Question: While I realize Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? is not award-worthy and may be intolerable for some people, it is refreshing to be able to watch a television program with our children without having to worry about its content. That is the reason our family has watched this show three nights in a row, and that is also why we watch other shows like Deal or No Deal. Yes, Jeopardy! and its contestants are more intelligent, and yes, these game shows do drag things out (sometimes to the point of absurdity) and could move faster. However, isn't this world fast enough? Does everything have to be at lightning speed? I enjoy getting to know the contestants, seeing their families and cheering them on. My children are able to participate as well because they can contribute answers and decide if the contestants should gamble or play it safe. We watch it for pure escapism and to get away from shows that are inappropriate for kids. Our children work hard during the school year and learn something new every day. This game show gives them the opportunity to show it off without any pressure or expectations. For me, that's television worth watching!
Answer: All very valid points. There's no question I'd rather sit through an hour of 5th Grader, if only to remind myself of how much basic information I've forgotten, than an hour (let alone two!) of Deal or No Deal, the appeal of which completely escapes me. (I'm not much into gambling, which is the only thing that show is truly about.) But given how few shows there are that families can safely watch together, I've got no problem with harmless hours like 5th Grader.

On a similar topic, David K. writes: "Quick addition to the question from the March column regarding game shows. I watched the multi-night premiere of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader and actually enjoyed it a lot. I think it is much more fun than some of the other games shows out there. My question is, why must game shows like this one and Deal or No Deal continue to pretend that they're about to reveal the answer to a question or open a case but then say 'after the break' and cut to commercial? Every single time, the studio audience supposedly falls for this gag, as if they had never watched TV or heard of commercials before. Isn't this joke totally played out?"

Why, yes it is. It's one of the more aggravating new clichés in our reality-saturated TV landscape. Blame American Idol, which milked it first (thanks, Ryan Seacrest!) and keeps doing it, like it's clever or something. Just another reason these shows are much better watched in playback mode, not in real time, so we can fast-forward through all the nonsense. (You can probably watch an hour of Deal or No Deal in 15 minutes that way. Results episodes of Idol in 10 or less.)