Sunday, January 3, 2010

I was a game show junkie.

I've been spending a lot of time with my kids lately, as many of us have over this winter break. The more opportunities I'm given to observe their behaviors, the more I compare their culture to my kid world of thirty-five years ago.

They don't wake up on Saturday mornings and watch Aquaman or Roadrunner or Johnny Quest. They don't arrive home from school to flip on J.P. Patches, or Brakeman Bill, two local Seattle kids' shows back in the day. And for the sake of all that is good and pure, they don't watch game shows anymore.

I was a game show junkie, a fact which was displayed to all the world through my copious circumference. Thank God for Sears Toughskins in boys' size husky (30" waist, 27" inseam). During summers and school breaks, I would schedule out the entire day's game show viewings. Just as an example, let's say it's 1971, and I've got all day ahead of me to watch Joe or Joanne Average American try to win cash and prizes, and hopefully not parting gifts, like cases of Turtle Wax.

I'd start around 11:00, with The Joker's Wild starring Jack Berry, followed by Hollywood Squares with Peter Marshall. Hollywood Squares made its name as a vehicle for celebrity promotion, rather than a straight-up game show. Paul Lynde repeatedly brought the house down with his snarky one-liners, which were surely fed to him in the green room prior to the show. Usually, after Paul rattled off a zinger, the camera would pan over to some other celebrity, maybe Sally Struthers, absolutely convulsing in throes of spasmic laughter. I usually didn't understand the joke.

The noon hour called for ABC's Let's Make a Deal, hosted by Monty Hall. Contestants dressed up in outlandish costumes to vie for Monty's attention, hoping to be singled out to try their luck on a deal. In today's age of shock television, I can only imagine how this show would play out if it were to make a current-day comeback. Monty might be shown a Full Monty or two.

Time to switch from ABC to CBS for Match Game, with Gene Rayburn. This program placed all of its eggs in the double entendre basket, and my pre-adolescent brain loved it. First of all, the host, Mr. Rayburn, held the largest microphone in the game show universe. This thing was about two feet long and he held it down by his belt line. The premise of the show was to listen to a sentence with one word missing, and each member of the celebrity panel would fill in the blank. The contestant received points for each matching answer. For example, Gene might say, "Ella was very upset when she got her 'blanks' caught in the grocer's freezer." The audience would guffaw uproariously, because they knew that Charles Nelson Reilly had something very naughty in mind.

Usually at this point, my mom or dad would make me go outside and ride my sting ray.

Oh sure, they're were so many other shows, like The Price Is Right, The Newlywed Game, The Dating Game, Tattletales, Wizard of Odds, $10,000 Pyramid, Password and Concentration. And, there were other hosts, like Chuck Barris and Chuck Woolery and Bob Ewbanks and Wink Martindale and Burt Convy.

But my informed opinion allows me to draw only one four-word conclusion as to the talent I've witnessed:

Bob Barker is king.

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