Mark Goodson; TV Game Show Pioneer


Mark Goodson, prolific producer of more than 42,000 half-hour television shows and creator of such game show staples as "The Price Is Right," "Family Feud," "To Tell the Truth" and "What's My Line," died Friday in New York. He was 77.

Goodson died of cancer in his Manhattan home.

Just this week, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences selected Goodson as one of seven people to be inducted into its Hall of Fame for 1993. His nomination was presumably announced early because of his failing health; the other six will be announced later.

Together with his partner, Bill Todman, Goodson gave birth to the prototype of the television game show. In 1990, Goodson received the award that capped his 46-year career: the Emmy for Lifetime Achievement in Daytime Television. He also won the National Television Award of Great Britain, the Sylvania Award and three other Emmys.

Goodson, whose empire was recently estimated by Fortune magazine to be worth more than $450 million, was a noted philanthropist. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center named one of its buildings in his honor after he donated $5 million. The peripatetic Goodson also owned a chain of small newspapers, including eight dailies and 25 weeklies at the time of his death.

"People always ask that same question of game shows (what makes a good one)," he told The Times in 1990. "I guess the real answer is a show that attracts audiences and makes them involved."

He was a master at attracting and involving vast audiences. Goodson created a plethora of now-familiar television concepts--such as having contestants compete against one another; using the "bell and buzzer" to signal which contestant answered a question first, and keeping a champion on the show as long as the contestant's winning streak lasted.

"Great games are like great sports," he told The Times, noting that he sometimes went for a whole decade with no great ideas. "They are very hard to come up with."

Finding good hosts was another obstacle, he said, noting wryly: "You can't really go to the Yale Drama School and say 'I am studying to be a game show host.' "

Because of his meticulous stewardship, Goodson and his programs were never implicated in the rigging scandals that swamped other quiz shows in the late 1950s. He reportedly rejected one game show idea, saying it would work "only if it were rigged."

A native Californian who made his career on both coasts, Goodson was born in Sacramento on Jan. 24, 1915, to Russian immigrants Abraham E. and Fanny Gross Goodson. He received his bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley in 1937, graduating cum laude and winning membership in Phi Beta Kappa.

Goodson began his radio career as a disc jockey at KCBS in San Francisco. In 1939 he became an announcer, newscaster and station director of Mutual Broadcasting System's KFRC in San Francisco. There he originated his first game show, "Pop the Question," in which contestants threw darts at multicolored balloons to audibly determine the stakes of the game.

Goodson moved to New York in 1941, continuing as a radio announcer. During World War II, he produced a series of programs for the U.S. Treasury Department to sell war bonds.

After the war, he met the late radio writer and director Bill Todman while they were both working on the ABC quiz show "Battle of the Boroughs." Their Goodson-Todman Productions began by packaging radio shows, and over the years each honed his complementary talents--Goodson created game shows and Todman marketed them.

In 1950 they ventured into the new world of network television with a panel show created by Goodson called "What's My Line." The popular show, with host John Daly, remained on CBS 17 years and included such mystery guests as Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Roosevelt, Carl Sandburg, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Barbra Streisand and Elizabeth Taylor. At the time the program left the air in 1967, it was television's second-longest-running show, surpassed only by "The Ed Sullivan Show."

Within 10 years, the duo became the largest packagers of game shows in the United States. Their stable included "I've Got a Secret" with Garry Moore, "Two for the Money" and "Judge for Yourself" with Steve Allen.

They also ventured into drama, establishing a new California division that produced such series as "Branded" starring Chuck Conors, "The Richard Boone Repertory Theater," "The Rebel" and "Jefferson Drum."

In 1956, Goodson developed one of his greatest successes, "To Tell the Truth," which appeared on CBS for many years with Bud Collyer as host. Goodson personally considered the show the best game concept he ever created--featuring a panel of celebrities cross-examining three contestants who claimed to be the same person.

In the 1960s, Goodson created and Todman marketed "Match Game" and "Family Feud" as well as "The Price Is Right."

Goodson became involved in newspapers in 1957 when he and other investors acquired the Pawtucket, R.I., Times. In 1986, he established the Goodson Newspaper Group Inc., consolidating his holdings and selling some of his early newspapers.

Married and divorced three times, he is survived by his son, Jonathan Goodson, and two daughters, Marjorie Goodson Cutt and Jill Goodson Bishop.

The family has asked that memorial donations be made to the Mark Goodson Memorial Fund at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Memorial services will be scheduled in January in New York and Los Angeles.

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