American TV Not Crazy, Just Japanese

AP, June 24, 2008

A grown man wearing a diaper is spun around until he can barely stand, then is made to try an obstacle course carrying pitchers of milk without spilling any.

Another man, dressed like an insect, flings himself onto a giant-sized “windshield” with a giant-sized “splat.”

Is American television going crazy? No—American television is going Japanese.

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On Tuesday, ABC is airing back-to-back premieres of “Wipeout” (8 p.m EDT) and “I Survived a Japanese Game Show” (9 p.m. EDT), with a domestic edition of “Hole in the Wall” coming this fall on Fox.

“It’s going to be like nothing that American audiences have ever seen on network television,” says “I Survived” host Tony Sano.

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“There is a great desire to shock over there,” notes “Hole in the Wall” executive producer Stuart Krasnow. “Ironically, we’re more puritan over here. But the Japanese will shock to any extreme.”

Popular around the world, “Hole” pits contestants against solid walls coming at them with odd-shaped openings. They must mimic those shapes with their bodies to allow them to pass through the walls, lest they get knocked into a pool of water.

Physically challenging, for sure. But for sheer zaniness, “I Survived” executive producers Arthur Smith and Kent Weed have gone all-out weird.

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By now, you’re probably picking up that the most consistent themes in Japanese game shows are humiliation and embarrassment—sometimes to the point of sadistic—which oddly enough can serve as stress relief for conservative Japanese. “It’s one of the only avenues they have for release, where they can actually let go and not be conservative anymore,” notes Weed.

Krasnow agrees. While U.S. game show contestants are in it for the cash and prizes, he says the motivation is far different for the Japanese player.

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To make it through such torture also reflects well on one’s family, Smith says of the Japanese. “Their games are all about saving face. When you don’t do good, you’ve harmed your family—you don’t look good in your family’s eyes.”

All this is very different from American game shows, where players are generally treated with respect, no matter how goofily they behave.

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And unlike Japan, U.S. game show contestants are typically chosen for their likeability. “We place a lot of emphasis on casting,” says David Goldberg, president of Endemol Entertainment, which produces “Deal or No Deal” and the upcoming “Wipeout.” “We think it’s really important to have people playing the game that we relate to and have a genuine interest in seeing them win.”

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