Though I’m a game show fanatic through-and-through, I’ve never had much of a connection to Let’s Make A Deal. When I was a boy I found grown-ups in costumes a little creepy—it’s the same reason I was never a fan of live-action kids’ shows—and the minimal game-play of LMAD didn’t offer much to make up for that. Plus, Let’s Make A Deal was often the butt of jokes on other TV shows of the era. As I learned later—thanks largely to the documentary Deal—the cultural guardians of the ‘70s found LMAD crass and venal for the way it emphasized raw greed over skill, and triumphant consumerism over sensible choices. Those cultural guardians are, in my modern opinion, full of it. Still, they had a subtle effect on what I thought about the show. Even at age 7, I assumed it was beneath me.
That changed a little when Game Show Network started showing the limited pool of Let’s Make A Deal episodes available for syndication. I still didn’t care much about the game-play or the costumes, but man, Monty Hall… that guy was a master. It takes more skill than people recognize to be a TV host. It's hard work to keep a show moving and ad lib responses to what just happened and be likable without domineering. On the average Let’s Make A Deal episode, Monty Hall kept a spiel going from the moment he walked on-stage until the moment the last chroma-keyed credit rolled off the top of the screen, and he never once seemed to lose control of the game, the players or the necessities of the broadcast for even a second.
So when I tuned in to the first week of episodes of CBS’ revamped Let’s Make A Deal—hosted by Wayne Brady—my main concern was whether Brady could carry an hour the way Hall could. The verdict? Of course not. No one’s Monty Hall—not even other top-tier game show hosts like Bill Cullen, Gene Rayburn and Bob Barker. But Brady’s not bad, either. The main job of a Let’s Make A Deal host is to make sure the contestants (or “traders”) and the viewing audience alike can keep track of the myriad deals-within-deals that get offered during the course of a segment. This new version of LMAD hasn’t been as labyrinthine thus far as Monty Hall’s version could be. But Brady still offers the traders exchanges for exchanges, and he’s doing a fine job of keeping all the deals straight.
I also like that this new Let’s Make A Deal is shot in Las Vegas (as the old one was for a time). Again, it’s early in the run, but unlike The Price Of Right’s tiresome mix of college kids, soldiers and aspiring actresses, the first week of LMAD featured a contestant base that looks a lot more like actual America—lumpy, diverse, a little befuddled—than a lot of the contestants on other game shows. It also seems that an effort is being made to make Let’s Make A Deal a smidgen more challenging, by taking elements from the original game—like the “Zonk” prizes, or brainteasers like “Would you rather have what’s behind the curtain or 3000 Thai Bhat?”—and dropping them into the mix more frequently. On the old LMADs you might see two Zonks per show. The new one has a Zonk almost every segment. Even the end-game—The Big Deal—is a little tougher, because it involves one trader picking from three curtains, rather than two traders choosing. There’s a much higher chance of one of the day’s big winners getting hosed at the end.
All of that said, I have to confess that I have no plans to make Let’s Make A Deal a regular part of my television day. When it comes right down to it, this is a show that rewards people’s ability to guess, and after a while that becomes a little dull. I’m also consistently annoyed that the contestants are encouraged to assess the cash value of their deals to determine whether they’ve “won,” and not to consider whether they actually needed a jet-ski or a dinette set more than the $1000 they traded away. I’m not saying Let’s Make A Deal is still beneath me (because it’s not; I’ve been known to watch and enjoy much worse), and I’m not saying it’s immoral. I’m just saying it wears out its welcome fairly quickly, no matter how competent the host may be.
-I’m probably making too much of this, but I found it interesting that this show debuted the same week that the hubbub about blackface on Australian TV erupted. Wayne Brady’s always had an unusual TV persona: He’s “the non-threatening black guy” who keeps making jokes about his blandness, as though he wants to make sure that we know he’s hip to his own schtick. But on every episode of Let’s Make A Deal I watched, the crowd contained at least one white guy dressed as a “rapper” or a ‘70s disco stud in an afro wig, and on the first LMAD episode, Brady made a (semi-joking) disapproving comment when his announcer Jonathan Mangum wore hip-hop gear when standing next to a spray-painted Zonk car. In episode two, Brady engaged one of the show’s hot spokesmodels in an awkward “soul shake.” I know Brady wants to be cool and inclusive and doesn’t want to put people off, but still… maybe a little less of white folks doing ungainly lampoons of black folks?
-Thanks to The Simpsons, I can’t watch any LMAD scene that involves choosing between cash and a mystery box without shouting, “The box! The box!” (Actually, this happens when I hear or see any mention of a box.)