Friday, February 17, 2006

The Top 14 Game Shows of All Time - Part III - Graphite! Aristophanes! Blank Tape!

Its that time of the year folks… pitchers and catchers reported today (yippee!!) and March Madness is just around the corner… that means… its time for our version of the Final Four as we present Part III of … the top 14 game shows ever…. And we start with….

4. THE PRICE IS RIGHT…. If you talk about comfort food.. there's nothing like being home sick one day (or sleeping in on President’s Day) and flipping on the TV at 11am and seeing…. that The View's Meredith Viera still looks hot, and Star Jones is still ugly. Nah, Im only kidding… The Price is Right continues its incredible run… and remains like an old reliable friend at 11 am! If you watch it now and watched it 30 years ago.. its still the same show! The models are different, but every day Bob Barker who is now in his mid 80s holds down the fort…. and still has all his marbles to run from set to set to play all the goofy pricing games.

From a business standpoint, the show is a juggernaut… CBS Daytime has kicked butt in the ratings for years and years and years.. And TPIR is the linchpin, In addition, it is the ONLY NETWORK game show… all the rest are syndicated,,… and it has been the only network game show since the early 90s when ABC bailed out on a revamped Match Game with Ross Schafer, and NBC gave up on its morning lineup of To Tell the Truth and Classic Concentration. Even CBS kicked out network remakes of The Pyramid, Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud…

The show is just amazing .. And it just might never end! .The key to a successful game show is its consistency. That’s why game shows are comfort food,. Especially to someone like me with such a hodge podge brain. They have structure and rules and if you look at TPIR from the mid 70s, its exactly the same as it is now 30 years later except the prices are way off.... 4 contestants on contestant row are picked right out of the audience which gives anyone who goes to watch the show a chance to win. Then the ones that advance go to the wheel for a chance at the showcase and then at the end you hope they both overbid. Okay, maybe that’s just me.. But remember I watch Olympic Ice Skating to see the skaters fall on their tushies…

One cool thing was the genius in the 70s on contestant row who realized the 3 prior bidders had high bids so he went with 1 dollar.. And won.. The strategy is still used to this day with some people in the 3rd position bidding 1 dollar only to see his neighbor go last and screw him by bidding 2 dollars. The Family Guy did a brilliant spoof of this and had the contestants get into a vicious fight.

Incidentally, the older version in the 60s was pretty cool too. I’ve seen it on GSN and bidding actually went beyond the first round and they didn’t have all the bells and whistles like the Barker version. They also didn’t have contestants row back then,… but from the moment when the late Johnny Olsen summoned the first contestant on the 70s Bob Barker version to “Come on Down”… a legend and a catch phrase was born.

And what happens to this cash cow when Bob Barker retires? As mentioned in Part II, I used to think that Jeff Probst might take over.. but that was pre- Survivor. And it looks like Survivor is here to stay.. Especially if they do gimmicks like Thursday night’s episode where bikini clad women wrestle inside five rings that look very similar to the ones on the Olympics that nobody seems to be watching.

Are you ready for my pick to succeed Bob Barker? (And they’re gonna keep the show running post Bob since it makes so much money)… The weather guy from the CBS Morning Show… Dave Price.. Pun intended. I don’t watch him that early in the AM on CBS, but I remember when he was on Channel 5 how wacky and crazy he used to be, and he just might have what it takes to take over a game show…. Although replacing Barker may be impossible. Just ask NBC when Pat Sajak quit the network version of Wheel of Fortune and was replaced by………….. Rolf Bernirschke!

Long live Bob Barker!!

3. PASSWORD - If you are too young to remember Allen Ludden, you don’t know what you missed! I hope I look that good when I’m old. What a classy dude.. Allen presided over Password for years and years until a stroke knocked him off the air and ultimately killed him in the early 1980s. Tom Kennedy and Bert Convy also hosted the Plus and Super versions rather well… but Password was just a classic game. One player gives a one word clue.. The other one guesses it.. Simple yet quite entertaining… especially that memorable Odd Couple episode where Felix and Oscar go on the show and the Password is pencil.. Oscar says “Lead”….Felix’s guess is …. Graphite! Aristophanes! Ridiculous! What a classic!

I don’t remember the earlier editions too well.. And I vaguely remember a celebrity version called Password All Stars when the show ran on daytime on ABC in the mid 70s before the network canned it.. But it wasn’t gone too long.. NBC brought it back as Password Plus with new gimmicks like a puzzle board and alphabetics… kind of like the Pyramid where you get 60 seconds to get the contestant to say 10 words. Tom Kennedy took it over after Ludden got sick and the show ran a few more years.

