With the recent death of Chuck Barris, host of The Gong Show in the 1970’s, we were reminded of how big game shows were in our childhood. In the 70’s and 80’s, game shows ruled weekday morning TV. From about 9 am until the midday news, game shows were the majority of content on the big 3 networks. Other than a few holdovers like The Price is Right, or prime-time syndications Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, for whatever reason, game shows have fallen out of favor. As a kid, the morning block of game shows was a great way to spend half your sick day from school – it was mostly brainless, fun and parent-approved (not that we really had other choices). Today we answer the question: what are our favorite game show memories?
Press Your Luck (CBS: 1983-1986)
This show is best known for the enduring phrase: “No Whammies!”, which was enthusiastically shouted by each and every contestant while they awaited the results of their “spins”. The premise of this show was contestants had to answer trivia questions in order to get chances to win money/prizes on a gameboard called “The Big Board”. Although the trivia was sub-Jeopardy in difficulty, the show did borrow the concept of contestants having to compete to “buzz-in” to give answers, which then led to a multiple choice option open to all contestants. Anyway, the star of the show was the Whammy, an animated devil-looking cartoon character with a bizarre high-pitched voice. If you landed on a Whammy, there was a crude animation of the creature taking your money, but sometimes it would be inexplicably chased away or blown-up. Needless to say, the contestant that ended up with the highest prize total that wasn’t stolen by the Whammies won. Having only lasted 3 seasons, I’m guessing adults found the Whammy closer to annoying than amusing, but what a great catch-phrase to have added to American pop-culture.
Bonus: In 1984, an ice cream truck driver named Michael Larson used the pause/frame-by-frame feature on his VCR to figure out that the pattern of the Big Board was actually not random. He got on the show and went 45 turns without hitting a Whammy, earning him $110,237, a record at the time for a daytime game show. CBS determined it wasn’t cheating and let him keep his winnings (and reprogrammed the board).
DJ: Yeah this game show kind of sucks, I did love it as a kid but it does not hold up. You didn’t mention the host Peter Tomarkin, what a bland inconsequential host. Todd Newton hosted a remade version a few years ago, still not good. No Whammy No Whammy No Whammy…Stop! As in “stop airing this show.”
The $25,000 Pyramid (CBS/ABC: 1972-2016)
Sometimes simple things endure the longest, and you could definitely apply that to this game. It’s a testament to the show’s enduring appeal that they had to increase the prize (and show title), from $10,000 to 20k, 25k, 50k and finally $100,000 in 2016. Although there was a period of time in the 70’s with a different host (and with the post-1990 iterations), the show is always associated with Dick Clark as host. With his soothing voice, calm demeanor and genuine affable nature, he really was the perfect TV host. I never quite understood why they used celebrities on the show, as it could have also worked with contestant pairs such as husband and wife, brother/sister or just two friends playing the game together. The winner’s circle round at the end was always the most exciting part of the show. It was pretty hard to get through all six categories of the “pyramid”. I don’t recall seeing someone ever win the top prize, but I’m sure it must have happened on occasion. Between the non-combative format and Dick Clark hosting, the show was pretty wholesome, other than the occasional suggestive category titles like “Things You Do In Bed” or “Things you Swallow”.
Bonus: The Pyramid series of shows won 9 Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Game Show, second only to Jeopardy which won 13.
DJ: Much better…Dick Clark was smooth. It took its game basically from Password and had a great “Bonus Round” which was one of my favorites. It was generally difficult, I have seen people win it but more lost. Skip the Donny Osmond version.
Love Connection (syndication: 1983-1994)
Was it weird that a 12-13-year-old boy liked to watch Love Connection afternoons after General Hospital? Perhaps, but nevertheless, that’s what I did. This wasn’t the first “matchmaking” show, and wouldn’t be the last, but it has an enduring legacy in song references and SNL skits long after the show ended. Chuck Woolery, who was the original host of Wheel of Fortune, made this set-up work with his suave humor, perfect hair, crossed-legs pose, and key catchphrase “We’ll be back in two and two” while holding up two fingers and turning them mid-phrase. Watching clips of this show, everything about it was quintessential 80’s, from the set design, with its pastel colors, to the contestants’ hairdos/attire, to the audience reactions anytime something remotely sexual (and I’m talking about just kissing) was mentioned. Compare that to the sleaze of today’s Bachelor/Bachelorette shows and it’s a refreshing innocence. Beneath the obvious cheese of the concept, there was something quaintly romantic about it back in the mid-80’s. The show briefly returned with a different host in 1998-1999, and word is that it’s coming back this summer on Fox with Andy Cohen hosting.
Bonus: According to Woolery, out of appx. 22,000 couples there were 29 marriages, 8 engagements, and 15 children. That success rate is along the lines of “even a broken clock is right twice a day.”
DJ: I couldn’t get enough of this show, I wanted every date to end badly. It was always so much more fun that way.
