By the mid-'70s, the game show Let's Make A Deal had become such a phenomenon that it inspired scores of pop-culture parodies, a lot of hand-wringing from social critics, and Robert Young, E.J. Vaughn, and John Schott's probing 1978 documentary Deal. All but forgotten by game-show buffs and cineastes alike, Deal offered extraordinary access to Let's Make A Deal's creators and contestants, showing how the writers worked through the complicated trades that host Monty Hall officiated on the air, and how the elaborately costumed contestants moved from a holding area known as "the snake pit" to the studio, after a lengthy orientation session that taught them how to act crazy on camera. It's documentary filmmaking in the cinema-vérité tradition, with an eye toward the venal absurdity of the post-Watergate American Dream.
Deal's judgmental tone can be wearing. Let's Make A Deal may have once looked like trash TV, encouraging greed and spectacle, but now it looks like harmless, wholesome entertainment, staffed by venerable pros. Deal, meanwhile, looks like a missed opportunity, giving only glimpses at aspects of the show that should've been preserved on film for posterity: the surreally enormous prize warehouse, for instance, or how everything looked to the people sitting in the studio in their goofy outfits, hoping to play.
Still, even glimpses can be fascinating. It's really something to watch Hall record promotional pieces for sponsors and nail them all in one take, to see the writers work with announcer Jay Stewart to get the maximum product plugs into the smallest amount of airtime, and to follow the winning contestants backstage for the "filling out tax forms" portion of the show. Deal ends with the prizes getting delivered by a cynical truck driver, who insists that Let's Make A Deal winners never appreciate anything they haven't paid for themselves. He may be right, but it's the major failing of Deal that it takes the word of skeptics, instead of spending more time with the people, "dressed as they are."
Key features: Just an interactive trivia quiz. Zonk!