Preview: New NBC game show 'Minute to Win It' is unoriginal and imbecilic

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 13, 2010

NBC made only about 38 minutes' worth of Sunday night's two-hour "Minute to Win It" premiere available for preview. But hey, who's complaining? You don't complain about a gift from the gods -- nor even one from the creatively bankrupt NBC programming department.

The additional 70 minutes or so that would have been spent watching a full-length (minus commercials) version of this imbecilic game show could be put to any number of intellectually superior pursuits -- a doughnut-induced sugar coma, for instance. Or waiting in line at the DMV, not that 70 minutes would cover it. Or complaining about the weather -- to your dog.

Even for a medium that has largely dedicated itself to the flagrant wasting of time, "Minute to Win It" comes across as unconscionably wasteful. Not only is the show's haplessly hyped "excitement" lame and pathetic, but it has the conceptually familiar aura of an idea whose time has gone. Long gone. And so it has: "Minute to Win It" is a variation on a game show from the 1950s called "Beat the Clock," in which contestants won washing machines and fox stoles by doing such pointless stunts as catching a tennis ball in a paper cup or knocking a hat off one's wife's head with a whipped-cream spritzer.

Obviously, there's been some conspicuous ante-upping for the new NBC version; Contestants can indeed win a million bucks, though only by successfully completing 10 of these stunts within 60 seconds each, the difficulty increasing with the amount of prize money attached, starting with $1,000. The set on which this transpires is one of those high-tech, light-show-on-a-starship deals popularized by "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and its progeny (none of them as entertaining as the original).

Another change: Some stunts are given titles with fairly high innuendo counts: "Bite Me," "This Blows" and "Keep It Up," for example, and what a clever touch that is. Bud Collyer, host of the '50s version, sure would have blushed at those, although life was such in the '50s that people either would not have noticed the sexual references or would have pretended not to notice and looked the other way. Looking the other way, come to think of it, is easily the best way to experience "Minute to Win It."

The nimble and cute contestant seen on the segment made available for preview admittedly earns one's sympathy as she attempts to knock over plastic cups with the air from a balloon, wiggle a cookie from her forehead to her mouth without using her hands, lift paper bags with her teeth (that one looks absurdly easy), keep two feathers in the air by blowing on them and capture two large orange balls mounted on sticks while -- get this -- blindfolded!

"Oh Lord, please help me!" the comely contestant cries out. "Awesome, awesome," shouts the show's host, cable TV cooking cutup Guy Fieri. His job is principally to mention the million-dollar jackpot as often as possible and to rev up the contestant, who then revs up the audience: "Give it up for her, folks!" and so on, Fieri shouts.

"This is one of the most exciting competitions I've seen," Fieri exults after the bit with the feathers. Anybody that easily excited should seek appropriate medication.

Before or after commercial breaks, the producers insert what are called "bumpers" -- brief shots of anonymous folks attempting the stunts in their back yards. The common denominator among these is obvious: There's always a fat guy in the group, a-wigglin' and a-jigglin' in pursuit of cheap laughs. When will members of the Fat Community stop lending themselves to such shameless exploitation?

When the cows come back to Capistrano, that's when.

Minute to Win It

(two hours) debuts Sunday at 7 p.m. on NBC.

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