Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Top 14 Game Show Hosts of All Time

Last month GSN celebrated its 12th birthday.. And as it approaches its Bar Mitzvah.. it continues to try to find its identity.. For the last year or so, it has distanced itself from reality shows and gone back to its original format of the good ol’ game shows…. The network has also started to air “documentaries” E/VH1 style.. covering topics such as Match Game.. Chuck Barris.. and the guy who “cheated” on Press Your Luck by figuring out the pattern on the electronic board so he would avoid the dreaded Whammy. Recently as part of their Sunday Night documentary series, GSN ran a special about its list of the Top 10 Game Show Hosts of All Time.. However, as you can see by my Top 14 List.. the GSN special may have been a bit of a clunker, Their List, while not as exciting as the one on the 24-beating-Heroes.. goes as follows:

1. Bob Barker; 2. Gene Rayburn; 3. Alex Trebek; 4. Monty Hall; 5. Richard Dawson; 6. Regis; 7. Bill Cullen; 8. Chuck Woolery; 9.Pat Sajak; 10. Bob Eubanks.

However, my Top 14 is not just 4 names pasted on to the bottom of their Top 10 list although that would have been a lot easier to write. When all was said and done, I totally dropped 1 host and kept 2 others on the list although I label them as list “bottom feeders“ . I agreed with 4 of their picks.. I guess that’s not that bad,.. But the rest of their rankings are pretty far out in left field.. just like Cliff Floyd in Wrigley Field…. Also feel free to check out the archives from last February to see my list of the Top 14 Game Shows. Here we go with my Hosts list.

THE HOST WHO SHOULDN’T BE ON THE GSN LIST - Regis - Yeah, his hosting of Millionaire boosted it to No. 8 on last February’s Top 14 Game Show list.. but as you will see by the other hosts who inhabit my list, they have almost all accumulated a large body of work as a host. Aside from a few forgettable clunkers in the 70s.. Reege really only hosted this program. Granted the show was a ratings phenomenon that has since disappeared from the network airwaves, but it still lives on in syndication with Meredith Viera and has inspired 1 vs. 100 which has players competing against other contestants as they climb up the money ladder. I predict.. And remember that a year ago I predicted Dave Price would host The Price is Right… I predict that with some fine tuning, 1 vs. 100 actually has the potential to become more successful than Millionaire.

HONORABLE MENTION Here is my disclaimer.. Due to my “youth“, my memory goes only as far back as the mid 70s… so a lot of hosts in the early days of TV get short shrift on my list although 3 slots on this list go to hosts from “The Early Days” whose careers went beyond the 50s and 60s.. Groucho Marx was a legend and his You Bet Your Life deserves an honorable mention. I should put him at No. 14, but my pick there is a person who has made the top of everyone else’s list but just barely makes mine due to the fact that I didn’t like his show.

Bottom Feeder 1 - #14 - Monty Hall - A nice Jewish boy from Canada.. Why was this show so popular? People got dressed in stupid costumes for the show that popularized the term “Do you want what is behind Curtain No. 1?”. Oddly enough Deal or No Deal is sorta like LMAD because we find contestants swept up in the heat of the moment and egged on by a host and a wacky studio audience to make dopey odds defying choices… Maybe that is why DoND is such a hit,.. because the players on that show don’t understand statistics and take risks that really are stupid gambles. Chuck Woolery also used to tempt Greed contestants with a little cash if they would “quit while they were ahead” in that odd game.. but he wasn’t quite the salesman like Monty.

Bottom Feeder 2 - #13 - Pat Sajak - Why is this show So Popular Part II?? I don’t get it.. It’s just Hangman… yet the show continues to bring in huge ratings.. It airs in most markets right after Jeopardy, even though it doesn’t appear that any Jeopardy fans actually watch WOF. You gotta give Sajak credit for longevity.. He took over the original NBC version of the show after Chuck Woolery left in the early 80s. Back in the day when there were network game shows, other hosts unsuccessfully tried to host the now defunct network version such as Bob Goen and former NFL player Rolf Bernirschke, but nobody has achieved the popularity and longevity of Sajak.

