On December 1, 1994 the Game Show Network was launched as What’s My line was the first show to hit the airwaves for the new channel. Over the past 20 years, GSN has been a home to both original content and classic game shows from the 50s-90s. Currently, GSN is very excited about their core of original programming, so much so that they do not list any of the classic game shows they air in the morning on their “shows” portion of the website. Today, we look at some of the best shows, classic and original, that are currently airing on Game Show Network.
If you’ve been paying attention to Kentucky Sports Radio over the past two weeks, you have come to learn that Match Game, in any iteration, has become a favorite of everyone here. Matt famously, and somewhat unsuccessfully (sorry, Boss… Shannon’s answers didn’t help), hosted the game show on the radio program just a few weeks ago. The game has a very simple premise: The host, Gene Rayburn, with his long skinny microphone, will read a statement that ends in a blank. The contestant must fill in the blank, yet also match their answer with any or all of the celebrity panel on the other side of the stage. The person with the most matches after two rounds go on to the Super Match, to try and win a little money.
The Match Game is such a success on many levels. First it has the top quality of any game show, which is that it must be easy to play along at home while watching on TV. Because they give the contestant a few seconds to come up with their answer to the question, it also gives you that same chance at home. The show was also host to the best panel of celebrities on TV. The mainstays of Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly and Richard Dawson were both top notch comedians and game players, and had such a repertoire with host Rayburn. Also the semi-regular contestants of Marcia Wallace, Betty White, Fannie Flagg, Patti Deutsch, among others, played the bottom right seat to perfection. It was also enjoyable to see first time celebrities on the show, who would always get thrown up next to Brett, as well as occasionally getting made fun of for their terrible answers.
While there have been many attempts to bring back Match Game, the show lives on with Game Show Network. I however contest that the version that used to be hosted by Jimmy Pardo in LA a few years ago would have been the best reincarnation of the show. Check out a bit of it with Jimmy Pardo and Paul F. Thompkins (note, some NSFW language).
Press Your Luck
In my opinion, Press Your Luck is one of the best game shows to grace the warming glow of the television screen. Press Your Luck, which ran for 758 episodes from 1983-1986, had all the excitement of a high stakes, ahem, press-your-luck style game show. In the program, contestants spent the first round answering multiple choice questions. If you buzzed in to get the right answer, you got three “spins” in the next round, while everyone else had a chance to answer correctly for one spin. This would happen twice in the show. After the Q&A round was finished, the whole platform that the contestants, and host Peter Tomarken, stood on would rotate 180 degrees to face a huge board with flashing lights and constantly changing prizes.
The heart of the program was in the big board. Contestants would use the spins that they accumulated in the first round to play on the board. The cash and prizes would be ever changing, while a marker would “randomly” move around the board. Contestants would hit the buzzers in front of them to stop the light and prizes, and whatever was highlighted would be won. However, there were these little red guys on the board called “Whammys”, and if you hit them, you would lose all the cash and prizes you accumulated up to that point. So the question was, do I “Press my Luck” or pass my remaining spins to my opponent, who HAD to use those spins. If you got four Whammys over the course of the show, you were knocked out of the game.
The show even has had a scandal, where a contestant gamed the system by learning the flashing light pattern from home to win over $110,000 during his appearance on the show. He had 45 consecutive spins without hitting a whammy (he hit a whammy on his first spin before the streak). The show looked into the contestant, but determined that learning the light pattern wasn’t cheating and let him keep his winnings. The show then did reprogram the big board with new random sequences to prevent this from happening again.
Not surprisingly, another Richard Dawson show makes the list. Family Feud has been running, non-consecutively since 1975. Over the years, the program has always embodied the same charm, but over the course of six different hosts, making it the Doctor Who of game shows. During the early years, and even today, of the Game Show Network, we have been treated to the Richard Dawson years of the program. Awkwardly kissing female contestants, even the much, much younger ones made you feel a little weird. However, Dawson is one of the two best hosts to ever guide the program.
I shouldn’t have to explain Family Feud, but here we go. Families of five compete to guess the top answers of survey questions asked to 100 people. At the start of each round, players go head to head, and whoever gets the top most answer, has the opportunity to have their team play or pass. If you play, you try and guess all the other answers left on the board. You are allowed two wrong answers, and if you get a third wrong answer, the other team has a chance to steal all the points you accumulated that round. The first team to 300 points advances to the Fast Money round, where you could win lots of money. The Fast Money round is home to some of the most ridiculous answers, as two players from the same team answer the same five questions trying to reach 200 points.
