May 18, 2007 — -- It's not your grandma's bingo.
At least that's what John Saade, ABC's senior vice president of alternative programs, told Daily Variety magazine about ABC's new game show, "National Bingo Night," airing Friday nights at 9 p.m.
"It's colorful and fast-moving," Saade said.
ABC first struck gold with "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" and now it's hoping it will have the same luck with another game show, one that gives viewers the chance to win major prizes on the set or from the living room sofa.
The word "bingo" may conjure up memories of summer club game nights, church fundraisers, red-checkered picnic tables or a senior citizen's routine at the local American Legion.
But according to Clyde Bock, the manager of one of the biggest bingo games in the state of Washington and someone who said he's been in the game since 1974, "longer than most people have been alive," the demographics of bingo players are changing.
"The demographics used to be where bingo was envisioned in a church basement with a lot of gray hair," Bock told ABC News. "Over the years, bingo has developed into a major industry."
Bock said computers have helped introduce the game to a broader, younger audience.
"In most areas of the country, electronics have been introduced," he said. "Bingo is being played on hand-held computers. … That has altered the demographic of who plays. We're seeing a much younger clientele who plays bingo."
Young or old, those playing bingo are contributing a lot of money to the gaming industry.
"Bingo, fundraising tickets, raffles and occasional casino nights, in terms of numbers, is about a $2 billion a year activity," Mary Magnuscon, legal counsel for the National Association of Fundraising Ticket Manufacturers, which manufactures bingo paper and related supplies for the North American charitable gaming industry, told ABC News.
"It's small compared to the commercial $250 billion, but it's significant nonetheless," she said. "And roughly $700 million is raised for charitable purposes. That's the good side of it."
ABC's "National Bingo Night" is set on a "bingo plex." There is stadium seating around the large mechanism for dispensing the bingo balls. Think of something like the television lottery number dispenser on steroids.
In each episode, three high action bingo games are played in the studio, with the audience at home invited to play along for a chance to win tens of thousands of prizes. A contestant will race the studio audience as 75 balls are randomly selected from the giant translucent sphere.
And it's not restricted to the studio audience. Viewers at home can play along by printing out free cards at ABC.com. Those who get bingo can log on to claim some of the prizes, but they must do so by 6 p.m. on the Monday following the Friday broadcast.
Andrew Glassman, no "Average Joe," created and will executive produce "Bingo." Glassman was an on-air correspondent for NBC before he began producing reality television. His first major series as an executive producer, "Average Joe," ran for four seasons and set ratings records for NBC. He went on to create his own production company, Glassman Media, which is a joint venture with Fox Television Studios.
Ed Sanders will be the host of "National Bingo Night." Sanders started his career in the U.K. in the television series "Dream Team," about a premiership soccer team. He hosted the British version of "Fear Factor" before he joined ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition's" design team.
Sunil Narkar will be a co-host on the show. They call him "Commissioner Sunil," and his main responsibility will be checking the contestants' bingo cards while wearing black-and-white referee stripes. If a contestant is erroneous in a "Bingo!" cry, he's the first to say so. His phrase that doesn't pay is, "No Bingo! Play still on!"
It's no secret that network game shows are popular. Each game has its own legion of fans.
NBC's "Deal or No Deal," hosted by Howie Mandel, has been a smash hit for the genre and its network. According to Nielsen ratings for September 2006, the second-season premiere episode of "Deal or No Deal" was the 11th most-watched network prime-time show in total audience and NBC's most watched program.
ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" first aired in 1999, and it's still going strong in syndication. It is currently hosted by Meredith Vieira and millions tune in to test their trivia knowledge every day.
Bingo players across the country hope a national televised game will bring a fresh following to their game.
Bock told ABC News, "If it generates any interest about bingo then it will be a positive."
Bingo is, after all, a major form of fundraising for many private groups.
Al Carpenter, a representative for New York state's American Legion -- one of the nation's largest bingo outlets -- told ABC News, "[Bingo] is one of our mainstays, as far as fundraisers and other activities go that we do on the behalf of veterans and the community."
Carpenter said the number of people who used to play bingo dropped considerably after bingo halls across the country banned smoking.
He hopes ABC's show will reinvigorate love for the numbers game.
"It may bring back to mind, 'Oh gee, I haven't played that in a while, maybe I oughta play it again,'" he said.
It is uncertain whether or not "National Bingo Night" will be a success in ABC's TV lineup.
CBS is about to lose one of its game show legends -- Bob Barker of "The Price is Right." Barker steps down from his 35-year hosting post on June 6, at the age of 82.
Who will be the next Bob Barker?
ABC hopes Friday night's show will be the first of many for Ed Sanders, and if the show does well, bingo! He could be the next legend-in-the-making.