The network brought it back again a few years later,.. This time as Super Password with Bert Convy. The show was the same with a few minor rule changes and a smaller set.. But for the most part, the game remained the same. However once it was cancelled in the late 80s it never got remade after that for some bizarre reason! But as a game it’s a classic and it comes in at 3.


The hits just keep on coming on Nate’s Blog Top 14 as we head to Number One and now time for a long distance dedication. Susie from Kansas writes… My mommy just met a new guy and they started shacking up. Here‘s the problem Casey… I have a cute little toy poodle named Fifi.. And her shack up has a big out of control dalmation named Killer. Casey…. For my entertainment….could you play… the theme song to Dog Eat Dog??

Ok Dog Eat Dog didn’t make the list… Lets get back to the countdown…with number 2

2. THE PETER MARSHALL HOLLYWOOD SQUARES - The original and still the best comes in 2nd on my list. This is not to be confused with the 3 remakes hosted respectively by Jon Bauman (well get to that later), John Davidson, and Tom Bergeron. I actually liked the Davidson version better than the Bergeron version… but the Marshall one was still by far the best!.

The show was anchored by center square Paul Lynde and created a celebrity environment that was used even better by the show that comes in at #1. The concept was allow them to loosen up and have fun on a game show…. I have seen the old pre HS panel shows on GSN, and none of them gave the stars the freedom that they were allowed on the squares. But when HS came along.. (and if Im wrong on this… please correct me), Marshall became the first host to set his ego aside and play straight man to each star’s wisecrack answers. Oh yeah, the show is tic tac toe.. Easy enough.. The contestant earns a square by agreeing or disagreeing with the answer given by the celebrity sitting in the corresponding square. But early on, the stars started off shooting wisecracks to the questions, and the show took on a whole new meaning. Comedy writers were hired, and Paul Lynde was brought in as the center square along with other regulars Wally Cox, Rose Marie, Charley Weaver, and later George Gobel. In my naïve youth, I didn’t realize that the stars had the joke answers written for them.. I just thought they were that funny and quick witted and as a result I developed a strong admiration and appreciation of them. That was the time when I started to really like game shows because it gave you a window into the clever humor of famous people.

The show ran on NBC until June 20th 1980 to make room for the daytime David Letterman show. After its cancellation, it went right into daytime syndication (not to be confused with the nighttime syndication that GSN briefly ran in the early 2000s to mind bogglingly low ratings!). Strangely enough the show moved to a casino in Las Vegas owned by Meshulam Riklis and the audience was set up as a dinner theater.. So the camera cover shot of the lower level was actually blocked by a bunch of goofballs who spent their comps at HS instead of the buffet…(Or maybe it was a buffet.. You never did see a waiter.) Oh yeah.. One aspect of the deal.. Riklis’ hot little wife Pia Zadora had to get her own square as part of the deal.

One other highlight was the “secret square”… We knew who it was.. But nobody else did.. And when the secret square was picked… sirens went off and excitement was in the air… no funny answers here, buster.. This is it… I also got a kick out of hot stars who got to model politically incorrect fur coats on the spiral staircases that connected the 3 levels of the set.

By the way the Squares has the catchiest theme song in game show history… and is actually my cell phone’s ring tone. Second place for theme song goes to Whew… which had a catchy opening during its brief run in 1979- 80... (Close calls… narrow escapes… ) and who the heck can even pronounce the word “whew”??

HS fizzled out in the early 80s…(right after they changed the set and theme song.. although I just downloaded the new theme today and it actually is pretty snazzy) and came back in syndication in ‘86 with John Davidson. I liked it… it ran a few years and yet another edition recently ended a 6 year run with Dancing with the Stars host Tom Bergeron. (Not to be confused with Skating with the Celebrities starring the girl from the movie Buffy the Marriage Breaker. She hooked up with her skating partner, and he left his 9 months pregnant wife!) The remakes stayed basically the same, but its hard to recapture the magic of the old stars, and even though Davidson and Bergeron tried their best.. neither of them could pull the show together like Peter Marshall. I’m sure it will come back again in a few years…

And now ladies and gentlemen… the number one game show of all time… Deal or No Deal.. You got the models… you got the banker… you got the suitcases.. You got Howie… What more do you need?? Ok, Im kidding..

