The Wall Preview: NBC’s Latest Offering Attempts To Refresh The Reality Genre

For quite some time, the reality genre has been in desperate need of a change.

In recent years, the platform that defined the early 2000s has been lacking as there has been a significant creative stumbling block both from the networks that air the shows and from the production companies that produce them.

This is particularly the case in the competitive landscape. While shows in the lifestyle medium have flourished (Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Duck Dynasty etc), interest in shows that feature a winner has dwindled. We no longer have American Idol or The X Factor. The airdate of the critically-acclaimed The Amazing Race has been pushed back so many times that when it finally airs this spring, it is almost feels like the network is being forced to air a show that has been in the can for more than a year.

The modicum of voyeuristic program needed a shift and it is finally here.

The Wall.

NBC’s newest foray into the reality genre is a gameshow that combines the best of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, with the stakes of Survivor. It features high risk, high drama and high reward while also forcing contestants to rely on their partner to decide how much money is or isn’t awarded.

First, the concept.

The Wall offers a pair of teammates the chance to win life-altering sums of money. The game forces contestants to drop balls onto a gigantic four-story wall that almost serves as a makeshift homage to ‘Plinko’ on The Price Is Right. When the contestant answers a question correctly, a green ball falls down the wall and adds to the value of the player’s winning total. When a question is missed, a red ball is dropped and deducts its landing value from the teams’ total.

That said, there is a twist.

At the same time that they are answering questions, their partner in the game (usually a friend or loved one) sits in isolation and has to wager whether their significant other will answer correctly or incorrectly. They also are unable to communicate with each other during this process. The result is almost like double jeopardy. Even if the contestant answering questions goes on a run, their isolated partner could choose to play it safe and risk losing a million dollars by rendering the first player’s efforts useless.

The teams compete for more than $12 million on every episode and can lose up to $3 million on a single drop.

The Wall works for many reasons. Primarily, it is because it is a fresh concept. NBC succeeded with The Voice because it was able to infuse new twists on a tired format. Instead of just being a glorified singing contest, there were exciting elements like blind auditions, battle rounds, and saves. Similarly, The Wall is a huge improvement from Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Instead of a contestant simply sitting on a chair to answer questions, there are many more human elements at play here. On that primetime show, the only interaction that the player would have (aside from their banter with the host) was when the played used a lifeline and phoned a friend. Here, the friend is in-studio (albeit in an isolated position) with them so the connection is much more real.

Another reason is the host. Chris Hardwick is Hollywood’s ‘It Guy’ right now. Best known for hosting AMC’s Talking Dead, Hardwick’s best skill is his ability to ad lib and this plays really well on this show. He doesn’t need to sell the sizzle because the show is the steak and that means that he is free to primarily engage with the contestant. By discerning the quirks of the character, the audience has a higher degree of investment.

Finally, there’s LeBron James. While the basketball player appears to only be adding his name to the project (by serving as an executive producer on the series), he brings a degree of credibility to the program. It can be assumed that a world champion wouldn’t lend his name to something that sucks.

In September, I had the chance to attend an advance screening of the show and participate in a Q & A session with Chris Hardwick, LeBron James and executive producers Maverick Carter and Andrew Glassman.

I asked LeBron James about why he chose to lend his name to this project.

“I just thought it was so authentic and emotional,” he said. “The show is about regular people who have an opportunity to change their lives in one second. I think that’s so incredible. I’m a kid from a small town in Ohio. I wish we had an opportunity like that.”

There is no way to predict how The Wall will do, but I do know that this show will change the gameand the genre. It is emotional, unpredictable, and risky. It is completely cutting edge.

The Wall debuts Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. A special preview episode airs tonight at 10 p.m.

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