18 May 2007

May 1975: The games people played

After my recent nod to The Price is Right, I began reminiscing about all the game shows which used to surround it on the daytime schedule.

If you've wasted your valuable time perusing all the crap I've written in this space, you know that I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the TV game show.

I got to thinking a bit, which as my wife will tell you is a dangerous thing and must be kept to a minimum. Anyway, my thoughts were drawn to 1975, the year agreed to by many fans of this genre as being the best year for game shows. There were more games on the daytime schedules of the big three networks than at any time before or since. And this was probably the only point where at least one of the networks was running a game show in every timeslot.

Let's go back to May 1975 and review what we had to watch on TV when we were out sick from school .... or, if you were a happy Suzy Homemaker, what you watched while cleaning the tops of the curtain rods in your nicest chiffon dress, waiting for the milkman to come over so you and he could Pasteurize some passion in the bedroom..............

All times will be in Eastern, although it looks funny to me seeing at it that way; all my growing up years were spent in the Central time zone, so I've always been used to the daytime schedule running from 9:00 a.m. through 3:30 p.m.

But since most of this small group is on Eastern time, that's how I'm gonna list it. The titles in red are the shows I watched.

Whooooookay, May 1975. Turn on that Zenith Chromacolor console TV and listen to the CLUNK-CLUNK-CLUNK of the channel selector as you go between ABC, CBS and NBC........

10:00 a.m.
ABC: [local programming]

ABC always began their daytime programming later than CBS or NBC. Typically ABC's day began at 11:00, but there were times they didn't program until 11:30. 1975 was one such time.
CBS: The Joker's Wild
One of the three game shows which debuted on the same day (09/04/1972), marking the network's reentry into game shows after many years of shying away from them. TJW was hosted by Jack Barry (he of Twenty-One fame), and was always a favorite of mine. Two contestants took turns pulling the lever of a giant onstage slot machine filled with category cards and "Jokers" which were wild and could be used for any category. One card = question was worth $50, Pair = $100, Triple = $200. Three jokers meant an automatic win.
JACK) "Jokerrrrr .... JOKErrrrr!!!!!!! ..... Famous Landmarks."
CONTESTANT) "I'll go off the board and take Stupid Blogs for $100, Jack."
Endgame was fun -- slot was filled with dollar amounts ($50, $100, $150, $200) and a couple of "devils." Object: accumulate $1000 without hitting a devil, which meant you lost. TJW's "Devil" was the "Whammy" of its day.
NBC: Celebrity Sweepstakes
It was the beginning of the end for NBC. Throughout the '60s and into the '70s they had a winning daytime schedule. Programs like Concentration, Hollywood Squares, Who What or Where, and the original Jeopardy! were unbeatable winners. But after much tinkering with the schedule, they emerged with programs like this. It was an attempt to cobble together a group of celebrities - trying to capture that Match Game '7x magic - and in this case put them into a horse track motif. Contestants wagered money on whether they felt a given celeb would answer a question. Each were assigned 'odds' by the studio audience and players were paid according to those odds.
This show didn't exactly hit a ratings trifecta. It lasted a year or two before being sent to the glue factory.

10:30 a.m.
CBS: Gambit

Two husband and wife teams competed in a game of blackjack with giant cards dealt by a model named Elaine Stewart (who would go on to marry co-producer Merrill Heatter). It was hosted by Wink Martindale. Along with Joker's Wild and The Price is Right, it was 1/3 of CBS' reentry into game shows in 1972. Gambit, as with most other Heatter-Quigley game shows, was announced with booming authority by Kenny "SECRET SQUARRRRE!" Williams.
NBC: Wheel of Fortune
Chuck Woolery was the original host, and the hostess/"letter-turner" was Susan Stafford. And, years later, I still think they both eclipse Pat and Vanna. WOF began in January 1975, replacing another Merv Griffin game, the original Jeopardy! hosted by Art Fleming.

11:00 a.m.

CBS: Now You See It
What had to be one of the coolest themes ever for a game show: "Chump Change" by Quincy Jones. This game was a variation on the time-honored word-search puzzle. Very modernistic neon-dominated set. "Now you see it .... and now you don't!"
NBC: High Rollers
The middle of three Heatter-Quigley game shows on the air in '75, it was the first major game hosted by Alex Trebek, complete with curly-Q hair and a bushy mustache. Actress Ruta Lee rolled the dice for the players. One of two programs on the schedule featuring giant dice. The numbers 1-9 are displayed on a giant board. Object is to roll the dice and try to knock the numbers off the board. If you can't make a mathematical combination (i.e. too many numbers off the board), you lose. Endgame was called "The Big Numbers." Self-explanatory.