Ladies and Gentlemen…. The all time Number One Game Show of all time…..

1. THE GENE RAYBURN MATCH GAME - duh…

One day I was at the VCR department at K Mart.. And there in the flesh was Gene Rayburn!! He asked me if I knew where he could find “blank tape”… Hmmm,.. I started humming the think music…blank tape… Is it “duct” tape you want, Gene?? He started to get annoyed… “I know.. Masking tape…”.. I think he was gonna shoot me… “Uh how about ‘scotch” tape… Blank Tape he yelled… I want blank tape.. At which point he reached into his Brooks Brothers suit and pulled out his long microphone and started smacking me with it.

At that point I woke up from a horrible dream!

Flashback to 1973, The summer was coming to an end… and I was getting ready to start 3rd Grade. I was just about to turn 8, and my mom mentioned that maybe I should watch other shows besides cartoons. It was the week of Labor Day and the next thing you know this orange thingie starts spinning and I’m seeing Morey Amsterdam, Loretta Swit, and Ruta Lee (from High Rollers).. I started watching and I haven’t stopped… and interestingly enough I remember the panel for some bizarre reason… and it just so happens that very same panel is on this wks 3:30 GSN repeats!

The magic formula…Take one straight man host, (thanks for the idea Peter Marshall), six celebrities, write some wacky questions,… and you have a game show whose incredible popularity defies logic. Even Gene admitted, the game in itself is kind of silly,… but the chemistry between Gene and the six celebrities made for a fantastic show that continues on high rated reruns on GSN and websites made by fans who love the show more than myself…. Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Richard Dawson (for the first five years) were the glue that held the show together and their silly joking along combined with what was going on on HS really made these people seem to be hysterically funny and basically the type of people one would spend a half hour with each day. I used to watch the show and felt I knew the celebs… they were like uncles and aunts to me!! Of course I didn’t understand the jokes… and as I watch the show on GSN… I’m kind of surprised my mom even let me watch it… but it is my fave show of all time….

GSN knows the show is hot.. it’s the most popular show on the network… To me.. I equate it with Babe Ruth baseball games surfacing on ESPN… Ruth was the best player of all time bar none.. He dominated his era and set records that took years to break…. Hey pitchers and catchers reported today… its baseball season folks. Well if ESPN showed old Ruth games… they would have the same impact on sports fans as GSN showing old MG reruns has on us game show fans. The show is just so much better than any other game show and no matter how many times they remake it… it never will recapture its old magic.

They remade the show in 1990 with Ross Shaefer which stayed true to its original format… and in 1998 with Michael Burger (who dated a woman who lived next door to me when I had a summer house in 1990). Burger’s version was awful… it had 5 stars instead of 6... And the double entendres weren’t implied.. If the question was “Dumb Donald is soooo dumb… (how dumb is he?) He got his blank stuck in the spaghetti maker”.. the 70s audience laughed at the obvious answer and then wrote nose, head, arm, etc. The 90s version didn’t… and the show just didn’t work.

And what happens when you combine the top 2 game shows of all time? You get NBC’s very strange Match Game Hollywood Squares Hour. Its hard to write about this one since all the game show fans HATED it… I didn’t feel that strongly about it.. But it just looked odd.. Kind of like a movie in the 1800s that has planes flying over head… or a Met game that doesn’t have planes flying over head! I liked MG so much I was happy just to see it… (This show came 20 years before we could get our GSN rerun fix) but the celebrity alignment looked strange and I was more interested in seeing Bowzer than this strange Jon Bauman who played him… They played 3 rounds of match game with the same rules as the PM version… 3 rounds match as many stars etc…then it got creepier.. From out of nowhere emerged a wall with seats and voila you had the upper floor of a very cheap looking Hollywood Squares set. 3 other stars deemed not Match Game worthy came running out and jumped in the seats… and Jon Baumann took over as host… There was no secret square.. You didn’t have to “earn” a square to get a win and there were no bluffs. I’m amazed that HS ever recovered from this debacle. After the HS game ended, Gene took over as host and the winner got to play the Super Match like the old show. With all the legalities involving program ownership…and there are a lot since GSN has to jump through hoops to negotiate rights fees with the owners of different shows… I’m amazed this hybrid show even got produced! Rumor has it… there are legal documents that bar it from ever airing again!

