Game shows--once a staple of daytime, early evening and even prime-time TV--are making a comeback. Not that they've gone anywhere. This is a comeback of a different sort: the return of some old favorites.
Is there anyone over 25 who never once saw "Let's Make a Deal"? The Monty Hall favorite returns to the airwaves Monday at 10 a.m. on NBC, sans Hall. Newcomer Bob Hilton gets to talk to giddy contestants in silly outfits.
And then there's "Match Game," which brought wisecracking Gene Rayburn and a panel full of celebrities to homes every Monday through Friday afternoon in the 1960s. It's coming back too, weekdays starting July 16 at 11 a.m. on ABC. No Rayburn though. Ross Schaefer asks the questions this time.
And in September, NBC will air the celebrity stumper "To Tell the Truth," the true classic of the bunch. Australian Gordon Elliott will emceee the series, which originally was hosted by the late Bud Collyer.
For anyone who watched '50s, '60s and '70s game shows, this begs some questions: Whatever happened to Gene Rayburn? Where is Monty Hall? And what about other hosts of the time when games were in their prime?
And the answers are:
Game show icon of: "Let's Make a Deal," 1963-68 (NBC); 1968-1976 (ABC); 1971-76, 1980, 1984 (syndicated).
Let's make a game show: "It took us a year of showing it to networks before anyone would make a pilot. It was a radically different type of show. People were selected at random, and no one had seen anything like this before. Even after we made the pilot it took several months to get the go-ahead."
The crazy clothing: "We never asked (the audience) to put on any costumes. People were sitting there in business clothes, but then a woman came with a sign asking me to pick her. Then someone wore a funny hat and then you had Phyllis Diller look-alikes. It grew and grew. But we never selected a contestant by what they wore. It would have been a costume competition."
Let's make funny: "In 4,500 shows, a lot of strange things happened. An elephant once was behind one of the doors and (model) Carol Merrill was holding it by a rope. As the door opened, it got nervous and broke away from the rope and thundered down the loading platform and ran into Prospect Avenue."
Let's make a memory: "A contestant who had won $300 wouldn't trade it away for anything. We found out after the show this woman had hitchhiked down from Central California and had just wanted to win something because they were in such desperation. I was moved by the fact that once she got the $300, no offer would budge her. It was a sad story. Ninety-nine percent of the people came to have a good time."
Where is he now?: "My charity work takes up a lot of time. I am very much involved in the new show (as a consultant). I am working with the new host, Bob Hilton, and am going to Orlando (where the show is taping) to help get it up. No one knows the show better."
Game show icon of: "The Match Game," 1962-69 (NBC); 1973-79 (CBS); 1975-1981 nighttime syndication.
The magic of "Match Game": "In the '60s we didn't really have giant ratings. On CBS we had fantastic ratings. In 1975 we hit a 14.9 share. No show in the history of daytime has done that.
"It got far racier and was a comedy show on CBS. No matter what kind of show I was doing, I really kind of instinctively made it into a comedy show.
"Many years prior to 'Match Game' I did a show called 'Dough-Re-Mi.' Three weeks into the show the producer said, 'This show stinks, doesn't it? Do what you can to keep it on the air.' I started clowning around with it. I would sing songs and do a tap dance. It turned into a funny show."
Why ABC did not hire him as host of the new "Match Game": "Just before they announced they were going to revive 'The Match Game,' 'Entertainment Tonight' wished me a happy birthday and gave my real age (72). When they heard how old I was they said, 'We want a young man. He may have a heart attack.' So they hired a young comic I never heard of before. It's such a difficult, weak format. But the show is the thing now; the host is nothing."
Where is he now?: "I've got an agent who keeps calling me and says he is going to get something going. I wish he would; I am bored. I love to play tennis. I also have a house in Connecticut. I just planted some tomatoes and parsley. I want some good vine-ripened tomatoes."
Game show icon of: "Jeopardy!" 1964-1975 (NBC); 1974 (syndicated); 1978-79 (NBC).
Once upon a time: "I grew up on the Broadway stage. I was 4 when I made my debut in 'The Great Waltz.' I did 48 movies and three TV series--'International Detective,' 'The Flying Tigers' and 'The Californians.'
"The only reason I ever did 'Jeopardy!' was because I hadn't done a game show. I had done everything else in the business. It ran 12,858 shows."
Where is he now?: "I live in St. Louis and I do a talk radio show for CBS Radio here. I thrill about the next job that I do whether it is a commercial or selling a product at a trade show. I just emceed the Miss Missouri contest."
Game show icon of: "Okay Mother," 1948-1951 (DuMont).
Can't top this: "I had a woman fall on me on 'The Price Is Right.' The microphone cable got stuck around the camera and I couldn't step back, and she came bounding up the stairs so (fast), and we both went down."
Today's game shows: "They are awfully slick now. The basically good game shows are the ones that are older--'The Price Is Right' and 'Jeopardy!'--they stick around. In our days you got to become a personality with your show. I feel a lot of these kids you don't know. They concentrate on the contestant.
"The game-show host was the producer on the stage. If something happened, there was no stopping for tape. You had to do a lot more thinking on the feet."
Where is he now?: "I've still got my production company. I have been doing a lot of traveling. I do the telethon yearly for cerebral palsy. Thank God, I have never been out of work in all of those years."
Game show icon of: "Who, What or Where," 1969-1974 (NBC); "Say When," 1961-65 (NBC).
His favorite: "Who, What or Where." "We were on after 'Jeopardy!' and we were the biggest things on college campuses. Activity would come to a halt."
He remembers when: "When I was hosting 'Say When,' I was doing a live commercial for Peter Pan peanut butter. I said, 'It's really good to the bottom of the jar.' I then dropped the knife into the jar and the bottom of the jar broke and gobs of peanut butter came out. The audience started laughing and then I broke up."
Where is he now?: "I go to corporations and stage game shows. It helps reinforce job skills. It's so much fun. It's so useful and it's a team-building program. I do 30 to 40 game shows a year. We travel around the country."
Just say when: "I absolutely want to do more game shows. I fill in on some things. They go for the younger faces now. It's a constant talent hunt."
Game show icon of: "Dotto," 1958 (CBS/NBC); "Seven Keys," 1961-64 (ABC).
The "Dotto" scandal: "That lasted a long six months. It went from zero to No. 1. I was unaware of (the cheating) when I went before the grand jury. The way it happened was while we were on the air, one of the future contestants on the show went through a woman's purse in the contestants' dressing room. While going through the purse he discovered someone had given her some answers. He went to the district attorney, and it just so happened at the time the district attorney was running for re-election.
"I was off the air for a couple of months. The show was sponsored by Colgate/Palmolive. I had been told by the president of the company, 'We know you are innocent. We are continuing your contract with us. We will get you back on the air.' The next show I did was 'Top Dollar,' which replaced 'Dotto.' "
Where is he now?: "I am traveling a lot and playing a lot of golf and that's about it. The whole situation (game shows) has changed so much in the past few years, I am afraid I have kind of lost interest in them. But if the right situation came about . . . "
What happened to his game-show host brother, Tom Kennedy?: "We worked together many times. At one point, this would have been in the '60s, he had 'You Don't Say' on NBC and I had 'I'll Bet' on NBC. I would appear on his show and he would be on mine as a guest. We would trade off and trade shows. He hasn't done anything recently. He did a pilot about three years ago with Carol Burnett called 'Star Play' and I thought it was as fine a show as anything on the air. But nothing happened. It's a vicious world."