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MTV Is Getting Into the Game-Show Biz

November 08, 1987|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Roll over Monte Hall and tell Art Fleming, Bob Barker and Pat Sajak the news: MTV is getting into the game-show business.

On Dec. 7, MTV will debut "Remote Control," a 30-minute, humor-laden program that will air weekdays at 4 p.m. (with a 9 a.m. rebroadcast the following morning). Though the video channel has yet to make an official announcement (or cast the show's host) Lee Masters, MTV's executive vice president and general manager, acknowledged that MTV has made a commitment of more than $1 million in start-up costs to fund an initial outlay of 65 episodes.

"It's an expensive experiment, which could be huge for us or could be a total failure," Masters said. "But we see it as an opportunity to try something different. For MTV to be successful, we always have to do new things. MTV should mean new--that's why people watch us, as an antidote to boredom.

"If we're going to stay on the cutting edge, we have to constantly evolve and change--and 'Remote Control' is a continuation of that policy. Anyway, the whole idea is to have fun with this--("Jeopardy!" host) Alex Trebek has always been my hero."

According to a plot description that MTV recently sent to record labels, "Remote Control" is emceed by a young game-show fanatic (and MTV fan) who has started his own program in the remodeled basement of his home at 72 Little Fox Lane. A quartet of college-aged kids serve as contestants, competing for possession of a remote-control device that allows them to answer questions, largely based on TV and pop-culture trivia, which are displayed on a bank of oversized TV monitors.

The show will also be enlivened by: "Commercial Break," which will put a contestant out of commission for 30 seconds; "Off the Air," which abruptly removes a challenger from the game permanently; and "The Remote Control Players," a roving band of pseudo TV repairmen and neighbors who provide sight gags and comical breaks in the proceedings.

Question categories include: Fat TV Show Stars, "I Love Lucy," the Sex Survey, Sports, Russian TV, TV Theme Sing-A-Longs and (of course) MTV. According to Masters, the video channel's execs are aiming for broad comedy, but within certain responsible limits. Masters said one question category MTV execs rejected was the Betty Ford Institute, which would've featured trivia about rock and film stars who had been treated for drug and alcohol abuse.

Record company reaction to the show has been mixed, especially from labels still peeved about what they see as MTV's move away from heavy metal and embrace of broader-appeal pop videos. Other companies appear optimistic, especially after they received a list of MTV "promotional opportunities," detailing the value of 10-second record company identification spots that companies would receive for providing cassettes, CDs, tour jackets and other material as prizes.

"We're taking a wait-and-see approach," said one West Coast label vice president. "But it sounds like MTV is taking yet another step away from the record business as it becomes more and more dependent on the whims of the advertising community."

Masters responded: "A lot of record company people can be very myopic. They worry that for one half-hour each day we won't be playing their videos. However, we think it's really in the industry's best interest for this show to be a success. If it does well, it can have a halo effect, which will enhance the entire channel."

He insisted that the ballyhoo that will accompany the debut of "Remote Control" should not be interpreted as a sign that MTV is moving away from its core rock audience.

"We have a commitment to music--and we have no intention of walking away from that," Masters said. "If we get a big audience for this, I don't think you'll hear record execs complaining. Especially not the ones whose clips come on immediately after the show when two or three times more people are watching."

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