I gotta really thank Google for help researching this 3 part extravaganza since I didn’t remember a lot of details about some of the shows. In researching the MG HS hour I found a review written by a teenaged kid on his My Spaces blog. Now how the heck could a teenaged kid review it if it hasn’t aired in 20 years. But even stranger are the comments section where these wacky My Spaces goofballs have assumed the identities of various game show hosts alive and dead… including Gene Rayburn. It’s good to see another generation of game show fans is emerging in America!

And there you have it folks,… the top 14 game shows of all time! I’m sure people have opinions like where was the Newlywed Game or Name that Tune for example? NTT may have gotten short shrift since it is never rerun because of the complexities involving the music licenses on the show.. I also left out Concentration and I am sure many others that you may have liked.. But feel free to leave your comments … and suggestions for other Top 14 lists.

13 comments:

Dangerspouse said...

So, like, when did you allot time for physical activity when you were a youth...? Er, never mind. I've seen you. I think I know. Hey Natey - inciteful, provocative post as always! I mean, I've never seen any of these shows, yet you brought them alive for me. Bravo, paisan! :)

Nate said...

You have never seen ANY of these shows?? Can this be true? Not even The Price is Right? Never ever??

Louis said...

Nate, I agree with your top list of game shows, with one exception. "The Price is Right" is #1 in my book. It has been number one in Daytime Nielsen Ratings gor God knows how many years, even topping all the soaps that follow. Bob Barker is a legend and television icon who has made this show work for 34 years, just as he did for "Truth or Consequences" for 18 years before "TPIR." By the way, do you know is Bob has signed on for a 35th season? I read on interview with Les Mooves, CEO of CBS a few months ago stating that Bob will stay as the star of TPIR for as long as he wants and has approval of his successor when he wants to retire if CBS decides to continue TPIR without Bob. I am a huge fan of TPIR because of Bob Barker's tremendous appeal, enthusiasm and ability to connect with his audience. I grew up watching Bob, my son learned to say the name Bob Barker before his dad's name, and now I have a 5 year old grandson who's fixed on CBS every weekday morning at 11AM.

I'd love to see Bob do 40 years on "TPIR." I think he is the show and will be irreplaceable.

Louis
Tampa, FL

Nate said...

Hey Louis...

Welcome to the blog! Great post... Bob is a living legend.. no doubt about it... but when push comes to shove... I gotta go with Gene and and the Brett Somers/Charles Nelson Reilly festival over Bob and TPIR... You can see that I tend to like the celebrity game shows better... and we can even discuss this topic on a future podcast!

I must say that Bob's longevity is incredible and he gets credit for not only being on the show for so long.. but he is also the studliest game show host after he hooked up with the hottest game show model in the history of mankind! I'd be proud if my kid can pronounce "Dian Parkinson" before he says daddy!!

Keep on posting Louis... great to have you aboard!

Anonymous said...

The wife feels that The newlywed game takes the cake.......
Remember our honeymoon.... who was the one that won jeopardy? It was your wife, while you cheered her on in the audience!
I am the Queen of Game Shows and I married the King of Game Shows.

Nate said...

Hey it took 3 months and 26 posts, and the Trophy Wife has finally posted a comment!! And that's true.. she played Jeopardy on the cruise and kicked major league butt... which would make you think that she would pick Jeopardy... but thats besides the point..

Also getting back to Louis's comment... the reason Password beats The Price is Right.. when I used to work from home.. at 11 am, the two shows were both on.. and I used to always watch Password Plus... therefore it just got past TPIR in my rankings....

Anonymous said...

Nate, thanks for the kind words. A few more words about "The Price is Right." As you know every host who has tried to do a nighttime version has failed--from Dennis James, Tom Kennedy & Doug Davidson. Doug's version failed not just because of him but also because they revamped the show's style, set and music. As Bob Barker has said, you can't fix what's not broken. He also turned down doing the nightime half hour versions in syndication because they just won't work, as America has become used to the hour version with the spinning of the big wheel in between.

I met Bob Barker several times when I worked for a newspaper in Long Island, NY (my hometown) whose parent company was based in Los Angeles. He's a very kind and generous person. We met at an L.A. radio station, KFI, and he told me a few interesting things: his contract states that only American cars can be given away as prizes; absolutely no fur coats can be presented on the show and no cars with leather seats. In a nutshell, nothing can be given away that in any form or shape could involve animal cruelty.

