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Cheater adds fresh blood to faded format

Perhaps it's because my dad actually won a ton of money on 'Tic Tac Dough' way back in the '50s Ñ and was later called to testify before a grand jury investigating the fixing scandal that erupted around quiz shows.

But for whatever reason, I've always had an odd fascination with quiz shows Ñ or, as they're better known, game shows.

I'm probably one of the very few who spends time wondering what makes Bob Barker tick, or whether Alex Trebek's brain has gotten bigger thanks to hosting 'Jeopardy!' And why is it that you almost never learn the last names of game-show contestants?

Naturally, I'm chagrined that prime-time TV is once again abandoning quiz shows; reality programs and police dramas are crushing everything in their path. The Q-and-A glory days of the late '90s are gone. Bellwethers such as 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' and 'The Weakest Link' are now nothing more than dull daytime filler, and Comedy Central has concluded that it's better off without 'Win Ben Stein's Money' and 'Beat the Geeks.' The only prime-time guessing now revolves around whether Joe Millionaire's lady of choice will get sick on camera once he tells her he's not worth squat.

But there is some hope in the form of a most bizarre entry from Ñ of all networks Ñ PAX. 'Dirty Rotten Cheater,' at 8 p.m. Mondays on KPXG (22), elevates lying to an art form that makes the conniving whiners on 'Survivor' seem like grade-school tattletales.

'Cheater' somehow excels by presenting the very best and very worst qualities of the game show genre. The premise is that among the six contestants, there is one player who has been given all the correct answers. It's up to the innocent combatants to figure out who the cheater is and win bucks.

The show gives folks at home a reason to play along and figure out the identity of the cheater, and to that extent it's like the old program 'To Tell the Truth.' The contestants all seem to be likable, witty and reasonably honest.

Unfortunately, instead of using specific questions, the show's producers chose to take their questions from 'Family Feud'-style surveys. (Example: What are the most common lies people give in an online chat room?)

That adds another layer of complication to what already is a pretty confusing set of rules and scoring systems. But somehow, it serves to create even more doubt as to who the phony really is.

Maybe the prime-time quiz show isn't quite dead and buried.

This just in:

ABC's Peter Jennings will descend on Portland to moderate this Sunday's 'Town Hall' on KATU (2). Topic for the evening will be the situation in Iraq.

Jennings will then stay over to anchor Monday's 'World News Tonight' from here. Expect more network attention on Oregon, with the spotlight on the state's budget cutbacks and the plight of Portland's schools.

Pete Schulberg is the host of 'Portland's Morning News' on KPAM (860 AM). Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..