Stuck at home due to COVID-19, people are thirsty for entertainment and ways to connect with friends. Some are turning to TV game shows via Zoom, where they are the viewer, the audience, contestant and, in some cases, the host.
Cindi Schwitters and her husband Leon, of Rockford, Illinois, hosted a game of Wheel of Fortune via Zoom. Big fans of the TV game show, the Schwitters used a board game version of Wheel of Fortune and stood in for hosts Vanna White and Pat Sajak.
The Schwitters invited couples they'd known for more than 45 years to participate as contestants. Leon, 75, donned a suit jacket and Cindi, 65, wore jewelry. They both wore name tags: his read Pat and hers, Vanna. With the computer's camera pointed at the wheel and board, the Schwitters monitored the contestants as they took turns spinning the wheel.
"It was so much fun,” Cindi says. “We all talked and we are going to try another one around New Year's Eve."
You don't need Sajak's charisma or a board game to get your throwback game on. With less effort than it takes to host a webinar, you can play Zoom-friendly games like Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Name-That-Tune and Family Feud.
Games that are free and easy to play
Access to a dictionary, willing participants and some scrap paper is all you need to play TV game shows like Password or The Newlywed Game.
For Password, in which teams try to convey mystery words to each other using single-word clues, you'll need two teams, and four people on Zoom or any type of video chat. Before the game begins one player from each team writes down a list of words, which serve as the passwords. Then, one player gives clues, a word at a time. The teammate tries to guess the passwords, without any other clue. Participants can agree on how many seconds to allow. If the player can't guess the word, the other team gets a turn.
Playing the Newlywed Game follows a similar format, but instead, teams are couples. Amy Foxx, the host of a Minnesota radio station KIVA Radio, hosted a Newlywed Game-style show with friends. Foxx posted about her experience on the station's blog.
"Some of us have been married a long time, others recently hitched, and one couple is not married,” she wrote “There were 30 questions, and we laughed and talked so much while playing – that we played from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. It was a blast.”
The group used markers and pieces of paper. They played on an honor system, agreeing to not discuss answers with partners. Some of the questions included: Which of you said, 'I love you’ to the other first? What is your wife or husband's worst habit? What ex's name gets brought up the most in your household?
Minimal cost for maximum fun
The basic game package is free and comes with a grid, two-team setup and four categories. However, subscriptions offer access to premium features such as a Wheel of Fortune-style interfaces, theme songs, logos, custom backgrounds, videos, more teams, categories and questions.
"It's the only TV game software I recommend,” says Shawn Howell, host of the Shawn M. Howell YouTube channel. A Zoom-game guru, Howell says what she likes most about software like TriviaMaker is that it's affordable.
TriviaMaker has been having a sale that will run through summer 2021. The cost is $6.99 a month, or $19 annually.
For a fee, get a prime time production
Those who want to go all out, can hire a professional game show hosting company that comes with a real host. Yes, you get your own Gene Rayburn, who hosted the Match Game for decades.
Marc Weinstock runs the South Florida-based Game Shows Alive. Before the pandemic, Weinstock catered to corporate clients and put on in-person games shows. He reinvented himself during the COVID-19 crisis and went virtual.
A former disc jokey and professional entertainer, Weinstock provides the interface and high-quality sound. He uses a green screen to project a made-for TV atmosphere. “We put on as close to a TV studio experience as you'll get,” says Weinstock.
Unlike with trivia apps, with a game show company participants leave everything to the host. Game Shows Alive charges $20 per person or a $300 flat fee for groups as large as 60.
JukeBox Bingo, a Name-That-Tune-meets-bingo kind of show, is one of the most popular games Weinstock hosts. Contestants get 45 seconds of a song. They try to name the tune and find it on their bingo cards.
Weinstock has song categories that range from the ‘50s and ‘60s to sing-a-longs, where everyone knows the words.
Meanwhile, the game show host (in this case Weinstock) throws in trivia, jokes and ad-libs. “I get people involved because I say, ‘As soon as you recognize this song, wave your hand to the camera,'” says Weinstock. “I like to see people bopping to the song."