When it comes to mindless entertainment, it doesn’t get much more mindless than “Deal or No Deal.”
You don’t have to be smart to win on this 2005-10 TV game show, which returns with a slightly updated format Dec. 5 on CNBC. You don’t need to be able to solve puzzles, as on “Wheel of Fortune.” You don’t have to know what anything costs, as on “The Price Is Right.” You don’t have to know a single bit of trivia, as on “Jeopardy!”
You just have to be lucky. And know when to quit.
What's most unbelievable about “Deal” is how entertaining this mindless entertainment can be.
When Howie Mandel was asked to host the show — which originated in the Netherlands — back in 2005, he rejected the offer. Three times.
“I thought these guys were punking me,” he said. “They showed me it, and there was no game. I said, ‘How do I sustain this for an hour? I don’t want to do this.’”
Who could blame him? “Deal or No Deal” is, on the surface, downright dumb.
Contestants begin by choosing one of 26 briefcases, each representing a payout between one penny and $1 million.
(The briefcases are held and opened by 26 very attractive women; Meghan Markle, who went on to star in “Suits” before marrying into the British royal family, was once one of those women.)
Contestants then have to pick other briefcases, which are opened to reveal dollar amounts. If they’re low figures, the odds of winning big bucks go up; if they’re high figures, odds of winning big bucks go down. And the “banker” updates what he’s offering for the contestant to drop out of the game.
Actually, in the new version of “Deal,” the banker updates what she offers. And contestants will have an opportunity to negotiate with her. Oh, and the new version is produced at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla.; the 2005-09 version on NBC and the first syndicated season (2008-09) were produced in Los Angeles; the second syndicated season (2009-10) was produced in Connecticut.
What surprised Mandel the most is that despite the simplicity of the concept, the show is “so visceral.”
“People used to tell me … they sit on their couch at home and they scream at the television,” he said. “And whether they’re screaming out of excitement, whether they’re screaming out of frustration — ‘No!’ — it’s the same thing.”
Executive producer Scott St. John compared “the raw vulnerability that people experience when they have to turn down hundreds of thousands of dollars” to “a live sporting event.”
“People who have no financial investment in what’s happening are on the edge of their seat. We have just the most invested audience because the game is so compelling.”
And maybe “Deal or No Deal” is not as dumb as it seems.
“I’ve had people tell me teachers have used it in their math classes,” asserted briefcase model Patricia Kara.
Really? What could they possibly teach their students with “Deal or No Deal”?
“Probability,” Kara said.
Oh. OK. Well, that makes sense.
By the way, of the hundreds of contestants who appeared on “Deal or No Deal,” five won $1 million — and the first was a Utahn, Jessica Robinson, in September 2008.
She won it on a special version of the show that featured five million-dollar cases, and she was seven months pregnant at the time.
What are the odds of that?
“Deal or No Deal” returns with back-to-back episodes on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 6 and 7 p.m. MT on CNBC.