Germany's ZDF Cancels Long-Running 'Wanna Bet?' Variety Show

3:22 AM PST 04/06/2014 by Scott Roxborough
"Wanna Bet?" host Markus Lanz was unable to save the show, which has seen ratings slump in the past two years.

Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Madonna, Justin Bieber and Michael Jackson were among the many A-list stars that have appeared on the show, which has been on the air in Germany since 1981.

German public broadcaster ZDF has canceled Wanna Bet? one of the longest-running and historically most successful variety shows worldwide.

The show, a combination of celebrity talk and game show-style competitions involving ordinary people, has been on the air in Germany since 1981. The last Wanna Bet? show will go on Dec. 13, 2014.

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For more than 30 years Wanna Bet? was the most successful non-sports broadcast in Germany, often grabbing more than 50 percent of the national audience for its two- to three-hour live broadcasts, aired on Saturday night, six to eight times a year.

Wanna Bet? has been adapted for several international markets. Phil Gurin's The Gurin Co. has twice tried to adapt it for the U.S. market, first as a one-hour variety show pilot for ABC and, in a deal announced earlier this year, in an half-hour version focusing on the gaming elements of the show.

The ratings guarantee for Wanna Bet? made the show a must for A-list celebrities and Wanna Bet? played host to talents including Will Smith, Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Cruise as well as a who's who of pop music through the years including Johnny Cash, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, R.E.M. and Justin Bieber.

The show has also had its share of controversy, most shocking on Dec. 4, 2010, when Samuel Koch, a 23-year old aspiring stuntman, was turned into a quadriplegic after suffering a horrific accident live on air while trying to jump over five moving cars using spring loaded boots. ZDF canceled the live broadcast, the first time in the show's history. Bieber, who was scheduled to perform later in the program, tweeted his sympathies for Koch but it didn't appease many of the singer's fans, who launched an online campaign attacking the channel for its decision.

Ratings for Wanna Bet? peaked on the Feb. 9, 1985 show when 23.42 million viewers tuned in. Even following the rise of commercial television competition in Germany in the 1980s, the show remained appointment television, regularly drawing 14 million to 15 million viewers.

But competition from new primetime reality shows, particularly the launch of Germany's version of American Idol in 2002, was hard on ratings and Wanna Bet? continued to slide. Thomas Gottschalk, who hosted the Wanna Bet? From 1987 to 1992 and from 1994 to 2011 and is most closely associated with the format, went out on a high, with nearly 15 million viewers for his final program in December 2011. Replacement Markus Lanz started strong, drawing 13.6 million viewers, a 43 percent share, for his  Wanna Bet? debut but ratings sank quickly.

Lanz's show in February hit an all-time ratings low of just 5.85 million viewers. The April 5, 2014 program drew just 6.8 million, prompting ZDF to finally pull the plug.

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