With many television shows slated to air or return to their networks with a case of new episodes this month, it's an interesting exercise to reflect on two particular shows that have been around for quite some time.
Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.
They don't boast any flashy teasers of "what to watch for" in the upcoming season. They don't tout a celebrity cast of judges who represent a "who's who" in the music, arts or entertainment businesses. Nor do they relentlessly pander to the young viewer. They do, however, command a loyal viewership that spans many ages. A 50-year-old male in Ohio is as likely to find these shows as compelling and entertaining as a 20-year-old female in New York City.
For any brand, that's hard to accomplish.
Celebrating close to three decades on air, their staying power has been pretty profound. With minimal effort and hoopla and delivering virtually zero sex appeal and drama, these two shows have managed to repeatedly attract a wide demography of viewers year after year after year.
So how have they managed to do that?
Well, solving puzzles and answering trivia is outrageously addictive. And also timeless.
Yet the genius of their longevity might actually be attributed to timing. Their launch date is one aspect of their appeal that current shows can't steal. That might be one of the primary reasons why they haven't been successfully copied.
Turns out, the seemingly simple formula of these game shows isn't so easy to replicate.
Three decades ago they did not have to compete out of the gate with an onslaught of other shows, digital devices and online platforms all competing for viewers' attention with a vengeance. And in the ensuing years they've occupied steady real estate in the mind space of their average viewer by staying true to the essential foundation of their shows.
Uncompromising in the quality of their core offering, their central raw premise has made them a primetime fixture for millions across age, income status, geography, gender and ethnicity.
These two shows have continued to hold their place within the hearts and homes of millions of television watchers without much, if any, reinvention to their brand.
Sure the game board in Wheel of Fortune transformed into a touch screen from a rollover and the prizes and wheel itself have both undergone slight changes, but the main principle of the show has remained untouched amidst minor additions to content. With Jeopardy, the only real noticeable change in format and look through the years was that Alex Trebek shaved his mustache. That's really it.
With minimal deviation these shows have been utterly dependable in their delivery. I know what to expect when I tune in. And I like that. It's a reassuring quality for a show to offer. Not too many shows represent such constants in their viewers' lives as these two.
They've exhibited shrewd ingenuity in not innovating. And, interestingly (and ironically perhaps), by doing so they haven't been as disrupted and displaced by emerging new media. They have absolutely created a presence in social media and are leveraging the digital space, but they have used these online frontiers to aid, not alter their traditional campaign of serving fresh, intelligent and engaging content -- an unwavering brand promise that is consistently met with each episode.
I'll admit that the post-show chat between Vanna and Pat is always cringe worthy. Just as awkward if not more so is watching Alex attempt to interact with contestants, yet these (endearing?) moments comprise the steadfast makeup of the shows.
As long as they are willing, able, and up to it (within the confines of their contract of course), Pat Sajak and Alex Trebek will never be forcefully replaced by better looking, hipper, more polished hosts for the same reason that Vanna White will never be replaced by someone younger: these three are their shows. They are the brand and, as such, just as pivotal to the sustained success of their shows as the puzzles and trivia.
But, the truth is that these three hosts are getting older... not to be overly morbid, but how likely is it that these two shows will carry on with new captains at the helm? What might that potential handover look like? And when should it start?
Both shows are still running their course at a strong and steady pace and the course itself isn't ending, but the hosts will likely want to hand over their batons... eventually. But to whom?
What is Wheel of Fortune with no Vanna White? What is Jeopardy with no Alex Trebek?