9 Game Show Stories Worth Retelling
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 Milllionaire
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.