I interrupt the DC/Mattel show to bring you a very important message…
I love game shows.
Not the disgusting, celebrity-by-declaration abortions disguised as "reality TV" we have today, mind you. I’m talking the polyester, C-list star-studded, flashing lights and sliding panels games that actually required something from their contestants apart from a willingness to chew scrotum and spray tan.
I basically loathe vast swathes of American culture, at present. Just FYI.
Game shows have been around for decades but, for me, they peaked in the 70s and early 80s with three shows in particular; the original Family Feud, Password Plus and, one of my favorite entertainments in any genre, Match Game.
Although it ran for a few years in the 60s on NBC as a rather straight-laced, sedate affair, Match Game didn’t hit it’s stride until it was reincarnated on CBS in 1973 as a free-wheeling sex farce sitcom masquerading as a game show. Original host Gene Rayburn (at one time the second banana on the Steve Allen Tonight Show) returned but this time, instead of two teams captained by a single celebrity trying to make mundane matches, it was a panel of six refugees from the sitcoms and TV movies of the day he had to wrangle to order. The contestants, the money, the cheesy double-entendre questions, the matches; everything was secondary to the personalities of Rayburn and his stars, lead by regulars Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, and one of the coolest cats this side of William Shatner, Richard Dawson…
Match Game ran from 1973 to 1979 on CBS and then a further two years in syndication, but the prime years were ’75 to ’77. Catch these shows if you can on GSN or, better yet, invest a few bucks in the Best of Match Game DVD box set.
Little on TV now, or then, makes me as happy as devouring several episodes of Match Game from my DVR. It’s like happy in broadcast form and it’s actually helped me through some tough times. You should try it.
One of the smartest game shows of the polyester era was Password Plus and one of the game’s best players was The First Lady of American Game shows, Betty White. Betty has appeared on many incarnations of Password over the years, she was even married to the show’s original host, Allen Ludden until his untimely death in 1981 and has never remarried. With that in mind, I was well excited to see Betty return to the latest version of the show, CBS’s Million Dollar Password, this past June. But, at age 86, would Betty still have it? You tell me…
They went on to win $100,000 and boy did I cheer.
For me, game shows, the good ones, are awesome Americana and a part of the culture we don’t see enough of anymore. We don’t seem to place the same emphasis on fun (and a little bit of cleverness) now that we did back in, say, the 70s. Now, it’s all about backstabbing, humiliation, and stupidest-is-coolest. We don’t have Match Game’s celebration of wit and personality anymore, but we do have the obnoxious duncery of Deal or No Deal and the utterly repellent The Moment of Truth. Oh well, thank goodness for GSN.
Speaking of the Americana of ages past, one of my favorite movies of the last 20 years is Robert Redford’s Quiz Show, which used the scandal surrounding the game show 21 in the 1950′s as a backdrop for explorations of class and anti-semitism. The movie is a great recreation of time and place and one I’ve watched many times over the years.
One of the key figures of both the incident and the movie is Charles Van Doren, (Ralph Fiennes) who found himself caught up in a storm of lies and fame based almost solely on pre-conceived notions. Recently, Mr. Van Doren, now 82, told his side of the story in an article for The New Yorker magazine. It’s a facinating piece and, if you love the history of game shows or the movie Quiz Show at all, I highly suggest you read it.
What does all this have to do with toys? Zip. Although if Mr. Stinkhead ever puts together a Millionaire Playboy edition of Match Game, I want Richard Dawson’s seat.