Hollywood Squares' production shakeup is leading to two producers without significant game show experience to take over the show for its fifth season.
Henry Winkler, who gained international stardom as Happy Days' Fonzie from 1974-84, and Michael Levitt have been named executive producers of the somewhat-troubled game for the 2002-03 season.
The decision comes one week after King World CEO Roger King declined to renew the contract of co-executive producer and Center Square Whoopi Goldberg and fired Moffitt-Lee Productions as the overseer of the series.
King has been quoted as saying he wants Squares to move to a more "game show feel" than an "entertainment show feel." The syndication boss also is said to want the series to move into a more family-oriented direction, as are Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! than the heavy emphasis on sexual references of the past four seasons.
The series is down 29 per cent year-to-year in ratings through the week ending April 7.
Source: The Game Show Convention Center
Winkler, Levitt Join Squares
By Steve McClellan
Broadcasting & Cable
4/25/2002 3:52:00 PM
King World Productions hired two new executive producers for Hollywood Squares -- veteran actor/director/producer Henry Winkler (best known for his role as Fonzie on Happy Days) and producer Michael Levitt.
The pair will replace the outgoing John Moffit and Pat Lee.
Winkler’s TV credits include MacGyver and Fox/Sci Fi Channel’s Sightings.
Levitt has produced a slew of entertainment specials, including The Billboard Music Awards from 1997 through 2001.
"This is incredibly exciting," CBS Enterprises and King World CEO Roger King said. "Nobody knows the classic format of Hollywood Squares better than we do and, with the addition of the Winkler/Levitt team’s expertise in talent relations, writing and producing, the show’s going to be more fun to watch than ever."
April 22, 2002 (Electronic Media):
The battle for CBS prime access
'Squares,' 'Millionaire' both need big names
By CHRIS PURSELL
Some prime real estate is available for the right star.
Buena Vista Television and King World Productions are each seeking an A-list name to a fill high-profile seat on their respective game shows, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and "Hollywood Squares."
Both series are cleared on the CBS owned-and-operated stations, and both are under enormous pressure to fill the slots quickly as stations ready promo spots for the fall and decide which show deserves the coveted access time slot.
General managers at the CBS O&Os are keeping a close eye on the overall situation. The station group paid dearly for the rights to "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" last year, prompting even some Buena Vista executives to charge that "Millionaire" would be the successor to "Squares" in the prestigious access time slots come fall.
However, a long silence in the Buena Vista camp on who will fill Regis Philbin's shoes in syndication has likely jeopardized that hope. One major-market CBS O&O general manager was quick to note that at least for this season, "Hollywood Squares" will remain in the access time slot with "Millionaire" likely being placed in early fringe. Of course, should "Millionaire" prove to be a hit, that could change in the 2003 season.
"Right now, it's already too late to make a significant programming shift, at least on our station," said the general manager. "Its true we spent a lot on ['Millionaire'], probably enough to justify putting it in access. But without the buzz we were hoping to generate from an A-list host and a prime-time airing, it could be suicide to take that kind of gamble right now."
However, the departure of Whoopi Goldberg as center square and executive producers John Moffitt and Pat Lee on "Hollywood Squares" created uncertainty for the established show. Some analysts last week speculated that the show's new troubles, combined with a 24 percent dip in ratings from last year, could spell cancellation. That, of course, will not happen with two years remaining on station contracts.
Still, a star of Ms. Goldberg's caliber can be costly. Her salary had been estimated to be as much as $10 million a year and, according to sources close to the situation, the hunt is on for a replacement. As for "Millionaire," speculation has run rampant since the syndicated version of the series was announced last summer.
Speculation on star names for both series continues, with benefits and drawbacks arising with every name mentioned. Rosie O'Donnell has been rumored to be a possibility for both projects (although few people actually expect any deal to come to fruition) after leaving her talk show at the end of the season. Some insiders speculate that "Squares" could end up rotating a trio of center squares including regulars such as Gilbert Gottfried, although most experts feel that stability would be more successful than cost-efficiency.
