I’ve always been a fan of game shows, and in fact, some of my earliest memories watching television involves the game show genre.
On this date in 1972, television’s longest-running game show, The Price is Right, made its debut on CBS with Bob Barker as host. The show will begin its 45th season later this month. In honor of the 44th anniversary of the current version’s premiere, I decided this would be a fine occasion to list my favorite game shows.
1. ‘The Price is Right’
Bob Barker’s CBS version of the show wasn’t the first version. Older viewers and game show buffs will likely remember Bill Cullen, the dean of game shows, hosted the original version on NBC and later ABC from 1956 to 1965. The entire original version took the form of what current fans will know as the “Bidders Row” qualifying round: a prize was brought out and contestants bid on the prize with the requirement that each bid had to be higher than the previous bid. Once all had bid, they returned to the first bidder, who could then increase their bid (higher than the most recent bid) or “freeze” if they felt raising the bid would put them over the actual retail price. That was it. Over and over.
Watch this clip of a classic moment. It begins at about 2:45:
When Mark Goodson decided to relaunch the show, he used that original game as a qualifier to get a contestant on stage to play one of a rotating collection of pricing games for cash, cars, trips and more. Barker was CBS’s preferred choice and I think there can be little doubt after a 35-year run as host that it was the right choice. The show had maintained (until the current regime took over) a consistency of making as few changes as possible, keeping the show as an ultimate “comfort food,” with people always able to tune in and know exactly what to expect…in a good way. Host Drew Carey is about to begin his 10th year as host.
2. ‘Match Game ‘7X’
Like The Price is Right, the 1970s version of Match Game wasn’t the first run of this series, and also like The Price is Right, the game and the host were a perfect match. The original Match Game has been described as a more “cerebral” show: two teams (one celebrity and two contestants) were asked routine questions: “Name an instrument in a jazz band.” They received a reward for matching answers.
For the 1970s remake, they decided to employ a style of questions that had been stumbled upon towards the end of the original run: fill-in-the-blank questions packed full with double entendre: “Mary loves to pour gravy on John’s ________.” The 1970s version is still enjoyable because everybody thinks of the dirty answer, but it’s funny to see that most people would chicken out in actually giving it. (These days, the dirty answer is the only one that ever comes to mind.) Host Gene Rayburn was the perfect ringmaster for the chaos that was Match Game.
Another plus: the collection of B-list celebrities (and occasional A-list celebrities) always seemed to work. Of course, back then, even a B-list celebrity was mostly someone you’d actually heard of.
Reruns of Match Game from some 40 years ago are still among GSN’s highest-rated shows, last time I checked.
3. ‘The $25,000 Pyramid’
The late great Dick Clark was likewise a perfect match for this word game in which a celebrity tried to describe words to a civilian. It was fast-moving and exciting, and it culminated with a nerve-racking end game at the giant pyramid.
Here’s an example:
4. ‘What’s My Line?’
This is the panel show that launched the panel show sub-genre of game shows. But there was something quite special about this one: there was a formality of this show that was a perfect fit in the 1950s but seemed to become a throwback by the mid-1960s. Still, with all of the upheaval in the world by then, it was still nice to find any sense of normalcy, and this venerable classic fit that bill.
News moderator John Charles Daly presided over the guessing game in which four panelists tried to figure out a contestant’s occupation. Panelists included Random House publisher Bennett Cerf, journalist Dorothy Kilgallen and actress and television personality Arlene Francis. The remaining chair was typically a guest slot.
Here’s a clip of panel guest Groucho Marx causing a bit of calamity:
The show also introduced the famous “Mystery Guest” segment, in which a well-known celebrity or notable figure made an appearance and the celebrity panel, blindfolded, had to guess the person’s identity. It left the air after 17.5 years and still remains primetime television’s longest-running game show.
5. ‘Super Password’
Password, the ultimate word game, premiered in the 1960s with the late Allen Ludden at the helm. Ludden was known as “Mr. Password” for his 20-year association with the show until his death from cancer during the run of Password Plus in 1981. His final version introduced “Alphabetics,” the end game that required a celebrity to communicate 10 passwords to a civilian in 60 seconds to win a $5,000 jackpot.
Super Password was a good update to the ‘Plus’ version with Bert Convy moderating things.
Here’s a classic moment featuring comedian Rip Taylor:
6. ‘Family Feud’
Family Feud owes Match Game for two of its key ingredients: the survey question concept and original host Richard Dawson. ‘Feud’ took ‘Match’s’ end game, a survey of an audience, and turned that into the focal point of gameplay as families competed to guess the results of survey questions. Dawson’s wit made the show a success for nearly a decade.
The show has been on the air for a long time now through numerous versions and hosts, but current host Steve Harvey is the best thing that has happened to the program since Dawson stepped on stage for the first time.
Here, from the Harvey version, is an extended clip (including some parts that did not make it to air) about other ways people say “mother:”
A complaint of modern game shows is the reliance on “dirty” answers, and there’s certainly some of that on the current version. But not all of the answers end up going “below the belt.”
And like other game shows that do well over the long haul, it’s a show that’s easy to begin playing at home as you watch.
There were two runs of this series, one in the mid-1970s and one in the early 1980s and Bert Convy hosted both. Three celebrity couples appeared, one spouse of each couple on stage and the other offstage, and the on-stage player tried to correctly predict how their spouse would answer personal questions. But it featured an interesting twist: the celebrities won money for their cheering section: a third of the audience. Audience members actually received a check as they left the taping based on how much the celebrities had won for their section of the audience.
Here’s a classic clip from 1975, the producers decided to play an April Fools’ Day prank with a simple question the celebrities, including comedienne Totie Fields, were certain they’d get right:
The great Bill Cullen, who could easily handle any format presented to him, presided over this game designed to prove “whether two heads are really better than one.” In the original concept, a solo player competed against a family pair to correctly answer questions and connect a path of hexagons from one side to the other of a game board. (The solo player had to connect a minimum of four hexagons, while the family pair had to connect at least five to win.)
Contestants chose hexagons with letters, and the one-word answer to the question began with that letter.
Here’s a clip of a couple of questions not quite going as planned:
9. ‘Press Your Luck’
This is a show people still talk about because of the fast-paced spin round in which contestants tried to land on big-dollar amounts while avoiding the cartoon character known as the “Whammy.” A stop on a Whammy was the equivalent of the “Bankrupt” space on Wheel of Fortune. Four Whammys knocked a contestant out of the game.
In the end game, a contestant who felt afraid to continue battling against the Whammy could pass their remaining spins (earned by correctly answering multiple choice questions), but that strategy could sometimes backfire.
Here’s an epic “spin battle” from the show:
10. ‘Wheel of Fortune’
I must be honest: Wheel of Fortune almost didn’t make the list. I don’t watch it because I’m not a huge fan of Pat Sajak and I’m also not a fan of the constant rule changes and gimmicks they constantly employ. But when I get around all of the parts of the show I don’t care for, Merv Griffin’s simple creation, at its most basic form, does what every game show wants desperately to do: it makes you play along.
You’ll watch this glorified “Hangman” game of our childhood and you’ll try to out-guess all of the contestants. You’ll shout at the television about letter choices and why they shouldn’t risk another spin and why they haven’t already figured out the puzzle.
I imagine fans were going absolutely nuts during this round when no one could get the puzzle quite right:
After 41 years on the air, the game still works.
That’s my list of my 10 favorite game shows.