Remembering Marc Breslow
I believe it’s a safe guess on my part that only a narrow splinter of this blog’s audience will ever even have heard of Marc Breslow.
But to the small group of people who recognize the name, he was a revered man in his field and responsible for setting the stage (literally) for entertainment that continues to this day.
Breslow directed a bevy of game shows dating back to 1951’s “I’ve Got a Secret,” according to game show announcer and voice artist Randy West, who described him as “an innovator” on his Facebook page:
Breslow was a tall, imposing figure who inspired, if not demanded, excellence from his control room and camera technicians.
But that perfection he demanded resulted in broadcasts that are still familiar and still loved to this day.
Breslow, who passed away on Monday at age 89, was the original director of the current run of “The Price is Right” with Bob Barker. Breslow defined the shots the show used and many of those same shots remain mostly intact 43 years later, something few people in any industry can say. Breslow was also the director of another all-time favorite game show, the 1970s run of “Match Game” with Gene Rayburn.
Game show producer Roger Dobkowitz, who worked on both shows, said that Breslow liked to avoid editing, which gave a “live,” unpredictable feel to the shows. But on a show like “Match Game,” it meant many of the antics from Rayburn and a panel of celebrities stayed in, even when the producer was off-camera desperately trying to steer everyone back on the path to actually play the game. On “The Price is Right,” it meant that only the most dire of technical glitches made it to air, but that only gave Barker, a master of playing off unpredictable circumstances, the chance to use a prop failure or a missed cue for comedic effect.
I have never denied that I was mesmerized at an early age by game shows, particularly those two shows. So Breslow, it seems to me now, played a hand in attracting me to the screen and into a career in TV. (Not in game shows, but in the medium, at least.)
It’s hard to explain exactly what a director in television does. In Breslow’s case, he sat next to the technical director, the man who actually punches the buttons on a switcher like the one you see above, and calls every individual shot. Before the program has begun, Breslow would have already marked every script or run sheet to indicate which shots he planned to take. But a good director has to be ready to roll with the punches, and Breslow always was.
A few years ago, someone posted a clip on YouTube that included the director’s track from a taping of “Match Game.” This means that the headset chatter the crew would have heard during the program is included in this recording. It’s a fascinating look at what a director does, and the opening sequence of that show, which involved a spinning sign in which shots of the six celebrity panelists were electronically inserted on the fly, gives a great picture of how in control Breslow was.
Note that I said “on the fly.” A two sided panel — they called it “the flipper” — with blue on both sides (using the same blue screen technology newscasts use when they place a weather map behind a meteorologist) spun around and the technical director had to switch shots while the flipper’s side was facing the camera so you (hopefully) couldn’t see the shot change as it spun around. After all six celebrities were introduced, within about one second, the flipper stopped flipping with an inserted closeup shot of the “Match Game” sign, the sign lit up, the camera shooting the flipper zoomed in on it, the camera shooting the sign zoomed out, the lights on the rest of the set came up, the turntable spun around to bring the contestants on stage, announcer Johnny Olson introduced Rayburn.
And every step of that process was called out by Breslow at about :34 into the clip:
“And stop it, light it, push in, pull out, fly it, lights, turn the turntable, John!”
Watch the clip and you’ll see what I mean:
At about 6:33 into the same clip, you’ll see another example of Breslow’s quick cuts when Rayburn pokes fun at a contestant’s lousy answer by asking if she had bus fare and actor David Doyle makes a comment about “Back on the bus.” Comedian Scoey Mitchell then uses the phrase for comic effect and you’ll see (and hear) the fast cuts between Rayburn, Doyle and Mitchell.
Breslow was a master at it.
You’ll see an example of highly-respected he was by his crew during the credits of his final episode of “The Price is Right” in 1986 when they briefly stopped the old mechanical crawl drum on his name and zoomed in, a rare nod of respect to any member of the crew (scroll to 40:40 into the clip if it doesn’t begin there already):
RIP, Mr. Breslow, and thanks for the memories.