When I said Richard Dawson was one of the best two hosts in the show’s history, that leaves it unsaid that Steve Harvey is the other one of those two. Harvey, who was preceded by John O’Hurley (J. Peterman), Richard Karn (Al Borland) and Louie Anderson, has brought this show back to it’s full form. The way he cracks up at terrible answers by contestants adds the bit of humor that the previous hosts couldn’t pull off. The show is now one of the top syndicated game shows on television. It regularly ranks in the top-10 daytime shows on all of television, and even got a 6.0 share in February of this year, meaning 8.8 million viewers watched the program.
The $25,000 Pyramid
Dick Clark was a professional at everything he did. The most important thing that I will ever associate him with is Pyramid. The $10,000 Pyramid debuted in 1973 to outstanding ratings and is said to have sustained its ratings even while being preempted by The Watergate Hearings. It was interesting to watch the show, because two celebrities would stay on the program over the course of the week (Monday-Friday) and play with the different contestants that came on. If you won on the show, but didn’t reach the top of the Pyramid, you could keep coming back until you won the top prize, or until you were defeated (The show did however cap you at whatever the show was called at that time). There were certain celebrities that were so good at giving clues to the contestants, and they would surprise you on who that would be. A few of the really good celebrity players that I remember were Betty White, Markie Post (Night Court) and Vicki Lawrence. Those three were REALLY good clue givers, putting their contestants in the winner’s circle most often.
The first part of the show was played in three waves. Contestants and Celebrities would pick play on word categories to find out what they would be guessing for that round. For example, a category might be about “Things you see at a BBQ”. One partner would give clues to get the other partner to guess the seven pre-determined words. Each team would do this for three waves, and whoever got the most points out of 21 would go to the Winner’s Circle. In the Winner’s Circle, the celebrity would have to give clues to get the contestant to guess categories. Again, for example, a celebrity could say, “I have this letter that was sent to you” to try and get the contestant to guess “Things a Postman Would Say”. If you could guess all six categories in the time limit, you’d win the top prize.
Clark was such a stickler for rules too. At any time that the celebrity would get buzzed for using a bad clue, at the end of the time Clark would saunter over to the circle, put his arms on the railing and calmly discuss the error with the group. Or, if they got stuck on a clue, he’d stroll over and give some extra clues he thought of during the game to try and help out. I wish there were more high profile hosts like Dick Clark still on television…
The Chase is the only GSN Original program on this list, but it deserves to stand right with the four other shows previously named. I was very skeptical about how this show would play on American television, as it is a daily-run show over in England with great ratings. Also, Brooke Burns would not have been my first choice to be the host of this show, but she actually makes it work.
The game is played in three stages. In the first round, you answer as many questions as you can in two minutes at $2,000 per correct answer. Whatever money you built up in the cash-builder round goes on to the board as pictured above. The Chaser, in the American version is “The Beast” Mark Labbett, will give you three options. He will give you an option to play for the money you built up, an option to play for less money but in an easier round, or for more money in a much harder round. See, the board above has seven spots on it, and your initial winnings are put on spot five (spot four if you take the beast’s easy deal, spot six if you take his hard deal). For every answer you get right, you bring the money one space closer to you, but if the Beast gets it right too, he moves one step closer to your money. If you get an answer wrong, your money stays at the same step, but “The Beast” may still come closer. If he ever catches your money, you’re out of the game. If you get the money all the way down to you, you bank that cash. This is played three times with all three contestants on the team. In the final round, the remaining team members will play against The Beast for all the combined money they’ve earned. They get two minutes to answer as many questions as they can to get steps away from The Beast. The Beast then gets two minutes to try and answer as many questions as the contestants did, with one caveat. If he gets a question wrong, the contestants can try to get it right, and push ole’ Beasty one step backwards. If the contestants win, they get all the money they earned. If The Beast Wins, they get NOTHING.
You wouldn’t think it would be satisfying to watch an hour long game show to watch the contestants win nothing, but I constantly root for The Beast. It makes for a more enjoyable show when he’s on his game, and the Final Chase, when the contestants are good, is one of the most tense four minutes on television. Game Show Network has a hit on their hands here, I just wish there were more episodes in a season.
(From the British version, but still has Mark Labbett. Great drama in a game show)
Game shows have always been one of my favorite things on television. When I was home, I found the “Encyclopedia of Television Game Shows in my closet, which was a pretty interesting read. What are some of your favorite game shows that have been on Game Show Network? Or favorite game shows in general?