Somehow I’ve found myself watching ABC’s new Bet on Your Baby game show. I’d planned to turn it off after the first ad, but I do appear to be watching the whole thing. Which is an achievement — this show somehow mates a lot of coverage of people I’m not interested in with an overall lack of tension, and yet I still watch it. You can really tell I’m a new parent; put a baby on the screen and I’m a sucker for it!
Parents come on this game show to win up to $50,000 for their kid’s college fund. They compete by sending their kid to Thunderdome and betting on the outcome:
How Bet on Your Baby Works
OK, I’m kidding a little, they call it Babydome on Bet on Your Baby. Really. Anyway, the parents send their baby into Babydome, where the baby competes for amazing prizes against the clock.Sure, there’s less actual violence in Babydome than in Thunderdome, but probably about the same amount of planned violence. See, the way Babydome works is that the babies do not in fact fight to the death. Instead, a baby goes in with one of their parents, and the parent has to talk the baby through completing some task — such as following the parent on a path, or making barnyard sounds, or something like that — in 90 seconds. The other parent bets on whether or not they’ll be successful.
The parent in
ThunderBabydome has to get their baby to do the thing, apparently without touching baby, in order to win the big bucks. Yeah, I’m sure a lot of parents think about pulling and yanking and spanking and yelling, but they cast no sociopaths on Bet on Your Baby, so sweet parents meekly urge their kids to do the right thing. Meanwhile, I’m sure that mom or dad in the studio, standing with the host, is thinking about slapping some parenting skills into their partner, who’s about to screw things up in such a way as to cost the family $5k and a thought at the big $50k college fund prize.
Because of this repression, everyone has an adorable grin on their faces. Everyone here is a good parent, using positive parenting techniques on their babies, and trusting their partner completely. In my life, this is exactly how I want my relationship to work! Except that no conflict makes for a lovely life and a dull story. Where are the parents who secretly hate each other? Why not have the dad who didn’t actually want a baby make the baby do the obstacle course? Why not have mom who always travels for work and misses every milestone have to get baby to make the moo cow noises? That would be interesting! This show should share a casting team with Maury.
That Game Show Host Thing
Anyway, while little Junior is getting ready to do the deed, Mom or Dad is chatting away with Be on Your Baby host Melissa Peterman, who really is about as daring as the J. Peterman catalog:Melissa keeps things moving with a little banter, just like somebody from accounting tries to keep things moving, standing beside the punch at the holiday party. With about the same edge and panache. Because it takes only a few seconds for her to state the challenge and for the parent to pick an outcome, she has to drag out everything to fill the hour. Somebody should give poor Melissa some content to work with. And some contestants, too; these are the Ken Jenningses of the world, not the raucous party groups from Family Feud or The Price is Right. Let’s face it, even Alex Trebek doesn’t make Jeopardy contestants talk for but about 15 seconds an episode. Not only do the parents not yell at each other or the baby, they don’t even quip at the host.
Towards the end of the hour, half of the contestant families have bet wrong and been eliminated, so all of the babies are given the job of clearing stuffed animals off of a large mat with a rebus printed on it; the first parent to solve the rebus gets to go to the final and go after the Bet on Your Baby college fund $50,000 prize. In this episode, the rebus was:
- A pea pod, peas showing
- A metal hex nut
- A stick of butter
One dad got the term “peanut butter” wrong.
Again, there will be no violence taking place here!
And Now For the Big Prize!
In the final segment of Bet on Your Baby, the baby somehow disappears, so that parents can smash ceramic pigs containing money; they try to smash the pig with the most amount of money possible. There are eight pigs to choose from, and the parents can smash four pigs, and every time they go to smash Melissa Peterman makes a big thing of getting them to pick which pig they want to smash. There are Who Wants to Be A Millionaire-style sound effects, there’s serious music, and spotlights focus on the pig the parents choose. Then the audience begins chanting “smash that pig!” It’s like they suddenly invented an entire other show!Anyway, the parents this time around won the whole shebang, which was great for them, because somebody’s got to win the whole season’s worth of money in the 3 episodes this show has before it’s cancelled.
Really, This is What’s Wrong With Bet on Your Baby
The nice thing, from a parenting point of view, is that nothing odd or traumatic happens to the baby. There are two bad things:
- We never really meet the baby, which means one less character
- The whole format creates strife between parents — if the family doesn’t win a challenge, somebody bet wrong and somebody parented badly — yet includes no way for the parents to productively deal with any stress.
The whole joke behind this show is, I think, supposed to actually be a little Kaizen-y: in Kaizen, the mantra is that the good boss knows the gemba, the place where everything happens, and participates there. In this show, they split up the boss — the parent making the bet — and the gemba worker — the parent managing the baby — and wait for hilariousness to ensue. And what we see is exactly what you’d expect; the baby achieves low productivity and is unable to make all of the barnyard animal noises in the alloted 90 seconds.
We’re living on the edge, here, folks!
What Bet on Your Baby really shows, however, is that whoever made the show never went to the gemba of the show itself. It’s obvious that someone came up with the concept “hey, suppose parents have to guess what their baby does? That’d be hilarious!” and everyone agreed, since, in the abstract, there’s a lot of potential for humor there, as proven by Kids Say the Darndest Things. (OK, I didn’t find that show funny. But, clearly America disagreed. Let’s move on.) And then they tossed that idea over a wall and figured it would get made.
Whoever threw in that idea had to do a gemba walk — they had to go to the place where the show actually was getting made, where the magic was supposed to happen — and see all of the things happening. After watching for a while, they could’ve asked: is this funny? Is it engaging? Is there excitement? And they would’ve seen that the answer was no, and then they would’ve fixed it. Preferably by recasting the whole thing!
At any rate, I joke but I don’t really predict cancellation. This thing, this Bet on Your Baby, would do better at 11am, so I bet it moves. It’d be plenty exciting there, and, hey, babies! Nothing a stay-at-home parent likes like a baby. If I were one, I’d watch this sucker while feeding my baby mid-morning second breakfast for sure!