CLOSE
Original image

9 Game Show Stories Worth Retelling

Original image

There's something intriguing about watching someone answer a question, or spin a wheel, or pick a suitcase. That's why game shows have been around for nearly three-quarters of a century. Here are some of our favorite stories from game show lore.

1. THE FIRST GAME SHOW

The first game show ever broadcast was Spelling Bee, a BBC program that premiered on May 14, 1938. Host Freddie Grisewood dressed as a schoolteacher and asked guests to spell words. Advertisers flocked to support the program, but it received terrible reviews, as Spelling Bee was widely regarded as the most boring show on television. As Independent columnist Thomas Sutcliffe said in 2000, "One of the few happy consequences of the Second World War [was] that it took Spelling Bee off air, making the world safe for more sophisticated entertainment."

Truth or Consequences was the first TV game show in the United States, airing as a one-time experiment in 1941. But the show did not appear again until 1950, when television had caught on commercially. The CBS Television Quiz was the first television game show to be broadcast regularly. It premiered on July 2, 1941, and ran until July 1, 1942.

2. THE DOCTOR IS IN THE ZONE

You probably know about the quiz show scandals of the 1950s, but not every winner had the answers before showtime. One of the biggest legitimate winners of that era was a young psychology professor from Columbia named Dr. Joyce Brothers.

She had given up teaching to raise her newborn daughter, and in an effort to supplement the family income, Joyce applied to be a contestant on The $64,000 Question. She chose boxing as her field of expertise, and by memorizing sources that included a boxing encyclopedia, Joyce Brothers became the only woman to win the top prize.

Two years later, she appeared on the spin-off, The $64,000 Challenge, where experts were brought in to quiz contestants in their selected field. Brothers' knowledge of the sweet science was too much for the seven boxing experts; she answered each question correctly, bringing her total earnings to $134,000.

3. ANSWER: IT WAS MERV GRIFFIN'S WIFE'S IDEA.

Why does Jeopardy! require contestants to give their answers in the form of a question? Well, according to show producer Merv Griffin, the idea came from his wife Julann. Merv was brainstorming ideas for new game shows, and his wife mentioned that there hadn't been a successful Q&A game since the quiz show scandals. Julann suggested Merv switch things up a bit, giving the answers to the contestants and letting them come up with the questions. Merv loved the idea, and so did NBC.

4. WHAT WAS THE DEAL WITH THOSE COSTUMES?

When Let's Make a Deal began, studio audience members wore their regular clothing. A few weeks into the series, someone brought a sign to get Monty Hall's attention. The sign read, "Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, I came here to deal with you." It worked, as Monty chose the player to be a contestant. As time went on, more people brought signs, and later wacky hats. The costumes and signs became a part of the show and got crazier and crazier as the years went on.

5. THE LAST GONG SHOW

I think it's safe to say that host Chuck Barris did not take NBC's cancellation of The Gong Show well. On the final episode, Barris appeared as a contestant, singing Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It," and he even gave the camera the finger. (NBC censored the gesture.)

6. ON A DATE WITH A MUPPET 

During its very long run, The Dating Game had many celebrities compete to be selected to go on an all-expenses-paid date. These celebrities included Steve Martin, Suzanne Somers and Ron Howard. But there were some unique celebrity daters as well. Also appearing on the show were Paul Reubens (as Pee Wee Herman), Murray Langston (as The Unknown Comic), Groucho Marx, and on the 1972 Christmas show, H.R. PufnStuf made an appearance. But I'm very sorry to report that I don't know if he won the date.

7. THE MAN WHO REALLY PRESSED HIS LUCK 

Using the pause button on his VCR, a man named Michael Larson discovered that the "random patterns" on the Press Your Luck game board were not random at all, and he was actually able to memorize the sequences. When he was on the show, he used this information to stop the board exactly where he wanted. On the single game Michael appeared, he played 35 consecutive times without hitting a Whammy, and ended up earning over $110,000 in cash and prizes. When CBS investigated, they decided that figuring out the patterns was not cheating and let him keep his winnings.