So with all transparency, I do not watch game shows generally anymore, except for the occasional stop on Jeopardy, which is my all time favorite. Jeopardy doesn’t feel like a game show, it’s too smart. As a kid in the Golden Age of game shows, I watched tons and loved them. They were the morning block on national TV and my choices were game shows or reruns of Gilligans Island. It’s all there was. I loved Sale of the Century, Name That Tune, The Price is Right, the Chuck Woolery version of Wheel of Fortune (where you picked your prizes) and even the Newlywed Game. I was too young to know exactly what Whoopie was and as an adult still not sure why “it” is referred to as Whoopie. Game shows were mindless fun and easy to watch. These days game shows are prime time gimics (The Weakest Link, Deal or No Deal, Who Want’s to be a Millionaire, The Wall)
Card Sharks (1978-1989)
“Ace is high, deuce is low, call it right and win the dough!”
Hosted by the great Jim Perry who also did another favorite of mine, Sale of the Century, this was the game show with the big-ass cards. This game was a real life Acey-Deucy. There are two players, one is a returning champion. Each contestant has a 52 card deck and 5 cards are placed face down in a row on the “board”. The goal is to move through the 5 cards by guessing whether the next card is higher or lower. To get a chance to flip a card you needed to answer a question against your opponent. The questions were Family Feud-like, for example, we polled 100 women in a town in an unknown place the following question, Ladies have you ever seen an X-rated film, how many said they had? The first player says 15 and the next player has to guess higher or lower. If that player gets it right they get to flip the next card. Then they can guess higher or lower. When they get a tougher card they can freeze and go to the next question. If they get to the end first they win the game, two out of three win the match. Like most of these game shows then there is a bonus round called Money Cards, same concept higher/lower and you use $200 to bet. The goal to get to the Big Bet and make as much money as possible. I loved cards and loved guessing the questions, whether it was higher or lower. There are game show hosts that are just so good, Alex Trebek, Wink Martindale, Tom Kennedy and Jim Perry fits right in.
Bonus: Watch Royce compete on this episode from YouTube:
MG: It’s funny, from the show title and even your description, I didn’t think I watched this show, then when I saw the clip, it all came back to me. This is such a simple concept, I’ve seen carnival games more complex. I guess prior to smartphones and the internet, we were desperate for any diversion.
Hollywood Squares (1966-2004)
Hollywood Squares was a game show that relied on celebrities to help you win money. It’s a real life Tic Tac Toe board, with celebrities in the squares. There was always a fine list of current TV Stars and some washed up celebrities with Paul Lynde always in the center square. On any given day in the late 70’s, you could have Linda Lavin, Rich Little, John Amos, Rose Marie, George Gobel, Jonathan Winters and Wayland Flowers and Madame in the game. There would be two contestants, one would pick a celebrity to answer a question, then Peter Marshall (the host I remember best) would ask it. Often the celeb, especially if they were a comedian, would make a joke before answering the question. It was up to the contestant to guess if they were right, and if the player guessed right they put an X or an O in the square. If they got three in a row they won. The celebrities were given some info prior to help bluff the contestant if they wanted to. The most famous version and the one I enjoyed most was with Peter Marshall. Later versions had John Davidson and Tom Bergeron hosting. The show was more comedy than a game, not really much to the game itself. Seems like it comes back every few years.
Bonus: Peter Marshall’s son Pete LaCock was a major league baseball player for the Kansas City Royals in the late 70’s.
MG: Unlike Pyramid, the celebrities were essential to this show’s format. Even as a kid some of the comedy was cringe-worthy. As part of making America great again, and executive order needs to be signed to bring the show back and provide critical fill-in work for the C and D-list celebrities of TV.
The Match Game (1962-Present)
The first thing I found out about The Match Game while researching this week’s post is that it started in 1962, I was stunned, I thought for sure it was a 70’s creation. In that incarnation, there were teams of three with one contestant being a celebrity captain. The questions were innocuous such as “Name one of Santa’s reindeer or Name a type of muffin”, the two players had to match the captain to get points. This show was mostly live and ended in about 1969. In 1973 started the version most people know today and love, it was a syndicated 5-day a week taped series, even the name changed slightly to Match Game 73. Now there were two contestants competing against each and they relied on six celebrity contestants to get the match and the points. Of course if you won there was a bonus round. Gene Rayburn was again the host. The celebrities like Hollywood Squares were B-listers, Richard Dawson, Marcia Wallace, Nipsey Russell, Loretta Swit, Dick Martin, and the permanent panelists Charles Nelson Reilly and Brett Somers. The questions were less factual and more of a fun sometimes suggestive phrase, such as “We know a man whose name is Dan, and yesterday he ran and ran to see the stripper known as Fran, and catch a glimpse of her beautiful blank.” The show turned into more comedy than game often getting borderline bawdy as the panelists tried to get outrageous in their answers. The Gene Rayburn version ended in 1984 and there were two short lived revivals in the 1990’s until the most recent current version with Alec Baldwin.
Bonus: The 1983-1984 version was actually The Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour, with Gene Rayburn playing host on Match Game and celebrity square on Hollywood Squares and Bowser from Sha Na Na as the host of Hollywood Squares and panelist on Match Game.
MG: “B-list” is a generous tag for these celebrities. What I remember most is the use of “blank” in the phrase, and it always led to double entendre territory. It kind of bothered me as a kid, which is why I didn’t watch the show much.