WMU News

The game show phenomenon

Feb. 18, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- Game shows once again are becoming a major force in prime time television. That's because game shows follow a formula that works, according to Dr. James Ferreira, a WMU professor of history and authority on popular culture.

Once wildly popular in the '50s, game shows are a hit again because they combine big money with a certain appeal to the everyday person.

"I think they provide for people, at least for a half-hour or an hour, some sense of community," Ferreira says. "Viewers certainly can identify with the people who are contestants in these shows, largely because they seem to be just a guy off the street. It's not really so. It's highly contrived and in fact contestants often are selected for how attractive they are to the audience."

They also, he says, are selected to give ordinary people the feeling that with a little luck or a twist of fate, those watching could just as easily be the contestant.

"And one gets engaged," Ferreira says. "You can't help but become engaged, particularly in cases when the viewer thinks, 'I know the answer and if I were up there, that cash would be in my pocket.'"

He says the shows also connect people with each other by giving them something to talk about the next day at the office.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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