Alessandra Stanley – New York Times

There is at least one game of chance loaded with particularly hateful hazards. Players are rapt, tingling with hope and growing confidence, and then across the room a complete stranger stands up and ruin

s everything. Bingo.

This is not your grandma’s bingo: the host, Ed Sanders, with a contestant on ABC’s “National Bingo Night.”

ABC has found a way to bring those church basement shivers to television. “National Bingo Night,” a game show that begins tonight, allows viewers to print out bingo cards from and play along as contestants compete against a studio audience; winners of the home game can apply for prizes online, anything from a $5 Kmart gift card or a date with Fabio to a $50,000 jackpot.

Contests like this require neither skill nor knowledge of the contestant; it’s the creators who sweat it out in the isolation booth. Designing a new game show that is both stupid and successful is a brain teaser. “National Bingo Night” is as cleverly conceived as it is simple-minded to play: the producers devised a way to showcase contestants, battle the game’s fusty image and even tap into the “interactivity” fad that pervades so many reality shows — and their advertising schemes.

Either despite, or because of, the spread of legalized gambling, network game shows are popular, the sillier the better. They are not competitions so much as ritualized mini-dramas centered on the personality and worthiness of the contestant. That’s why NBC’s “Deal or No Deal” and now “Bingo Night” bring loved ones onto the set: the game itself is not challenging; it’s the advice and weepy encouragement of spouses, mothers and best friends that provide conflict and catharsis for the contestant.

But bingo is as plain as it gets. Everybody plays against everybody else. It’s not a game that normally allows for nail-biting star turns.

So the creators of “Bingo Night” have devised a way to aggrandize the contestant. The player stands on a brightly lighted set next to the “Bingo Plex,” a huge transparent sphere with Rube Goldberg attachments that tosses up and spits out bingo balls numbered 1 to 75. Instead of passively crossing out those numbers on a bingo card as audience members do, the contestant is asked to guess whether the next ball’s number will be higher or lower than the one in play. It’s easy when the number is 6; a little more challenging when it is 35.

If the contestant guesses correctly, those numbers are added to a tally. When the player hits 500, he wins as much as $50,000. Unless, that is, someone in the studio audience makes bingo first. Then that winner takes home a prize, and the contestant goes away empty-handed.

There is still the image problem. Bingo is a game most commonly associated with cruises, church suppers and retirement homes. “Bingo Night” tries to inject a little ESPN testosterone into the proceedings with a potpourri of sports images: pro bowling, Nascar and the World Cup.

Two black “gutterballs” that sometimes roll into the Bingo Plex can bring down a game. The contestant’s tally is referred to as the Bingo 500, and the sounds of a zooming race car are heard in the background. The studio audience is kept in line by a referee in a black-and-white-striped jacket, Sunil Narkar, whose title on the show is NBN Commissioner. Mr. Narkar inspects players’ bingo cards and makes sure there are no winners lurking in the stands.

” No bingo,” he hollers across the stage, waving his arms as if signaling for a penalty kick. “The play is on.”

The game’s excitable host, Ed Sanders, formerly a carpenter on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” sports a shaved head and a London accent that make him look a little like a soccer hooligan on Mother’s Day.

ABC calls its concoction “high action” bingo. Actually it’s a high-concept attempt to low-ball the viewer.


ABC, tonight at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.

Created by Andrew Glassman for Glassman Media; executive producer, Mr. Glassman. Host, Ed Sanders.