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How a game show gets made

In a Burbank hotel room, TV critics from newspapers in Kansas City and Toronto are playing a mock up of a game show, complete with buzzers, flashy red LEDs and a scoreboard. As the reporters match wits with 21 uber-champion David Legler, Tom Gauer is running things with the smoothness of a practised game show host.

Gauer, in fact, has more than a decade of experience as a TV reporter in Kansas City, and through media connections there he came across the critic from the Kansas City Star. Said critic was interested in this game of Gauer’s, called Pressure. And he had a friend who worked for the Toronto Sun who’d probably be interested, too. Gauer decides to invite them to Game Show Congress, an annual event that brings together game show execs, legends, players and fans. The critics bite. The connection is made. The critics have a great time.

In fact, Gauer shows that the best way to catch a lucky break is to throw yourself directly in front of it, networking with the people you know and building on those connections.

Pressure itself was inspired in the mid-1990s, when Gauer was helping with the timer at a swim meet. During a break in the proceedings, he was curious to see if he could stop the timer so that certain numbers came up in the fractions-of-a-second read-out. It was nearly impossible.

“Then it occurred to me, this is a neat little scoring device,” Gauer recalls. That eureka moment was followed quickly thereafter by the outline for Pressure, in which your score for getting a question right is randomly based on where a randomly generated number falls when you buzz in.

“The number changes a million times a second. Realistically, your eye can’t see it change that often. Actually, you can’t even see it if it were a thousand times a second, but a million … that has a nice sound to it.”

There are three categories, each with three questions, and when one category is exhausted, a new one goes up on the board. The hitch, of course, is that when you’re wrong, you lose the random number on the board. The result is a fast-paced game in which, in effect, anyone can win, even if you’re not dominating the buzzer.

Gauer’s break came when a local group of eight stations picked up a new program that he thought would fail. “I called the local general manager and said, ‘Why not try to produce a show that would only appear on your eight stations, where the players would all be from your stations?’”

The general manager was interested, but had other ideas. “He said, ‘You know who you might want to call? Michael King.’ Well, he was the top guy. At KingWorld, he handled Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, Oprah, Inside Edition. And it turned out, they were good buddies. The GM gave King his start. They played golf.”

So Gauer flew out to Hollywood and showed King some demos he had filmed with the help of friends, some of whom worked on spec in hopes of landing jobs if the show hit. As a result, doing a filmed demo of the game show only cost $3000, as opposed to the $50,000 it would normally cost.

Other contacts emerged by following other networking leads. Gauer had been on Wheel of Fortune, and called the contestant coordinator looking for tickets. “He asked what I was doing in LA, and I said that I knocking on doors and making pitches, so he gave me some names.”
One thing led to another and Gauer connected with Bob Boden, a former CBS daytime exec then working for Disney, who soon moved to the Game Show Network.

So far, nobody has bit on a game show, but connections lead to more connections. Michael King thought one of the Gauer’s pitches, a word-association game called Common Sense, would work better as a newspaper feature, so Gauer’s partner looked up a contact he had at a syndicate. Today, the game, called Word Warp, appears in dozens of newspapers in North America and Australia.

Even so, Gauer is still trying to get his games on the air. In 2004, at Game Show Congress, he pitched Pressure to execs from Fremantle, which handles Fremantle. While he was putting Pressure through its paces, Betty White and legendary game show produced Bob Stewart happened to be walking by in the hall and heard the commotion. They stepped in and played all along.

“That’s can’t hurt,” says Gauer.

No kidding. As his network goes deeper and deeper into Hollywood, he gets closer and closer to finding the right connection at the right time. And as the hunt continues, we'll be updating members of our e-mail list at triviahalloffame.com.

Let's keep our fingers crossed!


August 2006