You could call it dumb luck that NBC's "Sale of the Century" began its Tournament of Champions this week. You could call it coincidence that the syndicated "Jeopardy!" is presenting its popular teen tournament for two weeks beginning Monday.
You'd be wrong. Big-money, lots-of-frills segments of game shows are a way of life during February as producers step up efforts to boost ratings for one of the sweeps months in which the ratings of every TV station in the country are measured.
"It's definitely not a coincidence," says Brian Frons, NBC's vice president of daytime programming. "Game shows are like any other program at the network. You try to do special things during sweeps."
"Sale of the Century's" current Tournament of Champions, he noted, will be followed by a week of Paris shopping-spree-oriented prizes, and other NBC game shows have special offerings of their own.
"In the case of the Paris shopping spree, we're just trying to do something different," Frons said. "In the case of the Tournament of Champions, it's that the really good players make the game more exciting."
And sometimes it's money for money's sake. The nighttime version of "Wheel of Fortune," seen locally on KCOP Channel 13, began giving away money instead of prizes last fall, hoping to find a bigger audience for the November sweeps period. It worked so well that producing Merv Griffin Enterprises has stuck with cash prizes.
Frons said his network often asks game-show producers for special programs to air during sweeps. "We do special things outside the sweeps, too, but there is more emphasis here because affiliates really care about February."
What they are getting: "Classic Concentration" is sponsoring a contest for home viewers; "Scrabble" has a week featuring game-show hosts as contestants; "Win, Lose or Draw" features past Olympians the week of Feb. 22, and "Super Password" presents a "Dobie Gillis" reunion next week and a "Carol Burnett Show" reunion (including Burnett) the week of Feb. 22.
"We give them (viewers) more of what they watch game shows for in the first place," explained one producer who asked not to be identified. "They fantasize about being on the show and winning these things themselves, and during sweeps their fantasies are even better."
Other game-show specials you'll see during sweeps:
CBS's "Card Sharks" will find contestants trying to second-guess a polling group comprised of Las Vegas showgirls next week, of beauty contest winners the week of Feb. 15, and of Playgirl centerfolds the week of Feb. 22.
"Hollywood Squares," seen locally on KHJ-TV Channel 9, will frolic with two weeks of shows taped on the beaches of Hollywood, Fla.