BERLIN (AFP) ― It has seen wacky bets performed before millions and hosted an A-list of Hollywood stars, but after a three-decade run Germany’s once top-rated TV variety show is getting the axe.
A victim of plummeting ratings, a fast-graying fan base and charges that its concept has grown stale, “Wetten, dass..? (Wanna Bet?)” will screen for the last time in December after 33 years.
Such is the dated cult status of the silly-challenge show, once Europe’s most successful program, that Sunday newspapers gave front-page treatment to the public broadcaster ZDF’s decision to pull the plug on it.
The show’s concept is of ordinary people performing often bizarre tricks and stunts, while celebrity guests sponsor them and have to perform mildly humiliating acts if they lose.
Since the 1980s, the show has featured a dog able to identify 77 toys named by its owner and a dairy farmer who could tell his cows apart by the different sounds they made when chewing apples.
|U.S. singer Anastacia performs with a hula hoop on the German ZDF TV channel entertainment show “Wetten, dass..? (Wanna Bet?)” in the Baden- Arena in Offenburg, Germany, April 5. (EPA-Yonhap)|
One candidate changed a car tire while driving, and the Berlin police motorcycle squad broke a world record by forming a moving pyramid with 84 officers traveling on nine bikes over 100 meters.
In its heyday, the show kept German-speaking audiences glued to their sofas on Saturday nights, with viewers peaking at over 23 million in the mid-’80s.
The mass appeal and guaranteed ratings drew countless stars hoping to plug their latest album or movie, from Michael Jackson and Justin Bieber to Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio.
But changing audience tastes and the rise of cheaper-to-produce reality shows saw audience figures drop to an all-time low of 5.85 million in February.
Program makers decided it was no longer worth the cost of at least 2 million euros ($2.7 million) per show, brought on by changing locations, sometimes as far away as the Spanish resort island of Mallorca.
Criticism has hailed down on the host Markus Lanz, for failing to replicate the small-screen magic of his predecessors, curly-haired Thomas Gottschalk and the show’s founder, Frank Elstner.
Some stars on the show, which can run over three hours, were left scratching their heads, if not downright irritated, by the uniquely German take on family entertainment.
The actor Tom Hanks, who was made to wear a hat with cat ears when he went on the show, later said that “in the United States if you are on a TV show that goes for four hours, everybody responsible for that show is fired the next day.”
On social media, reaction to the program’s demise was a mix of nostalgic farewells and “Schadenfreude,” the gleeful pleasure at another’s misfortune.
“Rest in peace,” one tweet from a competing private TV station read, while one viewer wrote that “finally the badly wounded deer is being put out of its misery.”
Twitter user @DearDelight commented that “I’ll hardly miss it, but the memories of those ’80s family TV evenings make me nostalgic,” while @ramtoka scoffed: “Wanna bet that I won’t miss this show?”
The beginning of the end came when a bet went tragically wrong in 2010, leaving a young man paralyzed from the neck down as 8 million viewers watched in horror.
Samuel Koch, then 23, was wearing spring-loaded stilts as he tried to jump over five moving cars, but hit the windshield of the final vehicle, which was being driven by his father.
News magazine Der Spiegel also criticized the program for featuring inappropriate advertising on what is a publicly funded show.
A growing band of critics have accused German TV generally of being shallow and relying on tired concepts, from perennial police shows and model contests to costume dramas and programs about Bavarian folk music.
Many are angry their broadcast taxes pay for programs that leave them bored and have long tuned out, opting instead for online downloads of acclaimed U.S. series such as “Breaking Bad” and “House of Cards.”
But a Spiegel Online commentary predicted that “given the poverty of ideas these days among the stations, you can be sure that in a few years there’ll be a remake of “Wetten, dass..?”