TV game shows spike with drop in economy

Hollywood Wrap with George Pennacchio
LOS ANGELES "I really could use the money just for survival in this economy. So it would be fantastic," said Natasha Shinberg, a contestant hoping victory is in the cards for her on the cable TV game show "Catch 21."

Natasha is among a growing number of people using game shows to supplement their incomes.

"I'm a real estate broker and, as you know, the housing market is terrible. So this is just a great opportunity to make some money and have a lot of fun doing it," said Natasha.

It appears more and more people are coming up with the same idea to help "solve" their financial problems.

"We are seeing an up-tick in the number of people who are turning out for 'Wheel of Fortune' tryouts," said Harry Friedman, Executive Producer of "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune." "At our 'Wheel Mobile' events, it's up in some cases about 20 percent."

Game shows have been entertaining us for decades. The fun usually includes watching people win, even if it's only a color TV for some newlyweds.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?" Regis Philbin is back in primetime for a series of shows.

"Here we are in the middle of a recession, giving away a million or increments along the way. Naturally, I'm pulling for them more than ever now with this economy we have," said Philbin.

On the set of "Catch 21," the grand prize may be smaller at $25,000, but the hopes are just as high that contestants will go home with money that will make a difference.

"When they get to five, this audience is screaming, 'Quit! Stop! Go home! Keep the $5,000!'" said Merrill Heatter, the creator of "Catch 21." "Which could be a sign of the times."

"Everyone is actually kind of just excited to get any money. And we've probably given a lot more $5,000 or $6,000 wins because they're like, 'I'm not even going for the big money. I want to take the money ... sure money ... and leave with that," said Alfonso Ribeiro, the host of "Catch 21."

Shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" offer life-changing money.

The people at "Wheel" say viewers demand good game-players. They also say the best contestants read a lot and are good at crossword puzzles.

"Jeopardy!" is a whole different ballgame.

"Clearly it's in a league of its own. You have to pass a tough set of tests in order to make it to the show," said Friedman.

Beverly Pomerantz helps cast "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?" The longtime casting director says you could win the best one-day money you'll ever make, if you know how to play the casting game.

"Sparkle, enthusiasm and know-how to play the game! It's really important when you go in for an audition," said Pomerantz. "You really need to watch the show, figure out how to play the game and go in with a lot of enthusiasm. It's really helpful."

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