German TV is very different from TV in the US. We do have two public stations, that you can receive anywhere for free (you have to pay, but that is really difficult to explain…). And we have regional channels, that you can receive via antenna depending on where you live. Of course, we also have private TV stations (cable TV), that basically show all the US series, movies and a lot of crabby reality TV.
Germany is a lot smaller than the US and cable TV did not really take off until the late 80s. So any TV identity, TV culture or TV tradition we have, was created and shaped by the ARD and the ZDF. Long story short, a TV Show called Wetten Dass… (You bet) was launched in 1981 (that was before I was even born) and is supposed to be the most successful TV Show in Europe.
Okay, I’m back. About 3 musical acts (tonight the Backstreet Boys, Montserrat Caballe and ??) entertain the huge live audience and then there is the bets. The celebrity ‚adopts‘ one bet and has to determine, if the person who does the bet will be able to do it. When I was little, Wetten Dass night was really special. My brother and I were allowed to stay up late, we got chips and the whole family watched the show together. Back then, the bets were the absolute coolest part of the show. They were crazy and dangerous and funny at the same time. There was the brass band that squeezed into a tiny car with all there instruments. Or the famous guy who claimed he could recongise the colors of a crayon by tasting them (he cheated). Now, the bets are mostly boring and I only watch it occassionally if I am home and mostly because of the guests. My guess is, that the show is still really exciting for kids.
Everybody in Germany knows the show. It gets the highst ratings possible, most other stations do not even try confronting it with another good movie or show. So on Wetten Dass night it is either take it or turn of the TV altogether. Wetten Dass will always have a special place in my heart, is part of my culture and will always be one of my favorite TV memories. I really hope it will still be around once I have children.
If you want to find out more about it, Wikipedia has an entry, that is a little more structured than mine.