11:30 a.m.
ABC: Blankety Blanks
Short-lived dud hosted by Bill Cullen. Never got to watch it when it was on because the ABC station we received in Tupelo preempted it for its "Dialing For Dollars" movie.
CBS: Love of Life
Turn on the bubble machine! CBS began the soaps first, and their lineup was a force to be reckoned with. Love of Life ran from 1951 through 1980.
NBC: Hollywood Squares
There's nothing like the original! Peter Marshall as host, Paul Lynde in the center square, and the inimitable voice of Kenny Williams. NBC debuted HS in 1966, and it put Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley on the map.

12:00 noon
ABC: Password
It wasn't the best version out there. Allen Ludden looked positively befuddled up there as ABC kept monkeying with the format, adding new rules, taking away from what made the show great in the first place. Again, the original (CBS, 1961-67) rules, with the '80s NBC reincarnations holding their own, but the 1971-75 ABC run left much to be desired.
CBS: The Young and the Restless
On the air since 1973, and would expand to its present hour-long format in June 1981.
NBC: Jackpot!
One of the more interesting games on the schedule ... Geoff Edwards hosted, and it was a team game with lots of corny riddles. Most notorious moment was the riddle "First you make the sale, then you open my drawers, what am I?" The immortal response given: "A prostitute." (correct answer: a cash register.)

12:30 p.m.
ABC: Split Second
I loved this one! From the people who brought us Let's Make a Deal (Stefan Hatos & Monty Hall) came the most rapid-fire Q&A game show in the history of the genre. Nobody could host it like Tom Kennedy did. The bonus endgame was what I lived for. Five (5) cars sat behind the main set partition, and the winner of the day's game got to choose one, get in and then try and start it. Four had their starter cables disconnected, so if the car turned over, he won it. If not, he returned to compete again. If he won a second game, he'd choose from 4, and so on .... if still around and (s)he won game #5, they won the one remaining car by default.
CBS: Search For Tomorrow
Personally, I'm still looking. Have yet to find it.
NBC: Blank Check
Art James, one of the great MCs, presided over a game show I didn't really pay much attention to (I was too busy watching Split Second!). It was a very convoluted game, let's just leave it at that.

1:00 p.m.
ABC: All My Children
A part of ABC's schedule since January 5, 1970. Expanded to 60 minutes in April 1977.
CBS/NBC: [local programming]
One thing I've never understood is how the local gap in the daytime schedule (ABC had none) reflected 12:00 noon in the CENTRAL time zone, not Eastern! Many stations in the east preempted the 12:00 noon offering instead -- most tape-delayed that show to the 1:00 slot, but some just gave themselves another local slot to program.

1:30 p.m.
ABC: Let's Make a Deal
Dress up like a chicken and look like a total idiot on national television. Now, do you want to keep this can of B&M Baked Beans, or trade it for what's behind the box where Carol Merrill is standing? It was a classic, and Jay Stewart's versatility, Monty Hall's personality, and the cool loungey music from Ivan Ditmars' live ensemble truly made the show.
CBS: As the World Turns
My friend Birdman is a longtime devoted fan of this one. Debuting in 1956, it was the first 30-minute soap (to that time, all the other soap operas were 15 minutes). Went to one hour at the end of 1975. My mother always enjoyed this ... this is where she'd sit down to watch her "dramas." She was always into the Proctor & Gamble soaps, go figure.
NBC: Days of Our Lives
The sands through the hourglass first began pouring in 1965, and less than a month earlier, NBC expanded Days to become to second one-hour soap on TV. My MIL has been a fan since day one. Of course, in 1975 you didn't have exotic islands, dying characters due to budget cuts, or bizarre, out-there storylines either. Dr. Horton dispensed wisdom with his medicine, and Miz Alice always had fresh doughnuts ready.

2:00 p.m.
ABC: The $10,000 Pyramid
A year later inflation would catch up and it would become The $20,000 Pyramid. A fun game show and a durable concept. With OR without William Shatner.
CBS: The Guiding Light
The oldest soap opera in the history of the world. Debuted on radio in 1937. 15 minutes on TV until 1968, then 30 minutes until November '77 when it doubled to 60. Another P&G phosphate drama. 1975 was also the year GL debuted "Ritournelle" as its theme, perhaps one of the most beautiful melodies ever written.