12. Jim Lange - All those dating shows owe a debt of gratitude to The Dating Game and although a lot of people credit Chuck Barris for its success.. Lange deserves some credit for presiding over the festivities with such a straight face.. just like Sajak deserves credit for WOF’s long run. Unlike Sajak, Lange also hosted a few other shows over the years such as Name That Tune and Million Dollar Chance of a Lifetime.. But it was his presiding over the sparks that ignited many a love affair that gets him on the list at No. 12.

11- Peter Tomarken - Press Your Luck seemed like a complicated show to host since it moved so fast.. but Tomarken was able to keep the pace moving and the excitement level quite high.. Was anything more nerve wracking than avoiding a whammy on a passed spin?. When a contestant would land on a “prize”, Tomarken would need to quickly announce the players prize money total to keep up the pace and excitement…. Back in the old days on WOF, Sajak and Woolery also quickly calculated balances when contestants used to pick out prizes after they would win a round.. I liked The Family Guy episode where Peter Griffin goes on the old WOF to pick his prizes…..… "Uh… can I have the guy whose face is in the circle?"

10 Bob Eubanks - Like Lange, he hosted a legendary show in the Barris Empire.. plus added quite a few others to his resume such as Card Sharks. His hosting of The Newlywed Game spanned so many generations that the younger set knows him from the infamous “In the Butt Bob” episode.. an incident that took place so long ago in a more “innocent” time that at the time Eubanks didn’t even realize what the contestant was talking about.

9. Richard Dawson - Mainly known for Family Feud, he did a few shows before that such as Masquerade Party… Ol’ Dickie Dawson rode his post Hogan’s Heroes Match Game run into his own show when they decided to spin off a show out of the Audience Match. Dawson ended up with a lengthy career kissing hot babes.. and old ladies too. He also was notorious for having a huge ego and ticked a lot of people off during his later years as a Match Game regular. In 1987 he displayed some incredible acting talents when he played Damon Killian in “The Running Man”… the greatest acting performance ever by a game show host or possibly anyone for that matter! Dawson returned to The Feud in 1994 after the late Ray Combs wrapped up his hosting stint.. But this version of Dawson was not the wild kisser from the 70s and 80s.. but instead was much older and spent a lot of time chatting about his young daughter whose mom had been a contestant on the original FF!

8. Chuck Woolery - Survived his Wally Pipp esque run on WOF by hosting among others Love Connection, Greed, 2 NBC versions of Scrabble and GSN’s apparent sole hit - Lingo. He also tried hosting a talk show which bombed like Sajaks. Woolery is now 65 and trademarked his “2 and 2” throw to a commercial break that would last 2 minutes and 2 seconds. Good thing he trademarked that phrase before the pornographers got a hold of it!

7. Bill Cullen - Now we get to the real legends…Cullen was a relic from the good ol’ days.. He is one of three hosts on this list who held court during that era of the 50s 60s and 70s,…Since I can only remember back to the mid 70s, Cullen gets a spot even though I only witnessed the tail end of his career. Back then, it seemed like networks would create a game show concept, and then hire Bill Cullen or a Bill Cullen wannabe as a host.. He hosted the original Price is Right in the 60s which had an interesting multi round bidding format that actually is better than the one used on the Barker version. Cullen also had a leg problem that caused him to limp so producers would shoot the programs in such a way so Cullen would never have to walk on camera..

6. Dick Clark -Its absolutely incredible, but 3 of my top 6 were left off the GSN list!. Like Tomarken, America’s Oldest Teenager gets points for being smooooth, presiding over The Pyramid during its lengthy run. He also knew how to build the excitement as contestants went to the winners circle and had to climb the Pyramid while those loud nerve wracking seconds ticked off… His presence was greatly missed when remakes with John Davidson and Donny Osmond fell short of the quality that Dick brought to the show. Its too bad that some of the very young whippersnappers only know Clark from his post stroke appearances on ABC’s New Years Eve show since he was one of the best hosts to grace a stage.

5. Allen Ludden - Graphite - Pencil! Aristophanes - Ridiculous! Mr. Betty White cracks the list for the same reason as Cullen… Ludden presided over Password and was a legend from back in the early days of game shows stretching into the late 70s and early 80s. He was excellent as the host of PW… a show that nobody has remade in some 20 something years for some bizarre reason.. Fans of Diner will also recall he hosted a Jeopardy like show called GE College Bowl. Ludden is another host who was inexplicably left off the GSN list. In 2001 TV Guide named him the Best Game Show Host of All Time.. At least that’s what Wikipedia says and as far as I know, Microsoft didn’t hire anyone to verify that story.

