For, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021


EDITOR’S NOTE: Surely you have noticed the proliferation of game shows during the 2020 pandemic, and even more are now on the horizon for the new year. From revivals of vintage programs (‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ ’To Tell the Truth,’ ‘The Match Game’) to newcomers (‘The Hustler’) to primetime versions of tried-and-true daytime shows (‘Wheel of Fortune,’ ‘The Price Is Right,’ ‘Family Feud’). And there are plenty of others. So it seems like the right time to take a look back. This column was published in the Deseret News a decade ago, on Feb. 12, 2010.


Television game shows have been around as long as … well, television. In fact, most of the earliest examples came directly from radio.


When TV was still a fledgling entertainment form in very few American homes, audience-participation programs dotted the daily schedule in great numbers. And we’re talking primetime here, not the daytime schedule.


These radio spinoffs, for example, were airing weeknights in 1950: “Twenty Questions,” “Beat the Clock,” “Quiz Kids,” “Who Said That?” “Can You Top This?” “Break the Bank,” “We Take Your Word,” “Chance of a Lifetime,” “Blind Date” and “Truth or Consequences” (which later became a daytime staple).


Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life” was also on, along with a pair of shows hosted by bandleaders, “Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge” and Sammy Kaye’s “So You Want to Lead a Band.”


And one that was unique to television, “What’s My Line?” —featuring a panel of intelligent celebrities asking yes-and-no questions to determine a person’s occupation. This show still holds the record as the longest-running prime-time quiz program, 18 years in the same Sunday night slot.




Although most of these programs are gone and forgotten, they paved the way for such later favorites as “Password,” “The Match Game,” “Family Feud” and “The Price Is Right,” all of which had popular prime-time incarnations.


And now Mill Creek, which specializes in low-cost DVD sets, has reissued these four classic game shows in multiple-disc collections.


— “The Best of The Price Is Right” is a kind of overview of this long-running show, including an episode from its first year, 1957, when Bill Cullen was the host, right up through Bob Barker’s final week in 2007.


— “All-Star Family Feud” features the ever unctuous Richard Dawson with celebrities from popular TV shows playing against each other for charity — “the Jeffersons vs. Dallas,” “Petticoat Junction vs. The Brady Bunch,” “The Love Boat vs. WKRP in Cincinnati,” etc.


— “The Best of Match Game” is the most comedy-oriented of these programs, and it’s very funny — but also somewhat naughty in a sniggering, double-entendre way. Regulars are Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly, goaded by emcee Gene Rayburn, along with an array of comics joining in. (Look for pre-stardom Kirstie Alley as a contestant.)




Betty White, left, Allen Ludden and Jack Paar in a funny episode of 'Password.'


— But my personal favorite of these is “The Best of Password: The CBS Years: 1962-1967.” I was a fan of this show in my youth, and I remembered that it was contagious fun to see movie and TV stars playing the game, with genial Allen Ludden as host. And, surprise, surprise, it holds up well.


These 32 “Password” episodes — 16 in black and white, 16 in color — feature an amazing mix of stars who were established (Jack Benny, Joan Crawford, James Stewart, Lauren Bacall), stars just hitting their stride (Dick Van Dyke, Carol Burnett, Elizabeth Montgomery) and at least one before he hit the big time, a pre-“Tonight Show” Johnny Carson!


Also James Mason, Jerry Lewis, Woody Allen, Olivia de Havilland, Lucille Ball, Angie Dickinson and Betty White, who appears on four of these episodes — including one that came right after she and Ludden were married. White is very funny, Ludden seems slightly embarrassed and Jack Paar gets off a hilarious wisecrack at his expense.


— There is also a fifth DVD, “Game Show Moments Gone Bananas,” which is, as the title implies, bloopers from a variety of game shows, hosted by Ben Stein.