Sunday, March 22, 2009

TV Bingo sets sights on prime time - 16th April 2008

The new wave of TV Bingo shows sweeping the nation has – much like online bingo - helped bring the UK’s favourite game into people’s living rooms, but bingo on television is by no means a new phenomenon.

Throughout television history, broadcasters have tried to harness bingo’s popularity, with varying degrees of success. Some colourful celebrities and TV personalities have done their best to engage audiences and deliver the atmosphere of the bingo hall to homes around the world.

As early as 1958, bingo first became a hit on the small screen in the U.S. when American presenter Monty Hall fronted Bingo At Home on the DuMont Television Network. Station manager Steve Krantz came up with the idea for the show, which was so successful that switchboards at Channel 5 burned out when a deluge of calls came in from viewers first bombarded the show’s hotline.

Various European countries took up the idea and aired bingo shows, with a loyal audience emerging in Scandinavian countries. However, bingo failed to attract primetime audiences in the UK, where land-based bingo halls remained the choice of bingo fans.

The struggles faced by land-based bingo in the new millennium and the emergence of online bingo have prompted a string of fresh TV bingo productions, both in the UK and abroad.

Gala Bingo, part of the Gala Coral Group and the UK’s number one bingo operator, launched Gala TV, the first live interactive bingo television channel, in late 2006.

Gala Bingo teamed-up with Endemol UK to produce Gala TV, which is available on the Sky Digital platform, Channel 841. This interactive live bingo and gaming channel is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and includes 8 hours of live, presenter-led bingo between 5pm – 1am daily. These live bingo sessions combine experienced bingo callers, who have been selected from Gala Bingo’s clubs across the UK, with experienced TV presenters.

In the U.S., ABC’s National Bingo Night hit screens nationwide in May 2007. Ed Sanders, host of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, presented the show, which pitted a solo contestant against a studio audience in a game of bingo.

Despite much hype surrounding the show’s launch, National Bingo Night achieved disappointing viewing figures on its first night and ABC eventually shipped it to rival network GSN.

In the UK, the success of Gala TV prompted competitor productions to emerge, such as BigBoxBingo.

Fronted by Greg Scott and originally broadcast out of Lithuania, each programme features six games of bingo, with cards costing £1.50 each. The show has proved popular and recently moved to studios in London.

Less successful was Bingo Lotto, which aired for six weeks in 2008 on the Virgin 1 and Challenge channels.

Popular comic Joe Pasquali and former Hear’say popstar Suzanne Shaw teamed up to present the interactive show, which invited viewers to pre-buy their tickets in shops and play along with the action.

However, poor ticket sales cut the show’s run short and a second series is rumoured to be in doubt, despite initial plans to air the programme continuously.

The latest TV bingo production promises to marry online bingo and TV simultaneously, and is bringing back some British TV favourites to help present the show. Celebrity TV Bingo will star former Bullseye presenter Jim Bowen, along with comedy duo Cannon & Ball and host Greg Scott.

Should the show achieve the kind of success that Bullseye enjoyed in the 1980s and 90s, bingo on television could finally find a permanent place in the hearts of a nation.

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