Empty7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4
Here we have a really good idea for a game show, and as its snarky host Dennis Miller is only occasionally annoying and often appropriately witty (like the moment when he observes, referring to a trivia question involving consonants, that a woman "always knows where the 'G' is.") We can even forgive the fact that Miller isn't really even hosting here, that it's something of a cheat in that he and co-host Amanda Byram (British, naturally) function as something of an extended peanut gallery/game summary headquarters in discussing the action that just took place.
The real host is actually never seen but is sufficiently impressive nonetheless. He's a questioner named Pat Kiernan who fairly dazzles with his fast-paced and unflappable style. Therein lies the real strength of the mega-intense "Grand Slam." Not only does it join the most successful game show players in recent memory, it actually challenges them in a fashion that makes them break a genuine sweat.
The deal here is, as described, a match of speedy delivery at least as much as trivia knowledge. The 16 players are ranked, NCAA Tournament-style, by their career game show earnings to date. "Jeopardy!" superstar Brad Rutter, in first place with $3.3 million, would play No. 16, Amy Kelly, who earned $20,000 on GSN's "Lingo." The guy positioned at No. 2, Ken Jennings, of course needs no introduction, having won 74 straight games on "Jeopardy!" He upends a fellow named Victor Lee in the premiere, but it's no cakewalk.
On a glimmering, moody set punctuated by dramatic lighting and a driving musical beat a la "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (whose executive producer Michael Davies also produces "Grand Slam"), the players answer questions of general knowledge, numbers, logic and grammar that come at them rapid-fire rather like "Jeopardy!" on steroids. The single-elimination tourney awards a single winner $100,000 -- chump change by today's million-dollar standards. But this ain't about the money. It's about determining who's the sharpest of the sharp. And this just might.