The truth isn't out there anymore

Art of bluffing is rising star on slate of game shows

There's a new crop of game shows coming that hinge on whether contestants are bluffing. And those programs could make it to the airwaves sooner rather than later if Hollywood writers continue to strike.

Filming has wrapped on ABC's "Wanna Bet?" a game show based on a German format, in which celebrities wager on stunt- performing contestants. Also in production is "Duel," based on a French format, in which players gamble for prizes using the bluff as part of their strategy. On CBS' "Do You Trust Me?" strangers team for money, wagering on how much each can depend on the other. On Fox's "Moment of Truth," premiering Jan. 23 (and based on a Colombian format), contestants answer questions about their own lives, strapping themselves to lie detectors in a quest for cash. NBC's "Amnesia" also delves into players' personal lives.

Steve Sternberg, executive vp audience analysis at Magna Global, said any bluffing trend in game shows might signal broadcasters' attempts to find the next "Deal or No Deal."

"The networks are always looking to put a new spin on what's working," he said.

The show with perhaps the newest — and unlikeliest — spin is "Moment of Truth." Five years ago, Fox tried and failed with the extreme game show "The Chamber," while ABC had similar results with "The Chair."

But with stories about torture and interrogation continuing to make headlines, some advertisers said viewers still might not want to embrace such dark show concepts. "We weren't ready as a culture to embrace it then, and I don't think we're ready now," said Laura Caraccioli-Davis, executive vp at Starcom Entertainment.

What viewers are ready for, everyone seems to agree, are family-friendly game shows. Shows that aren't too risque. Shows, Sternberg said, that "adults can watch with kids in the room."

And that's just what NBC hopes it has with "Amnesia." Craig Plestis, the network's executive vp alternative programming, compared the eight-episode series to the classic "This Is Your Life," "but with stakes to it," he said, adding "Amnesia" was much more light-hearted than "Moment of Truth."

Of course, the two networks have battled over formats before, most recently after NBC announced "The Singing Bee" and Fox followed with "Don't Forget the Lyrics." But Plestis said this time around it's no contest. "They're completely different formats," he said of "Amnesia" and "Truth." "So I don't see this as a race."

A.J. Frutkin is a reporter for MediaWeek.