WASHINGTON — The biggest thing on TV this holiday season?

A new game show on NBC.

In its first three broadcasts, “Deal or No Deal” jumped from just under 12 million viewers Monday to more than 14 million viewers Wednesday.

Hairless, soul-patched, handshake-phobic Howie Mandel hosts the U.S. edition of the European hit, brought to us by Endemol, the company behind “Fear Factor” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” NBC ordered just five episodes of “Deal” and has aired one each weeknight this week at 8.

Competing against holiday fare, “Deal” already has outstripped the 13.8 million viewers of CBS’s tear-jerky Christmas flick “The Christmas Blessing” and ABC’s weep-fest “Holiday Wishes” episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (13 million).

But “Deal” has a ways to go to beat some of the more traditional Christmas offerings. This year’s run of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” clocked nearly 16 million viewers; another CBS Christmas flick, “Silver Bells,” scored more than 16 million; and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” had more than 15 million.

That said, the first three nights of “Deal” opened bigger than the first three nights of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” back in the summer of ’99.

Unlike “Millionaire” — an ABC game show that also launched big during a low-wattage time of year — contestants on “Deal” don’t even have to know their left hand from their right. They only need to know how to tell the number 1 from 26 to be able to identify which of 26 sealed briefcases — containing cash in varying amounts from one penny to $1 million — he/she wants to select.

The player then tries to eliminate the remaining 25 briefcases, which are opened and the cash amount inside revealed. As each case is opened, the likelihood of the player’s case containing big bucks increases or diminishes. After a certain number of cases are opened, “The Bank” offers cash in exchange for the chosen briefcase, and Mandel asks the player, “Deal or no deal?” — which certainly is no “Is that your final answer?”

As befits a show of this dollar count, each briefcase is guarded carefully by a pretty young thing from the Hooters Modeling Agency, with pouty, come-hither looks and such names as Bonnie-Jill, AJ, Angel and Kristal (and who, in their video bios on NBC’s Web site, offer up their ideal first dates, including: front-row tickets to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, “making a connection with someone,” and of course: “I’m a wino, I love wine. ... I don’t need a big production, I don’t need a movie”).

Already, “Deal” has been a Christmas miracle for NBC. Its unveiling delivered an audience increase of about 25 percent, compared with the network’s season average at 8 on Mondays.

Tuesday’s crowd was up nearly 40 percent, and Wednesday’s haul posted an increase of more than 60 percent at 8 for NBC.

Wednesday’s audience is, in fact, the network’s top non-Olympic result in the hour in nearly four years.

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