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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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NBC’s ‘Deal’ offers game intensity

Kevin McDonough United Feature Syndicate

Ready to party like it’s 1999? NBC certainly hopes so. Way back last century, Americans were swept away by “Who Wants to be A Millionaire” fever, a contagion that already had engulfed the United Kingdom.

Tonight NBC introduces “Deal or No Deal” (8 p.m., NBC), another world-conquering prime-time game show.

Combining elements of “Millionaire,” “Let’s Make a Deal” and the late Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” video, “Deal” strips down the genre to its essential elements: greed, timing and the ability to know if and when a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, or in the briefcase, as it were.

Let me explain. Host Howie Mandel presides over a set that resembles “Millionaire” crossed with the ominous, dark CTU headquarters on “24.” The line between a game show set and a 21st-century torture chamber is a fine one.

During each game, a gaggle of 26 identically clad fem-bots arrives with numbered briefcases, each containing amounts ranging from one penny to a cool $1 million. A contestant chooses a case with no idea of the value contained therein. Then he or she gets to eliminate and reveal the contents of six of the remaining 25 cases.

At this point, Mandel gets a call from a shadowy figure from the wings. This mere silhouette of a human counting machine is known as “the banker.”

At the end of each round, the banker makes the contestant an offer for his briefcase. If most of those opened cases contain a low dollar amount, then the offer will be high. If an unlucky contestant eliminates the big prizes, then the banker’s offer descends.

Players can continue for any number of rounds until they decide to make a “deal” with the banker, or play until every case but their own is opened.

Since this show is essentially about numbers, nerve and probability, its entertainment value depends almost entirely on the contestant’s personality. And that may be the biggest gamble of all.

At least on “Millionaire” you could focus on the trivia when Regis was stuck with a dud. And “Let’s Make a Deal” offered us the soothing consumer opiate of Broyhill sectionals and avocado-colored kitchen appliances.

The appeal of “Deal or No Deal” is its stark white-knuckle minimalism. Don’t look for distractions. It’s just Howie, the contestants, the numbers and the fem-bots.

Will viewers stick around? We’ll soon find out. “Deal or No Deal” will air at this time every night through Thursday.

“Is It Real?” (5 and 8 p.m., National Geographic) examines the claims of Christian faithful who say they have been marked with stigmata, bloody wounds resembling those that Jesus is believed to have endured during his final hours.

It came upon a midnight clear – give or take 37 minutes. During a week of Christmas-themed shows, Craig Ferguson, host of “The Late Late Show” (12:37 a.m., CBS), will sing carols with a different guest every night. Among the guest stars to duet with Craig are Dennis Quaid (tonight); Dwight Yoakam (Tuesday); Chris Isaak (Wednesday); RZA (Thursday); and Regis Philbin and Brian McKnight (Friday).

Other highlights

On back-to-back episodes of “Arrested Development” (Fox), brothers united (8 p.m.), and Buster gets the hook (8:30 p.m.).

The Packers and Ravens meet on “Monday Night Football” (6 p.m., ABC).

Mark McGrath and Jaime Pressly host the “2005 Radio Music Awards” (9 p.m., NBC).

A gadget-obsessed rapist doesn’t live to see justice on “CSI: Miami” (10 p.m., CBS).

A serial bomber taunts the squad on “Wanted” (10 p.m., TNT).

Cult choice

An imperious chanteuse (Vanessa L. Williams) gets a spirited comeuppance in the 2000 fantasy “A Diva’s Christmas Carol” (8 p.m., BET). Kathy Griffin plays a wisecracking blast from the past.

Series notes

Nothing says lovin’ like something from the oven on “The King of Queens” (8 p.m., CBS) … A busy do-gooder trades kitchens with a pampered bride on “Wife Swap” (10 p.m., ABC) … No money for Santa on “Everybody Hates Chris” (10 p.m., UPN) … Simon’s living arrangement shocks Eric and Annie on “7th Heaven” (8 p.m., WB) … Arriving in style on “How I Met Your Mother” (8:30 p.m., CBS) … A birth announcement on “One on One” (10:30 p.m., UPN) … It’s beginning to look a lot like obsessive-compulsive behavior on “Two and a Half Men” (9 p.m., CBS) … Home-schooling nightmares on “Nanny 911” (9 p.m., Fox) … Snowbound on “Girlfriends” (11 p.m., UPN) … Exposed on stage on “Related” (9 p.m., WB) … An announcement upstages the holidays on “Half & Half” (11:30 p.m., UPN).

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