2:30 p.m.

ABC: The Big Showdown
Like Split Second, a fast-paced Q&A show with a cool endgame: The winner rolled a giant set of dice (larger than those on High Rollers) -- the 6s were replaced: one die read "SHOW" and the other one had "DOWN." Roll the dice once - if "SHOW" and "DOWN" come up, you won $10k. Otherwise, you had 30 seconds to roll as many times as you could - if S/D came up it was worth $5,000. And whatever number you rolled that first turn earned you an extra five seconds each time it came up again on the dice.
CBS: The Edge of Night
It was no coincidence that the skyline shown in the opening sequence was that of Cincinnati, Ohio. Edge was a Proctor & Gamble production, and P&G was headquartered in ... guess where! NBC: The Doctors
It was no accident that makers of detergent had a hand in the production of these daytime dramas. They were called "soap operas" for a reason. This ran from 1963-1982 on NBC, and was owned/sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive.

3:00 p.m.
ABC: General Hospital
Did you know this was the first ever soap on ABC? It made its debut April 1, 1963. It would expand to 45 minutes a year later and then to a full hour in January 1978.
CBS: The Price is Right
Yes, you read right. For a couple of years, TPIR had an afternoon slot. It was still in a 30-minute format in May of '75 -- it wouldn't become a one-hour game show until November 1975 (at which time the famous "Showcase Showdown" wheel made its bow). Before then, there was no showdown round; simply, the top two winners of three appeared on the Showcase.
NBC: Another World
Mom switched to NBC just one time. This was the only non-CBS soap she watched. AW was the first ever one-hour soap (January 6, 1975 in case you're curious), and both it and Somerset were the only P&G soaps not on CBS. What I remember most about it was Bill Wolff -- one of the most gentle, yet authoritative, elegant and classy announcing voices I've ever heard. Each commercial was preceded by Wolff saying "We'll return to our story in just a moment....."

3:30 p.m.
ABC: One Life to Live
Debuted in 1968 ... followed General Hospital in the moves to 45, then 60 minutes.
CBS: Match Game '75
"Get ready to match the STARS!" Lightning in a bottle. A one-of-a-kind phenomenon. Six (6) celebrity egos and a host like Gene Rayburn. The double entendres were the stuff of legend. Why did CBS allow this stuff to air? Easy: Mark Goodson & Bill Todman said it would, or else they would take both this show -- AND The Price is Right -- back to NBC (which had both shows in the '60s).
I'm afraid we'll never again have such a perfect storm of celebrity chemistry as we saw on Match Game in the 1970s.

4:00 p.m.
ABC: The Money Maze
So ... did it fail because of ratings? Or because it was difficult to share studio space with other shows when the biggest element of your program's set was a 50' by 100' MAZE! One thing which helped me get through the school day was knowing The Money Maze was waiting on TV when I got home. Two married couples competed - the winner of each round got to "go to the maze" ... one stood in "the crows' nest" overlooking the maze and directed their spouse through it to find the lit square to activate in order to win the prize.
The endgame was called "The $10,000 Dash" -- five numbered squares scattered throughout the maze, one "1" and four "0"s. Whichever ones you touched counted toward your total. But if you didn't capture that "1", you pretty much lost.
CBS: Tattletales
Burt Convy hosted what amounted to a bastardization of The Newlywed Game, only played with celebrities.
NBC: Somerset
Spin-off from Another World. Also announced by Bill Wolff. "This is .... Somerset."

And, of course, after the daytime network shows were a plethora of syndicated comedy classics, cartoon shows and you name it.

Y'know, there was more to watch - more variety - back when we had a three-channel lineup, than it is today with hundreds of cable channels.

If you want some 'visuals' and more about the game shows in 1975 -- complete with rules and other information explained far better than I have -- go here:

'Till next time, help control the gene pool population -- spay or neuter the inbreds!

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Chase Sequence Heart" Gleck

1 comment:

nettiemac said...

Oh man.... I had forgotten all about some of these. I mentioned the "Jackpot" thing to Richard, and my mom said, "Yes! I remember Jackpot!" (That was cool!)

Now the soaps, I remember VERY well. I was in morning kindergarten at the time, but my mother did her afternoon soaps. She watched Love of Life, and then all the NBC ones. I think she might have also watched Search for Tomorrow.