STORY WRITTEN BY LYNN ELBER
AP Television Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — It sounds like a Swiss Army knife version of a TV game show: a combination of a venerable board game, state lotteries, Las Vegas and seasoned comedian Billy Gardell as host.
The result is “Monopoly Millionaires’ Club,” a syndicated series that its creators say draws on the board game’s “iconography” — Get Out of Jail and Pass Go cards and such — while morphing it into something new and telegenic.
“Watching people play Monopoly for an hour probably wouldn’t be that exciting,” said executive producer Kevin Belinkoff.
Instead, he said, the prime-time show that debuts this weekend (check local listings for day and station) looks for adrenaline in its structure, including giving players in participating state lotteries a shot at getting into the game and every studio audience member a stake in the outcome.
There’s serious cash to be won. The show has taped 12 episodes so far and produced a pair of $1 million winners and other contestants who have claimed prizes in the $200,000 neighborhood.
“There’s such a rush when somebody wins life-changing money,” said Gardell, the “Mike & Molly” CBS sitcom star who was looking to emcee a game show writ large.
“I didn’t want a middle-of-the-road show or a so-so show. I wanted a big game show,” he said, and found it in “Monopoly Millionaires’ Club.”
Future contestants will be drawn from those who purchase Monopoly Millionaires’ Club scratcher tickets, said Steve Saferin, president of Scientific Games Properties, a division of instant-win lottery games seller Scientific Games. The company has a licensing deal with Monopoly maker Hasbro Games.
The scratchers include codes that, entered online, can help a player get into a drawing to win a trip to Las Vegas and an appearance on the game show. The show will be available in most TV markets, but only 14 state lotteries are involved at this point, a spokeswoman said.
Players for the first dozen episodes were drawn from a Monopoly-themed, multistate lottery based on picking winning numbers. That game was dropped by states that said it failed to meet sales projections.
The show’s action takes place in a studio built on a Vegas casino parking lot, with the audience of contestants divided into five sections. A person from each section is chosen at random to play one of various Monopoly-inspired games devised for the show, with the winnings split by those in the section.
The climax comes when a player decides whether to risk his or her winnings for a chance at up to $1 million, also to be shared.
“Everybody has a stake in the game,” not just one contestant, Belinkoff said. The show also differs from others on TV because of how lady luck counts in the selection of players, he said.
“Our contestants are not cast. They are totally chosen at random,” he said. “Which, as a producer, totally terrified me because you never know who you are going to get. But what it’s given us is a very refreshing look at real people winning real money.”
Does the added scratcher incentive of making it on to a TV game show increase the inducement for people to gamble?
“There’s so much gaming in the U.S. that another lottery game isn’t going to move the needle,” said Saferin.