8. THE FIRST MILLIONAIRE 

You may know that John Carpenter was the first contestant to win the million dollar jackpot on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? But do you know the name of the first contestant who was booed by the audience? As it turns out, it was the same contestant. This happened when Regis introduced Carpenter and mentioned his employer "“ the IRS. And to make things worse, he worked as a collections agent.

9. THE PERFECT DOUBLE SHOWCASE BID

On an episode of The Price is Right that aired December 16, 2008, a perfect Showcase bid occurred for only the second time in the show's history. But it was the first time since the Double Showcase Rule went into effect, so the contestant won both showcases. When it happened, the show's producers and host Drew Carey were suspicious of the activities of certain audience members during the bidding. Because of this, there was a 45-minute delay between the showcase presentation and actual reveal. In interviews, the lucky (or very skilled) contestant Terry Kniess stated he did not cheat, but was a studious viewer who had watched the show closely for years.

Original image
CBS
arrow
entertainment
9 Mysterious Facts About Murder, She Wrote
Original image
CBS

For 12 seasons and 264 episodes, the small coastal town of Cabot Cove, Maine, was the scene of a murder. And wherever there was a body, Jessica Fletcher wasn’t far behind. The fictional mystery author and amateur sleuth at the heart of the CBS drama Murder, She Wrote was given life by actress Angela Lansbury, who made a name for herself in the theater world and in movies like 1944’s Gaslight and 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate. Though the show was supposed to skew toward an older audience, the series is still very much alive and being discovered by new generations of audiences every year. Unravel the mystery with these facts about Murder, She Wrote.

1. ANGELA LANSBURY WAS “PISSED OFF” AT THE TV ROLES BEING OFFERED TO HER BEFORE MURDER.

After years of high-profile parts and critical acclaim in the theater, Angela Lansbury was in her late fifties and ready to tackle a steady television role. Unfortunately, instead of being flooded with interesting lead roles on big series, she said she was constantly looked at to play “the maid or the housekeeper in some ensemble piece,” leaving her to get—in the Dame’s own words—“really pissed off.”

After voicing her displeasure, she was soon approached with two potential solo series, one being Murder, She Wrote, which grabbed her attention because of its focus on a normal country woman becoming an amateur detective. After meeting with the producers and writers, it was only a matter of time before Lansbury agreed to the role and began the 12-season run.

2. THE SHOW TOOK A SHOT AT FRIENDS IN ITS FINAL SEASON.

In 1995, CBS made a bold move: After airing on Sundays since 1984, Murder, She Wrote moved to Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. for its twelfth and final season, going head-to-head against Mad About You and Friends over at NBC. On a night dominated by younger viewers, Lansbury was at a loss.

"I'm shattered," she told the Los Angeles Times. "What can I say? I really feel very emotional about it. I just felt so disappointed that after all the years we had Sunday night at 8, suddenly it didn't mean anything. It was like gone with the wind."

Maybe not so coincidentally, during that last season of the series there was an episode titled “Murder Among Friends,” where a TV producer is killed in her office after planning to get rid of a member of the cast of a fictional television show called Buds. Complete with its coffee shop setting and snarky repartee, Buds was a not-so-subtle stab at Friends, coming at a time when Murder, She Wrote was placed right against the hip ratings juggernaut.

Putting the murder mystery aside for a moment, Fletcher takes plenty of jabs at Buds throughout, literally rolling her eyes at the thought of six twentysomethings becoming a hit because they sat around talking about their sexuality in every episode. The writing was on the wall as Murder, She Wrote was being phased out by CBS by the end of 1996, but Lansbury made sure to go down swinging.

3. JESSICA FLETCHER HOLDS A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD.

Here’s one for any self-respecting trivia junkie: Jessica Fletcher holds a Guinness World Record for Most Prolific Amateur Sleuth. Though Guinness recognizes that Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple has been on and off screen longer—since 1956—Fletcher has actually gotten to the bottom of more cases with 264 episodes and four TV movies under her belt.