During his 34 year tenure so far only one person has substituted for him - Dennis James-- in the early 1980s when his wife Dorthy Jo passed away. And that was only fo 3 days, which is a week of tapings. During the late eighties, it was Dian Parkenson who convinced him to stop dying his hair dark and let it be naturally grey and now white. I don't know how much he makes a year, but within the last 12 months he has donated out of his own pocket millions of dollars to top universities to form law departments to focus on animal rights. He's also donated several millions of dollars to create cures for cancer (he's wife died of lung cancer).

Anyway, back to his longevity on TPIR. As you know, he's not only the star of the show, but also the executive producer-- the top boss of the program. Freemantle, who owns the show, defer to him for all decisions made on TPIR. They know many American viewrs would create a riot against Freemantle and CBS if he's forced to step down. He's getting more popular as he gets older with young people. We just had a bus load of young people from the University of South Florida with T-shirts saying "We Love You Bob" head out to Los Angeles to attend a taping of the show, and they could care less if they are chosen as contestants; they just want to meet Bob. Isn't that incredible!

The only way TPIR is going to succeed without Bob is if Bob cuts down on his work load and do the show four times a week and, say, on Fridays allow a substitute host to do the show, thus nurturing the person as a possible succesor to him when he steps dowm. This would be similar to when Johnny Carson decided to have a permanent guest host once a week--Jay Leno.

I don't think, though, Bob has any plans to retire anytime soon. God Bless him Not many people can handle that type of fast-paced show at age 82.

It was interesting that TPIR Million Dollar Special was put on last Tuesday primetime at CBS up against "American Idol." Both shows are owned by Freemantle. And how can you compete with a show at Fox that gets 35 million viewers and is the highest Nielsen rated show now on the air? Wouldn't you think that Freemantle would object having two of their shows competing against each other on different networks?

Nate said...

From the SAT review book:

Nate is to Gene Rayburn, like Louis is to Bob Barker (or Pumpsterdamus is to Kreskin!)

So here's the question Louis... who will replace Bob Barker down the road? Im sure you're aware that Todd Newton (from Whammy) has been doing a version of the TPIR at various casinos around the USA. Is this an audition?

Anonymous said...

Nate, I believe that Rich Fields, the current announcer, is being prepped up to take over Bob Barker when he decides to retire. Todd Newton is perfect to do a Vegas or Atlantic City casino version of the show. He's got the right name to do that. He can follow in Wayne Newton's footsteps.

As far as Gene Rayburn, I agree with you. He was one of the best in the industry. The original "Match Game" in the 1960s was not as entertaining as the one he hosted during the 1970s thru early 1980s. I would definately pick "Match Game" with Gene Rayburn as the number 2 show of all time.

By the way, did you know that Gene Rayburn designed and created the thin, long microphone used on his show. He invented it and had a patent on it. It is the same one that Bob uses on TPIR. Bob refuses to use a cordless microphone and continues to use Gene's version.

I still love watching Gene Rayburn's show with Brett Summers, Charles Nelson Reilly and Richard Dawson. They are very funny shows. Richard, as you know, went on to host "Family Feud." He was a very arrogant and demanding host behind the scenes. He demanded extraodinay amounts of money from Mark Goodson plus other benefits that eventually led to his downfall. His show was edited to the max as he took more time during taping talking about himself than focusing on the game show.

By the way, I don't know if you remember this, but Bob Barker hosted "Match Game" once. That was when they had game show hosts on the panel and each took turns hosting the show for that week. Gene was part of the panel that week as well.

Nate, I love to see what your top list of all-time worst game shows are in the future.

Louis

Nate said...

I dont recall the episode of Bob Barker hosting MG.... nor the all game show host panel. Was this the original 60s version or the 70s version?

Also... thats a good question about the all time worst game shows. Methinks that is gonna be a topic for a future column. Stay tuned!

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Nate said...

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Anonymous said...

Nate,

I was mistaken about Bob Barker hosting Match Game for one episode. It was "Tattletales" hosted by Bert Convy, the show with famous celebrities and their spouses. It was a week when the panel was game show hosts and their spouses. Gene Rayburn and Bob Barker were on the show with their spouses and each took turns hosting the show for one episode of that week. I can't remember who the others were.

Also, thought this might bring back memories of broadcasters who at one time hosted game shows, but whose main claim to fame where in other areas of television: Steve Allen, Mike Wallace, Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson, Dick Enberg, Hugh Downs, Bobby Vinton, Groucho Marx (revived his career), Vin Scully, and I'm sure there are others that I can't remember at the moment.

Louis