4. Alex Trebek - Not only for his excellent long run on Jeopardy.. but he had a whole career before that as a big mustached bushy haired host of shows from the 70s and 80s such as High Rollers, Battlestars, Classic Concentration and To Tell The Truth. At one point, Trebek hosted 3 different shows at the same time that aired back to back. He could have just gotten up at the end of one show and strolled over to the set for the next show. Younger fans who have never seen the other shows might find him a bit arrogant as the Jeopardy host with his oh so proper pronunciations, but thanks to You Tube, you can see that he was once an ordinary Joe as evidenced by the other less snooty shows he used to host.

3. Peter Marshall - I don’t know what GSN was thinking.. but its inexcusable that he wasn’t on the list… he was the anti-Trebek and was never afraid to mispronounce something as you can see from this clip. After the amusing Paul Lynde wisecrack… check out the 2nd question he asks Wally Cox..

Marshall played the straight man to his panel, and kept the show running for 17 years filled with wacky wisecracks and contestants who forgot how to play Tic Tac Toe. If a player looking for a block or a win picked the wrong square.. Marshall would kindly point out.. “Well I would have picked George Gobel… but this might work out for you“…..Marshall maintained control over some truly hysterical panelists and big names… The remakes hosted by John Davidson and Tom Bergeron didn’t quite get the quality panelists like the original and even though both of those hosts did admirable jobs in their versions.. neither Davidson nor Bergeron were anywhere near as good at the job as Marshall. After HS, he actually hosted some other shows such as All Star Blitz.. and Yahtzee which I recently saw on You Tube, and definitely wasn’t one of Peter‘s finest shows.

2. Gene Rayburn - Hosted the best show ever.. it ran about 9 years.. and Gene took a little bit of Marshall with him by playing straight man to his panelists… Gene was in a tough spot because producers wanted a “serious” show... but Gene admitted in many interviews that the format was weak and needed wisenheimers like Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly to liven things up. After taking a month of so to find its footing, the show took off and maintained an incredible pace for about 9 years. Subsequent remakes without Gene weren’t as good.. . The panelists were lacking.. But those shows also lacked a ringmaster to keep things under.. or out of control. Even though he did a great job.. Gene finishes a very distant 2nd to the obviously unanimous number one choice!

1. Bob Barker - The Legend..

He is Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky and Johnny Carson rolled into one! 50 years on daily Television.. 35 on The Price is Right.. The ONLY network daytime game show.. And he did the ol' Hoochie McScoochie with Dian Parkinson! Barker’s popularity spans the little old ladies who are younger than him all the way to the hot looking college girls that the lingering camera sometimes catch Bob checking out.

Most incredibly he is the host of THE ONLY network game show.. The last time a network aired a game show other than TPIR was in the early 1990s… And these daytime audiences are an odd bunch who are absolute creatures of habit based on the lack of changes in daytime network schedules.… Despite its aging audience being replaced by young mommies.. nothing ever changes on the network daytime lineups! Now its only soap operas and one game show.. And with NBC canceling Passions… only one current daytime show has premiered since The Young and the Restless came on the air in the early 1970s! (The Bold and the Beautiful) Suffice it to say.. The daytime audience is a tough nut to crack and Barker has turned a fun little game into a huge million dollar industry. Dave Price or whoever replaces him has huge shoes to fill… but hey.. If Jay Leno still gets ratings 15 years after replacing Johnny Carson.. I guess anything is possible!

And even though Bob is signing off later this year… he could still be a big moneymaker… hes made a ton o’ cash for CBS over the years. If GSN can somehow secure the rerun rights to the old TPIR episodes.. which they haven’t been allowed to show for several years… it could be a ratings bonanza after Bob signs off later this year….

Now time for the Clip of the Week.. Tom Kennedy is a likeable fellow, but did not make the list.. But this clip from Password Plus shows how hard it was for Kennedy while he was filling in for Allen Ludden. Keep an eye out as Dick Martin tries to get a little sneaky with his clues, and how Tom has no control over the show. Also quite amusing is the poor woman who doesn’t know the word that Betty White gives as a clue!

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