4. THE SHOW’S FICTIONAL TOWN WOULD HAVE BEEN THE MURDER CAPITAL OF THE PLANET.

Quiet, upper-class New England coastal towns aren’t usually known for their murder count, but Cabot Cove, Maine, is a grisly destination indeed. In fact, if you look at the amount of murders per the population, it would have the highest rate on the planet, according to BBC Radio 4.

With 3560 people living in the town, and 5.3 murders occurring every year, that comes out to 1490 murders per million, which is 60 percent higher than that of Honduras, which only recently lost its title as the murder capital of the world. It’s also estimated that in total, about two percent of the folks in Cabot Cove end up murdered. 

5. SOME FANS THINK FLETCHER WAS A SERIAL KILLER THE WHOLE TIME.

That statistic leads us right into our next thought: Isn’t it a little suspicious that Fletcher keeps stumbling upon all these murders? We know that Cabot Cove is a fairly sleepy town, but the murder rate rivals a Scorsese movie. And this one person—a suspicious novelist and amateur detective—always seems to get herself mixed up in the juiciest cases. Some people think there’s something sinister about the wealth of cases Fletcher writes about in her books: It’s because she’s the one doing the killing all along.

This theory has gained traction with fans over the years, and it helps explain the coincidental nature of the show. Murders aren’t just exclusive to Fletcher and Cabot Cove; they follow her around when she’s on book tours, on trips out of town, or while writing the script to a VR video game for a company whose owner just so happens to get killed while Fletcher is around.

Could Jessica Fletcher have such an obsession with murder mysteries that she began to create her own? Was life in Cabot Cove too boring for a violent sociopath? Did she decide to take matters into her own hands after failing to think of original book ideas? We’ll never know, but it puts the whole series into a very different light.

6. LANSBURY WAS NOT HAPPY ABOUT A PROPOSED REBOOT.

Despite its inimitable style, Murder, She Wrote isn’t immune to Hollywood’s insatiable reboot itch, and in 2013 plans were put in motion to modernize the show for a new generation. NBC’s idea was to cast Octavia Spencer as a hospital administrator who self-publishes her first mystery novel and starts investigating real cases. Lansbury was none too pleased by the news.

"I think it's a mistake to call it Murder, She Wrote," she told The Hollywood Reporter in November 2013, "because Murder, She Wrote will always be about Cabot Cove and this wonderful little group of people who told those lovely stories and enjoyed a piece of that place, and also enjoyed Jessica Fletcher, who is a rare and very individual kind of person ... So I'm sorry that they have to use the title Murder, She Wrote, even though they have access to it and it's their right."

When the plug was pulled on the series, Lansbury said she was "terribly pleased and relieved” by the news, adding that, "I knew it was a terrible mistake."

7. JEAN STAPLETON TURNED DOWN THE LEAD ROLE OF JESSICA FLETCHER.

It’s impossible to separate Angela Lansbury from her role as Jessica Fletcher now, but she wasn’t the network’s first choice for the role. All in the Family’s Edith Bunker, actress Jean Stapleton, was originally approached about playing Fletcher, but she turned it down.

Stapleton cited a combination of wanting a break after All in the Family’s lengthy run and the fact that she wasn’t exactly thrilled with how the part was written, and the changes she wanted to make weren’t welcome. Despite not being enthralled by the original ideas for Fletcher, Stapleton agreed that Lansbury was “just right” for the part.

8. FLETCHER’S ESCAPADES HAVE LIVED ON IN BOOKS AND VIDEO GAMES.

For anyone who didn’t get enough of Fletcher during Murder, She Wrote’s original run, there are more—plenty more—dead bodies to make your way through. Author Donald Bain has written 45 murder mystery novels starring Fletcher, all of which credit Fletcher as the "co-author." The books sport such titles as Killer in the Kitchen, Murder on Parade, and Margaritas & Murder. Not even cancellation can keep Cabot Cove safe, apparently.

