots, the kind of time slot that’s easy to fade into the background and not where the big money is.
That all changed with the premiere of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in 1999 which with its high stakes drama that hadn’t been attempted before proved that a game show could be just as successful in a primetime slot as sitcoms and dramas four decades after the fixing scandals seemed to kill off primetime game shows. At its peak, Millionaire was a true ratings phenomenon netting around 30 million viewers being shown almost every day of the week before fizzling out in 2002. In its aftermath, game shows have come and gone attempting to recreate Millionaire’s style and high stakes in a primetime setting and aside from a few most never got their time to shine getting canceled almost immediately.
But in recent years, networks have taken another gamble on primetime game shows and it seems to have much more staying power this time. It’s easy to see why. For networks, game shows provide the best case scenario of providing fun, escapist entertainment while not having to spend a lot as they would with sitcoms and dramas. Game shows don’t require scripts and can often tape a lot of shows within a short period. In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, this method has proven very effective even as these shows have made drastic adjustments forgoing a studio audience along with other socially distanced changes to their sets and gameplay. Personally, I’ve always liked watching game shows cause even as someone who likes their Sopranos and Breaking Bad, it’s fun to watch shows where people win money and prizes while also testing your knowledge and not having to catch up on major plot points.
ABC, in particular, has been leading the pack proving that whatever’s old is new again as they’ve been reviving any old game show they can find including Match Game, To Tell The Truth, Card Sharks, Press Your Luck, The $100,000 Pyramid, Supermarket Sweep, The Chase, and their former ratings king Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. There have also been celebrity versions of existing game shows including Celebrity Family Feud and the recent premiere of Celebrity Wheel of Fortune along with last year’s Jeopardy’s Greatest of All Time tournament featuring the game’s three best players.
For the most part, these shows have proven to be a big ratings boom to ABC initially putting them in their summer schedule, a time known for lower viewership, but now have them on throughout the year. Of course, ABC can’t be the only one in this game show revival era. NBC most notably brought back The Weakest Link with Jane Lynch in the fall after airing there for a couple of years in the early 2000s. CBS seems to be the only major network not attempting to cash in where after a few failed attempts they’ve mostly stuck to their usual fare of The Price is Right and Let’s Make A Deal hosting several primetime specials.
That brings us to the last of the major networks, FOX, who now seem to be following ABC’s lead of incorporating more game shows into their primetime schedule especially in the wake of the ridiculous ratings success of The Masked Singer. They’re premiering a Pepsi collaboration game show, Cherries Wild, next month and this month they’ve taken another step with a reboot of Name That Tune, a music guessing game show that dates back to the early era of television.
Name That Tune originally started on radio as Stop The Music in 1948 allowing listeners and chosen contestants to name the song that their orchestra played. The program was created by Mark Goodson, the man who essentially created many of our modern game shows along with conductor Harry Salter who eventually along with his wife Roberta adopted it for the growing medium of TV with the newly titled Name That Tune premiering on CBS in 1953 running until 1959. From there, the show seemed to come and go constantly moving to daytime syndication where it had three runs in total lasting from 1970 until 1985. Now three and a half decades later, the show is back to let players dare themselves again on how many notes they can name that tune in.
Since the original version was a half-hour show, this new Name That Tune plays two games in its hour-long program. In each game, two players compete to get to the Golden Medley bonus round to play for $100,000. They play two rounds of guessing songs with the first round consisting of categories for each song and the full band performing. The second round Bid-a-Note, the one that makes Name That Tune what it is, has the two players daring each other on how many notes they can name that tune in from 10 notes down to 1. The player who makes the shortest bid is then given their given notes and a clue of the song to guess from which their opponent can steal if they don’t get it along with the full 10 notes. Whoever has the most money goes on to the Golden Medley where the band plays seven songs within 30 seconds with the player needing to get every song correct to win $100,000. One wrong answer ends the game but players are allowed to pass and come back to a song they’re not familiar with.
Like with all of the major reboots, Name That Tune largely sticks to the original gameplay adjusting some elements to make it feel relevant to today. Most notably, instead of the cheesy sounding big band horns that play the songs in prior versions, here we have a full party-type band complete with singers performing the songs staying largely faithful to the original making it easier to make them out. And like most modern game shows, it utilizes high stakes through its glossy aesthetic to up the pressure. Also like most modern game shows, we have known celebrities hosting with actress Jane Krakowski, best known for playing Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock, as host and former American Idol judge Randy Jackson in the role of bandleader.
In terms of its full watching experience, Name That Tune hits all the notes (pun intended) that you’d expect for a game show. It’s fun to play along with and has a great energy that keeps you watching. If you’re well versed in modern popular music as I am then Name That Tune should be an easy game show to win. The show largely plays the big hit songs from the ‘50s to today meaning that even casual music listeners can play along as they’ve probably heard these songs somewhere. For the most part, I knew the songs aside from a couple of obscure songs. My favorite part of the show is definitely the Bid-a-Note round mainly for how funny it is seeing these two players daring each other on how many notes they can name that tune in and seeing the audience react like they’re watching a blood match.
It also helps that both Jane Krakowski and Randy Jackson have great chemistry together manning the show having a lot of enthusiasm for the game and support for the players while bringing a modern flair. With the band and the audience, the show feels more like a party than your standard game show. It also feels, watching from America, a bit weird in terms of the fact that they’re able to have a full studio audience and freely interact without fear of contracting COVID-19. That’s because the show was filmed in Australia over the fall where COVID-19 is not as bad as it is in the US so they’re able to film with large crowds under Australian standards with everyone being checked beforehand. Good for them.
Name That Tune isn’t the only music guessing game show FOX has on now. Since 2017, they’ve had Beat Shazam hosted by Jamie Foxx which is a more simplified version of Name That Tune where instead of a different gameplay per round, it’s just three teams of two trying to guess a song the fastest before one wins and goes on to try to win $1 million. Personally, I prefer Beat Shazam for its more interactive gameplay and atmosphere as well as the added challenge of being the quickest to get the correct song.
Certainly, as the show goes further along and as I become more familiar with Name That Tune it’ll become another favorite of mine and maybe yours as well.
Name That Tune is currently airing Wednesday nights at 9/8c on FOX and is available to watch on-demand and streaming including Hulu and FOX Now