Show of the Day: Greed

16 Sep

In 1999 the phenomenal, hard-to-believe-just-how-good success of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire spawned a generation of game shows.  Never ones to be denied an easy chance to ride a trend, TV execs everywhere thought the game show was back in a big way and were determined to make sure they all had entrants in the field.  Each game show created during this period had its own feel.  The Weakest Link was all about the host, nefarious Englishwoman Anne Robinson while  21 evoked a retro feeling for when game show scandal was in.  Greed was the Machiavellian entrant into the game show conversation.  Like all of the major game shows of this wave, trivia was the show’s stock and trade, but it was the gimmick that made the show.  In Greed that gimmick was that it was a team game that slowly turned team members against one another as they chose between team success and the risk/reward of greater personal gain.  Trust and team versus individual became of issue in the reality game shows developing around the same time, particularly Survivor, where alliances and assurances became key, but I can’t think of another game show which so gleefully turned constestant on contestant.  The Weakest Link employed voting contestants out, but there wasn’t the one-on-one animus as in Greed, or the sense that it was a choice; you were required to vote for someone.

Hosted by game show veteran Chuck Woolery (original Wheel of Fortune, Love Connection, Scrabble), a game of Greed began with six contestants asked to answer a question where the answer was a number between 10 and 999 (this was Greed’s rough knockoff of Millionaire’s fastest finger, in which contestants quickly ordered four choices – I’m not sure how many people would recognize that term now, but it was one of several Millionaire terms to enter the lexicon back then).  Based on how close they got to the answer, the contestants would be ordered from one to five, with the sixth being magnanimously thrown back into the contestant pool for another shot in a later game.  The first person became the captain, who has all the power in the world of Greed, and two through five line up after him or her.

The game begins.  The first four questions are asked to each of the contests, starting with the fifth, and moving up, towards the captain, with each increasing in dollar value.  The questions are multiple choice.  It’s important to remember in Greed that the captain has all the power.  The captain can choose to accept any contestant’s answer or can reject the answer and replace it with his or her own.  In addition, the captain can choose to walk away with the money the team has won after any question, with that money being redistributed evenly amongst the team.

Here’s where the real Machiavellian aspects begin.  After the fourth question, if the captain chooses to continue forward, a device known as the “Terminator” chooses one contestant at random and offers them $10,000 win or lose to challenge a contestant of their choice.  The stakes?  Whoever wins gets the losing contestant’s share of the prize money, and if the losing contestant is the captain, the winner gets the captain’s seat as well; the loser is eliminated from the game.  Many shows would simply rely on the contestant’s own ambition and confidence as fuel for challenging another contestant.  That’s not enough for Greed, though.  Greed gives you 10K for this privilege.  You could lose all your money as a team, but if you take up the challenge, you’ll take home with 10 grand, no matter what.  That’s an incentive that’s hard to resist.

Later questions had multiple correct answers, necessitating each member of the team to give correct answers one by one, with the captain having the choice of accepting or rejecting any part of the answer.  If the team continued to move on, another “Terminator” or two would come along potentially reducing the team to just a couple of players.

Sometimes you’d see a lamb of a contestant actually refuse to take the money for the Terminator, only to be challenged in the next Termination round, making his or her weak decision look foolish.

On later, high value questions, with four or five answers required, when Woolery showed them that they had all but one answer correct, the producers would offer the players a bribe – a small percentage of the total money to each contestant.  Each contestant would make their own decision to keep going and bet on their answer being right or to walk away with the bribe. If there are fewer contestants than answers in a round, the captain can answer them all him or herself or can pass off that duty to any fellow contestant.

Greed began airing in November 1999, right on the heels of Millionaire’s success and sadly stopped in July, 2000, never to return.  It was by no means must-watch TV, but I always thought it was a cut above a lot of other game show clones.  Greed was also the first game show to give away $2 million in one shot, which you can watch below, on a rather easy question mind you.

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