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More weird game shows are coming

More weird game shows are coming. Producers are developing increasingly offbeat contests in the quest for big bucks

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Regis Philbin, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
Who Wants to be a Millionaire: Maria Melin

”The Chair” and ”The Chamber” have been executed, ”Weakest Link” is weakening, and even ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” seems to be approaching its final answer. But don’t get out your funeral suit — the prime-time game show lives on. Yes, TV producers are still looking for new ways to lure large audiences with game shows that go beyond previous boundaries of wackiness.

Most of the upcoming shows fit into established patterns — ”Weakest Link”-like trivia and elimination contests, and ”Fear Factor”-type challenges where contestants let themselves be abused or humiliated. Many of them will debut this summer, giving networks an inexpensive and original alternative to reruns.

For instance, on June 10, MTV will premiere ”I Bet You Will,” whose host will carry wads of cash and approach people on the street in order to see how low they’ll stoop for money. NBC is planning ”Dog Eat Dog,” a ”Chamber”-like show involving stunts and trivia questions. There’s no premiere date, though, possibly because one contestant in the pilot nearly drowned while trying to hold his breath underwater for two minutes and had to be hospitalized. ”A lot of this is the influence of ‘Fear Factor,”’ says EW critic Bruce Fretts. ”Everyone is trying to copy that. But how far can you really push it on network TV? How many more animal entrails can be ingested by contestants?”

Several new shows are cropping up on The Game Show Network, which, until recently, seemed primarily a place to catch Richard Dawson and Charles Nelson Reilly trading quips on 1970s ”Match Game” reruns. On April 15, GSN premiered a slightly recycled project called ”Whammy! The All New Press Your Luck,” an update of the ’80s game show best remembered for its catchphrase, ”Big money…no whammies!”

On June 3, GSN will debut ”Russian Roulette,” based on a show that’s already a hit overseas. ”Temptation Island”’s Mark L. Walberg will host (you were expecting Christopher Walken?). The non-lethal premise: It’s a ”Weakest Link”-like contest, where, every time a contestant gets a wrong answer, someone is randomly eliminated and drops out — literally, through a trap door. ”Some of this is just the last gasp of ‘Millionaire’ mania,” Fretts says. ”The Game Show Network clearly needs new product.”