With its longtime afternoon staple "Guiding Light" set to go dark, CBS is hoping to make a new deal with daytime viewers this fall by reviving an old favorite -- "Let's Make a Deal."
The daily one-hour game show on which contestants in kooky costumes trade for hidden prizes is presumably the network's replacement for its veteran soap opera, which is being pulled off the air after more than a half century because of declining ratings. Network executives are scheduled to make a formal announcement today at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour in Pasadena.
"Let's Make a Deal's" original host, Monty Hall, the person most associated with the show's success since its debut on NBC in December 1963, will be there to hand over the hosting torch to entertainer Wayne Brady.
"I'm very, very excited," Hall said over the weekend. "The show has all kinds of staying power. I have fan mail still coming it from people saying, 'I miss the show.' "
CBS is banking on the game show's nostalgic value to attract viewers. But of even greater importance is the bottom line. The game show will cost much less to produce than a soap opera, for which producers and writers turn out five hour-long episodes a week for an ensemble of performers
Nancy Tellem, president of CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group, said in April that the network wanted to find a show for the "Guiding Light" slot "which could have the potential to grow, and we could do it at a much lower cost."
The new "Deal" will be basically the same as the old "Deal." Contestants buy, sell, or trade for hidden prizes, which could be anything from major appliances to a "zonk" -- a worthless item such as a bale of hay. The conclusion of each episode revolves around a trade for "The Big Deal," which could range from a new car to large cash prizes.
"It's not going to be much different," said Hall. "You don't tinker with a great format. It's the right horse -- it just needed a new jockey."
"Let's Make a Deal" ran for 13 years, first on NBC and then on ABC, and has been revived several times in both daytime and evening editions since its original launch. The last televised resurrection came in 2003 when it was on NBC and featured Billy Bush of "Access Hollywood," but it was short-lived. The game show is in reruns on cable's the Game Show Network.
Hall, who says he is "well into my 80s," said he will remain behind the scenes as a producer and consultant, though he is not ruling out making an occasional appearance.
"Say I were to go on the show in 2010," he said. "That would mean six decades that I've appeared on 'Let's Make a Deal.' Wouldn't that be fantastic?"
Hall said the network has long shown interest in bringing the show back, but the host has been a stumbling block.
"We had a big search, we auditioned 30 to 40 people over the last six months," said Hall. "Then we flew in Wayne Brady. He was terrific. We did a pilot four weeks ago, and it was super."
Asked why Brady, an African American who hosts Fox's "Don't Forget the Lyrics," won out over other candidates, Hall, who is white, quipped, "Well, he looks like me."
He then added, "Wayne has a really pleasing personality. He's done game shows. He's great at improv, and he can ad-lib. That's what you have to be able to do with a show like this."
The selection of Brady, who headlines his own show, "Wayne Brady: Making %@*t Up," at the Venetian in Las Vegas, marks the second time a member of ABC's former improv show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" has taken the reins of a landmark game show from its iconic host. In 2007, Drew Carey took over for Bob Barker when the silver-haired host retired from "The Price Is Right."
Brady's new gig brings him back to daytime for the first time since 2004. He hosted the syndicated "The Wayne Brady Show" for two years and won an Emmy for outstanding talk show host.