The Pyramid

As far as I'm concerned, Pyramid may well be the best game show format ever devised.  It's certainly in the top three.  When GSN announced they were reviving the show, fans got excited.  Tonight's premiere showed that the production team understands what makes the format work, but not quite what makes it sing.

The last time we saw Pyramid, it was hosted by Donny Osmond and was plagued by poor visual and structural design choices.  Each round was shortened from 30 to 20 seconds in an effort to squeeze in more commercial breaks.  Judging was inconsistent.  The set design was heavily influenced by the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? school of dark spaces and naked steel.  None of the changes were for the better, and the show was fairly universally reviled.

This time out they decided to keep it classic.  The set is directly descended from that of the original series.  Since this is the 21st century, the pyramid of mechanical trilons has been replaced with a same-size digital display that simulates mechanical card-flips and feels right at home.  Aside from a more yellow-leaning color scheme, the set feels like someone handed a design team a tape of Dick Clark's show and said, "make this."

The gameplay likewise echoes the Clark era with just a couple of minor alterations.  The "Lucky 7" and "7-11" bonus categories are gone, so there's nothing to hunt for on the board.  This is a mistake, as it removes a great little moment of drama as each category gets revealed, but that's relatively small potatoes.  Instead, any time a team gets all 7 items in 30 seconds, they get a $500 bonus and $5000 added to the jackpot if they make it to the Winner's Circle.  That's a nice change that makes each category count.  Tiebreakers use a "get as many as you can in 30 seconds" approach instead of the original "beat the first team's total or, if they got all 7, beat their time" system.  The new way is easier to explain and understand, and simpler is usually better, so I'll chalk that one up as a net positive.

So overall, the structure and gameplay are faithful to the original, which is great news for Pyramid fans.  But a few things don't work.

The Pyramid Winner's Circle is a brilliant piece of game design, but they've gotten a couple of things wrong here.  In the Winner's Circle, the audience is either completely silenced in the studio or muted after the fact, so that there is no applause or audience reaction of any kind during play.  I missed it.  The applause between categories gave the Winner's Circle some of its energy, and it feels oddly sterile without it.  They also have the rhythm a little off.  When the host announces "Here's the first subject... go!" the first subject should actually be revealed before "Go!".  Instead the clock starts and then the subject flips, burning off a couple of seconds from the clock and starting the round off with a lot less punch than it should.

The biggest problem with the show is the host, Mike Richards.  He's certainly serviceable, but he lacks warmth.  Watching Richards makes you appreciate how masterful Dick Clark was at his craft.  Clark was simultaneously perfectly relaxed and completely in control.  More importantly, he created a sense of intimacy.  There appeared to be a real rapport between Clark and his guests, and he talked to the players with a casual familiarity that gave the entire show a kind of mellow, easy-going vibe that made it a pleasure to watch.  Richards is coming from more of a Guy Smiley place-- though thankfully he lands far short of Todd Newton.  He's projecting his voice rather than talking conversationally.  He's announcing instead of guiding.  He's new at the gig, so I hope he'll warm into it, because everything else is there.  This is a very worthy successor to the original.

Now I need to dig up the email address for contestant applications...

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