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Published June 12, 2024

The decline of game shows

Why younger generations are watching game shows less.
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Image by Ava Weinreis
Gameshows are losing to reality television.

Game shows were once a staple of television programming and have played a significant role in the entertainment industry for many years.

Game shows have delighted viewers and provided competitors with a chance at fame and fortune for decades, from classics like “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” to more recent additions like “The X Factor” and “The Masked Singer.”

According to an article in Collider, game shows that used to be some of the most popular programs on television have fallen in popularity or have been canceled altogether.

It is critical to look back to game shows’ prime in order to comprehend their collapse. Game shows were extremely popular from the 1950s to the 1980s, with viewers tuning in avidly to see contestants compete, solve puzzles and take on other challenges. 

Popular programs like “The Price Is Right” and “Family Feud” gained widespread recognition, while hosts like Bob Barker and Richard Dawson attained stardom.

During this time, watching and participating in game shows was a shared activity among families and friends gathered in front of the television. Since the contestants were everyday individuals, everyone could dream of winning big. 

“Game show producers make a killing by offering ‘free money’ to select contestants so we can continue to believe in windfalls outside of the wage inequities of exploitative capitalism,” said Maggie Hennefeld, associate professor of cultural studies and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota.

The rise of reality television is one of the important explanations behind the downfall of game shows. Beginning in the late 1990s with programs like “Survivor” and “Big Brother,” reality TV provided a novel and unscripted type of entertainment. 

These shows were appealing to viewers who desired real-life drama and conflict since they were frequently more dramatic and exciting. Game shows suffered as a result. The focus of the audience switched from trivia and puzzles to watching contestants deal with challenges, eliminations and interpersonal interactions.

Through editing and behind-the-scenes manipulation from the showrunners, reality TV offers a much more intriguing viewing experience, said Laurie Ouellette, a professor of communications and cultural studies at the University who has written multiple books on reality television.

The unpredictable nature of reality television as well as the chance to become famous and wealthy attracted viewers away from the more conventional game shows. The preferences of the audience changed along with the ways in which people watched television. 

Viewers now have greater control over what they watch and when they watch it thanks to the development of streaming services and on-demand entertainment. Traditional game shows had a hard time competing with the flexibility provided by streaming services.

In addition, the development of social media and online entertainment opened up new channels for interaction. Game shows could not match the level of engagement viewers could have with content provided by YouTube, social media and online gaming. 

“Game shows are just boring to me, they’re too slow for a generation raised on the internet allowing constant entertainment at our fingertips,” said Jane Buscar, a viewer at a “Survivor” watch party at the University.

A perceived lack of creativity is another factor contributing to the demise of game shows. Long-running game shows frequently adhered to their tried-and-true forms, which could seem old to contemporary audiences. While some programs did try to break new ground, such as “Celebrity Jeopardy,” these innovations were sometimes minor and insufficient to resurrect the genre.

New game shows occasionally air on television, yet they do not catch on the same way they did in the past. Having to guess whether or not Rudy Guiliani is the one singing behind a mask does not seem to have much appeal to a younger audience.

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