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This 'Deal' wasn't worth making

''Deal or No Deal" is so simple it's almost insulting.

The game show, which NBC is airing on five consecutive nights this week, is the TV equivalent of Go Fish or I Doubt It, or any similarly basic card game. It doesn't challenge its contestants' intelligence or the scope of their knowledge. It just tests their nerve as it pushes them to gamble with money they don't have.

And it will test your nerves, if you expect more from a game show than coyly manufactured tension and a host -- Howie Mandel -- who's all hyped up on artificial energy. The needy NBC may be hoping ''Deal or No Deal" will become its ''Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," but the show, which premieres tonight at 8 on Channel 7, makes ''Millionaire" look downright substantive and complex. It's only a few shades more adult than, say, playing with blocks.

Here's how ''Deal" works. The contestant faces 26 exotic models, each of them holding a closed briefcase containing preset incremental amounts, from a penny to $1, $100, $100,000, and $1 million. The player picks one briefcase, which remains unopened and will be his or her prize. Then, he or she chooses other briefcases to be opened, and by a process of elimination tries to guess how much is in his or her own briefcase. Meanwhile, a ''banker" hidden in the shadows of the show's garish set, phones Mandel with low-money offers, hoping the contestant will take the offer instead of what's inside the briefcase.

The first contestant is a woman who can't stop yelling ''woo-hoo." She's a live wire, and she comes up with ready-made lines such as ''As long as they're showin', I'm goin'." Then Mandel brings out her family, and it turns out her husband is also a big character, who periodically does what he calls a ''nervousness dance."

But even these amusing ''real people" become tiresome as the hour stretches on, as the models open their cases, as Mandel opens his mouth, which is ornamented by an annoying soul patch. Quite simply, it's hard to deal with a game that is so painfully redundant.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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