When Trump had a game show

Donald Trump and Jimmy Cefalo in 1990 game show flop Trump Card (Warner Bros.)
Donald Trump and Jimmy Cefalo in 1990 game show flop Trump Card (Warner Bros.)

Trump had a game show? It’s true. His name headlined a flop in 1990-91 

These days, real estate mogul Donald Trump is grabbing headlines as a Republican Presidential Candidate – for better or worse, but 25 years ago Trump had his own game show.

Yes, he actually had a game show – well, his name was slapped on one.

Here how the deal went down: In 1989, Trump and officials from Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution created a syndicated game show that would be taped at one of Trump’s casinos, the Trump Castle at Atlantic City (now the Golden Nugget.) The show would be based on a long -running UK game show Bob’s Full House and was sold at the 1990 NATPE convention in New Orleans for the 1990-91 television season.

The program premiered on September 10, 1990 – but in a crowded field with three other game shows: debuting the same day were the revivals of Tic Tac Dough and The Joker’s Wild (these versions are both in the T Dog Media TV Hall Of Shame) and The Quiz Kids Challenge. Yet another game show, The Challengers with host Dick Clark, debuted a week earlier.

Trump Card was hosted by former Miami Dolphins player and current Dolphins radio play-by-play announcer Jimmy Cefalo. The game was simple: contestants answered questions to fill in a bingo card. In the second round, contestants were given a “Trump Card” to use to slow progress of their opponents. First contestant to fill their card won and advanced to the bonus round where they had 45 seconds to answer questions in a linear fashion on another card.

Unlike the first three game shows mentioned above, which were stuck in late-night slots on some stations (Both Joker’s and Tic Tac aired locally on NBC-owned WMAQ from 1:30 a.m.-2:30 a.m.), Trump Card had better time periods, airing in key early fringe (afternoon) and prime access (6-8 p.m. ET) time slots. In Chicago, Trump aired at 11 a.m. weekdays over CBS-owned WBBM-TV.

But like all the other new programs, Trump underperformed its lead-in and year-ago (1989) time period rating and share. As a result, the show was either downgraded to lesser slots or canceled altogether. How poorly was it received? In St. Louis, ratings doubled when CBS affiliate KMOV yanked it from its 6:30 p.m. time slot after four weeks to 2 a.m. and replaced it reruns of Love Connection. Yes, reruns.

Ratings also doubled in Hartford, when Fox affiliate WTIC replaced it and Challengers after three weeks with reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation at 7 p.m. Then-CBS affiliate WITI in Milwaukee dropped Trump from its 6:30 p.m. prime access slot and returned Entertainment Tonight to the time period.

Other stations decided to chuck the show altogether, including then-CBS affiliates WJBK-TV in Detroit and WAGA-TV in Atlanta. In November 1990, Trump Card earned only a 1.6 household rating – which would actually be a hit in today’s fragmented atmosphere.

The chain reaction of downgrades and cancellations continued, not only to Trump Card, but to all the new game shows. Quiz Kids didn’t last through the calendar year. Tic Tac Dough was canceled in March 1991. Joker’s Wild – which was one of the worst game show remakes ever – was replaced by a new version of $100,000 Pyramid in January 1991 in some markets. Trump Card actually held on to its 11 a.m. slot here as ABC-owned WLS-TV moved Challengers to 2:30 a.m. and filled its former 3 p.m. slot with Inside Edition, where it remains to this day.

In May 1991, Warner Bros. finally pulled the plug on Trump Card. According to Electronic Media, the show only scored higher ratings than Tic Tac and weekly shows Video Challenge and The Krypton Factor, meaning no 1990-91 freshman game shows made it to a second season. There would not be another new syndicated hit game show until Hollywood Squares returned to the air in 1998.

Odd thing is – even with his name on the show – Donald Trump appeared in only one episode of Trump Card – the premiere (which you can view below.) Even if he made more appearances, it wouldn’t have made a difference as viewers stuck with tried and true favorites Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, and Family Feud – all continue to this day, though Feud did have a four-year break. Blame Trump Card’s failure on too much competition in the game show genre at the time and a format not exactly enticing.

Donald Trump, of course, would find greater success fourteen years later with The Apprentice for NBC and its spin-off, Celebrity Apprentice. The former drew an average of 20 million viewers a week in its first season.

But with Trump Card, It just goes to show you not everything with the Trump name turned to gold.

(Buzzerblog and Wikipedia contributed to this report.)