What has been the appeal of game shows through the years? The vicarious thrill of someone winning a fortune? Or making a fool of himself or herself in the process? Maybe it’s that most game shows, to a certain degree, embrace three basic elements: that of competition, knowledge, and the possibility of great success.
Many shows that were enormously popular on radio in the fifties, such as: People Are Funny, Queen For a Day, Truth or Consequence, and You Bet Your Life, eventually made there way to television. Others, like It Pays to be Married, were precursors to shows like The Newlywed Game.
Quiz shows, as they were called, reached their peak in the mid-fifties until one scandal threatened the future of them all. The show “21” was the brainchild of producers Jack Berry and Dan Enright. Unlike shows such as Truth or Consequences, it relied on a contestant’s knowledge as opposed to his physical abilities. In 1956, “egghead” champion, Herb Stempel was pit against good-looking, young Chris Van Doran. Van Doran beat Stempel but it was later revealed that Van Doran was fed the correct answers and Stempel told to take a dive. Hearings ensued resulting in a much tougher oversight of these shows which went from being called “quiz shows” to the more relaxed, “game shows”. Although shows like College Bowl still emphasized knowledge, newer shows broadened their themes and incorporated more humor into their formats.
In the early sixties Goodson-Todman produced game shows that relied on celebrity participation and that, in my opinion, were more intelligent than many of their counterparts. Shows such as I’ve Got a Secret, hosted by Garry Moore. Panelists here were Betsy Palmer, Bess Myerson, Henry Morgan, and Bill Cullen. The secrets could be anything and everything. (ie. “I babysat Garry Moore when he was a baby”). What’s My Line, hosted by John Daly was another such show. Panelists Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallen, Steve Allen, and Arlene Francis were encouraged to guess the guest’s occupation. The occupations were usually pretty weird, (ie. “I’m the person who spreads the filling in an Oreo cookie”). Another popular one was To Tell the Truth, where all three guests claimed to be a particular person. The other two were imposters. (I dated someone once who was an imposter on one of the shows. What does that tell you?)
I also appeared as a contestant on three (that’s right, three) game shows in my lifetime: The $10,000 Pyramid (I almost won but my partner, Tony Randall, screwed up. Ironically, the opposing celebrity, June Lockhart, turned out to be someone whose daughter, Annie, would come to be a life long friend of mine). I was a big winner on Name That Tune (my winnings included a trip to Las Vegas, and a piano) and I appeared on Joker’s Wild as well. I enjoyed all three experiences and came home with an assortment of soups and small appliances.
It’s possible to catch some of these old game shows on the game show network (I keep wondering if one of my appearances will pop up). These days, the only game show I watch when I can is Jeopardy.
Aside from the Goodson-Todman shows already cited , I’ve listed some other shows that, I believe, are some of the best all time game shows and definitely worth a mention. Again, I list these in no particular order.
- Family Feud
- The Match Game
- Let’s Make a Deal
- Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?
- The Price is Right
- Wheel of Fortune
- The $100,000 Pyramid
Have a great weekend and thanks for joining me along,
RHODES LESS TRAVELED,