On "Millionaire," there is some movement to pressure Buena Vista into making a last-ditch effort to land Regis Philbin, who previously announced that he would not take the job. "Survivor" host Jeff Probst is another name being tossed around.
"They are hot right now and want to get this taken care of as soon as possible," one insider said. "For Buena Vista, they clearly need to make an impact to justify the costs stations paid for the show. However, King World is looking to make this more of a game show than an entertainment show, and whoever is signed will reflect that."
Indeed, the departure of Moffitt-Lee Productions signals an overall change in attitude for "Squares." Head writer and show regular Bruce Vilanch is also expected to join the exodus while a new production company, almost certainly with more game show experience, is brought in to take the reins.
"Pat and John are great producers who we have a lot of respect for, but we feel that we need to make some changes on the show," said Roger King, chairman and CEO of CBS Enterprises and King World Productions.
The good news for "Squares" fans is that host and Emmy-winner Tom Bergeron will return even if he is named co-host of CBS's "The Early Show" as many have speculated. The show's schedule would be adjusted to fit Mr. Bergeron's schedule if that happens, as "The Early Show" is based in New York while "Squares" tapes in Los Angeles. Fortunately, "Squares" typically tapes on the weekends, making the schedule easier on the well-regarded host.
Â© Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications
CHANGES AT HOLLYWOOD SQUARES
When it comes to changes on syndicated game show Hollywood
Squares, the departure of Whoopi Goldberg as center square is just the tip of the iceberg. The show will have a whole new look and feel next season -- and, hopefully, better ratings.
Just days after Whoopi's departure was confirmed, King World Productions gave the show's two other executive producers -- John Moffit and Pat Lee -- their walking papers.
Another expected departure is Emmy Award-winning comedy writer Bruce Vilanch, whose ties are closer to Moffit, Lee and Goldberg than to King World.
And Caroline Rhea, who appears regularly on the show, will likely leave or cut back her appearances next season given her commitment to her own new syndicated talk show.
Emmy winner Tom Bergeron will return as host of Hollywood Squares for a fifth season even if he is named co-host of CBS's The Early Show.
King World executives confirmed Thursday Bergeron will return to the series despite the upheaval in the show's production ranks this week. The show's taping schedule would be adjusted to accommodate Bergeron if he takes over as CBS's morning show honcho.
Moffitt and Lee have been the show runners for Squares since its launch four seasons ago. The pair have had a longtime association with Goldberg, but sources said King World chairman Roger King never warmed to them. In a prepared statement, however, King said the pair are "great producers, but we feel we need to make some changes for next season."
One reason, of course, is that the show is very costly to produce (Whoopi's salary alone was said to approach $10 million annually), and it hasn't delivered the ratings that King World and its partner station group, CBS, had expected of it.
In February, the show averaged a 3.8 rating and 7 share in the top 100 markets, according to a Katz Media Group analysis of the Nielsen Media Research Station Index ratings for the sweep period. That's well below the two top performers in the genre, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, not to mention a bunch of
other shows it competes with on a daily basis (including Entertainment Tonight, Friends and Seinfeld).
Who will get the center square next season remains to be determined. Before Whoopi got the nod, King World reportedly had lengthy talks with Jason Alexander. Billy Crystal was also approached. "You'll be seeing lots of changes on the show next year," one source close to the show said.
-Sources: Broadcasting and Cable, Game Show Convention Center
And while you're at it, be sure to visit Dixon Hayes' excellent tribute site to Squares:
(Click on banner)
THE HOLLYWOOD SQUARES, created by Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley, was a Heatter-Quigley Production in association with Filmways Television. © Copyright 2002. This unofficial site is not affiliated with Heatter-Quigley, Inc., MGM Television, King World Studios West, Inc., Fair Dinkum, Michael Levitt Productions, or Columbia Tristar Television.