Not long ago, broadcast networks reserved December for Christmas specials and reruns of regular series. That is no longer always the case.
In recent years, this month when some last-minute shoppers are too busy to watch TV has been used as a breeding ground for prime-time reality shows. Last year, NBC debuted "The Sing-Off" in December and brought it back again this year with a live finale slated for 7 p.m. today on KSL Channel 5.
Fox gets into the act next week with a new prime-time game show, "Million Dollar Money Drop" (7 p.m. today and Thursday, 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday). It's a game show similar to "Deal or No Deal": Viewers watch contestants gamble in a game-show format. The twist is that contestants start with $1 million -- and then proceed to lose the money through the course of seven questions.
Host Kevin Pollak ("Shark," "Willow") shows off four multiple-choice answers to a trivia question. Answers are displayed on video monitors with a trapdoor in front of each one. Players then literally place their bets, putting a pile of money on the trapdoor of what they believe the correct answer to be.
There's much dilly-dallying as Pollak asks contestants if they're sure about their answer choice, and sometimes players will shift a few bundles of cash -- $20,000 in each of the 50 bundles -- to another trapdoor as insurance against a wrong answer. If players place their money on an incorrect answer, it falls through the door that opens with much fanfare (the silver-and-black set is built on a platform one-and-a-half stories off the stage floor to accommodate the chutes beneath the trap doors).
As with most TV game shows that build toward a resolution, the questions get more difficult the longer players stay in the game. In a 24-minute clip provided by Fox, contestants Brittany and Gabe made it through three questions with $920,000 in hand (the clip ended before their fate was revealed).
In a phone interview earlier this month, Pollak said the piles of money are real and four guards stand just off-camera to ensure no one tries to abscond with the cash. "Million Dollar Money Drop" marks Pollak's first time hosting a game show that's made it to air. (He previously filmed some pilots that didn't get picked up, including the scrapped Fox series "Our Little Genius.")
"I'll be honest; it's the game that got me," he said. "There are a few new elements to an otherwise familiar genre, which is the multiple-choice trivia-based quiz leading to a million dollars. That, at its core, we've seen. The new elements are what excited me."
After Monday's premiere rollout, "Million Dollar Money Drop" is scheduled to air at 8 p.m. Tuesday starting Jan. 4 and 7 p.m. Thursday starting Jan. 6.
"You can see the network is very much behind this show," Pollak said, "which to me means one of two things: It will be a big, sloppy success -- or the Hindenburg."