On top of that, two point-and-click computer games were released based on the show in 2009 and 2012. Both games feature Fletcher solving multiple murders just like on the show, but don’t expect to hear the comforting voice of Angela Lansbury as you wade through the dead bodies. Only her likeness appears in the game; not her voice.

9. LANSBURY WOULD BE GAME TO REPRISE THE ROLE.

When recently asked about her iconic role by the Sunday Post, Lansbury admitted that she'd be into seeing Murder, She Wrote come back in some form. "I was in genuine tears doing my last scene," Lansbury said. "Jessica Fletcher has become so much a part of my life, it was difficult to come to terms with it being all over ... Having said that, there have been some two-hour specials since we stopped in 1996 and I wouldn’t be surprised if we got together just one more time."

Original image
HBO
arrow
entertainment
Why the Names of the Dragons in Game of Thrones Are Important—and Telling
Original image
HBO

Warning: This post contains spoilers for “Beyond the Wall,” the sixth episode in Game of Thrones’ seventh season. If you are not caught up on the series, stop reading now.

The death of a dragon in “Beyond the Wall,” the latest Game of Thrones episode, highlighted just how little we really know about Daenerys’s three children. (Be honest: Could you have named the dragon that died?) But for fans itching to know more about the show’s dragons, alive and undead, the symbolism in their names offers clues about their true characters and hints at how they might behave in the future.

First, the dragon that died was Viserion. The show doesn’t make it very easy to distinguish Viserion from its sibling Rhaegal—Rhaegal is slightly greener on screen than Viserion—but if you watch closely you’ll see that Viserion was the one downed by the Night King’s spear.

Notably, this is the dragon named after Viserys, Daenerys’s power-hungry older brother. In the first season, Viserys sold his sister to Khal Drogo in exchange for an army he could use to take the Iron Throne. But after growing impatient with Drogo, Viserys threatened to kill his pregnant sister if the invasion didn’t begin immediately. Drogo, at his wit’s end, silenced Viserys’s whining with a pot of molten gold. Last night, Viserion died, too. Like its namesake, Viserion is set to turn on Daenerys and Drogon, the dragon named after Drogo.

That leaves Rhaegal, named after Daenerys’s eldest brother—and Jon’s father—Rhaegar Targaryen. If anyone is going to ride Rhaegal it would make sense for it to be Jon, the only other living Targaryen in Westeros and the son of the dragon’s namesake. After all, Jon has already demonstrated an ability to put dragons at ease in “Eastwatch,” when he patted Drogon on the snout.

Last night’s episode put to death the iteration of the Three-Headed Dragon theory that predicted Tyrion Lannister would be revealed as a hidden Targaryen and ride the third dragon into battle. But the theory will now almost certainly be fulfilled in a much more chilling way: with the Night King as the third rider.

It’s unclear how Viserion would behave as the Night King’s mount. Nerdist reported on how, in the books, Old Nan alludes to mythical ice dragons in stories she told Jon growing up. There’s also a constellation called the Ice Dragon, complete with a rider with a blue star for an eye that always points north. The World of Ice and Fire, the companion encyclopedia George R.R. Martin wrote to further detail his fantasy world, describes unverified reports of ice dragons over the Shivering Sea north of the wall. Sailors claim they are bigger than regular dragons, translucent, and breathe cold that “can freeze a man solid in half a heartbeat.”

Long before he started on A Song of Ice and Fire, Martin also wrote a children’s book called The Ice Dragon—though he has since insisted that his children’s book does not exist in the same sex-and-violence-crazed universe as his later novels. In the world of the children’s book, the good ice dragon defeats the evil fire-breathing dragons to save the story’s protagonist. Over at Vanity Fair, Joanna Robinson wondered if Viserion might end up being one of the good guys, writing that, "Now that we’ve seen two close-ups in the span of two episodes, of dragon eyes both brown and blue, will we eventually see one go white as Bran takes control of Viserion back from the Night King in Season 8?"

It remains to be seen which side will win in the Game of Thrones universe—and chances are we won't have all the answers by the time the current season concludes.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios