Game shows have been a staple of television programming since television began. Watching contestants compete for big money prizes and playing along with the games is a fun family pastime. There have been many great, and some controversial, game shows through the history of television. Some early game shows got caught cheating which led to establishing guidelines. Nevertheless, a variety of game shows have lasted decades, and the game show remains popular today. Whether game shows are watched from home to play along with the contestants or fur pure entertainment, game shows remain a popular.
Here are the top 20 game shows in television history.
“Jeopardy!” is one of the longest running game shows on television. The show debuted in 1964 and was hosted by Art Fleming until current host, Alex Trebek, took the realm in 1984. The show is produced by Merv Griffin Productions. Griffin also wrote the theme music including the iconic 30 second piece called “Think!” that is played while contestants come up with their Final Jeopardy answer. Three contestants compete by answering general trivia questions. The catch is they are given the answer and must form their answer as a question. Specials include teen and college Jeopardy, celebrity contestants and returning champions. In 2004 contestant Ken Jennings had a 74 game winning streak before he was defeated. He won more than $2.5 million. “Jeopardy” remains a staple in television game shows. NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” has parodied the game show in famous sketches poking fun at Celebrity Editions of “Jeopardy!” and host Alex Trebek’s smugness.
The Price Is Right
“The Price is Right” debuted in 1956 with host Bull Cullen. The show was revamped in 1972 featuring long running host Bob Barker. Drew Carey took the reigns in 2007, and “The Price Is Right remains one of the best game shows of all time. Contestants are chosen randomly from the audience, and their excitement provides much of the show’s entertainment. The iconic game show features contestants bidding on various merchandise prices with the winner called up on stage to play a game like the classic “Plinko”. Winners get to spin a wheel to win prizes and the show comes down to the “Showcase Showdown” where the top two contestants compete by guessing the total price of a variety of merchandise. “The Price is Right” remains iconic. Kids from many generations fondly remember watching the show while home sick from school. The contestant excitement remains one of the greatest parts of the show.
Wheel of Fortune
Long running “Wheel of Fortune” has been hosted by Pat Sajak with Vanna White since 1983. The show originally aired in 1975 with host Chuck Woolery. Merv Griffin created the show based on the game “Hangman”. Contestants compete by spinning a wheel to win a certain amount of money per guess, a prize or lose a turn. They guess letters that may appear in the puzzle’s answer but have to “buy a vowel”. The technology on the show has been updated. Letters in the phrase once dramatically turned by Vanna White are now simply touched. It’s always fun to watch contestants mess up simple answers. “Wheel of Fortune” is wholesome and fun and remains popular and fun to watch.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
The game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” originated in Britain and became a huge prime time hit in the United States of America in 1999. The game show features dramatic lights and music as the contestant is read questions by the celebrity host and must chose the answer among four options. The questions become fore difficult and the ultimate question is worth $1 million. Popular television personality Regis Philbin hosted “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” from 1999 through 2002 when Meredith Vieira took over the syndicated game show. The contestants are given three “life lines” to help answer tough questions. These include “50/50” which eliminates two possible answers, “Ask the Audience” where the studio audience votes on the best answer, and “Phone a Friend” where the contestant is granted a 30 minute call to a personal friend to help answer the question. In 1999 contestant John Carpenter famously made it through the game without using a lifeline until the last question. He chose to “Phone a Friend”, his dad, but Carpenter didn’t need help. Before correctly answering the final question, Carpenter told his dad he’d just won $1 million. The show is still seen in syndication.
“Match Game” was a popular game show during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The show went through a few revamps before it was canceled in 2000. Funny radio and television personality, Gene Rayburn, hosted the game show from 1962 through 1984. The show was a huge rating hit the first couple of decades it appeared on NBC. It features two contestants who must answer “fill in the blank” questions. Who can forget the often used “Dumb Dora…” and the audience shouting “How dumb was she?”. A group of celebrity panelists offer possible answers to the fill in the blank and the contestant closest to those answers wins points. Favorite celebrity panelists included Charles Nelson Riley, Richard Dawson, Brett Somers, Vicki Lawrence and Betty White. The show was funny and entertaining.
Deal or No Deal
“Deal or No Deal” was an instant hit when it debuted in America in 2005. The show has many international versions. Howie Mandel hosts “Deal or No Deal” where a contestant gets to choose a suitcase from many that contains an unknown amount of money. The contestant goes on to choose from the rest of the suitcases held by beautiful models. The contestant has the option to keep the amount in each case, hold out for the first case chosen or call “The Bank” and negotiate a deal to walk away. Mathematicians, statisticians and economists have speculated about the odds of winning a lot of money in the game.
“Hollywood Squares” was popular game show from 1966 through 1981 and was brought back into popular culture in 1998 until 2004. A special episode of the game show aired in 1965 hosted by Peter Marshall and popular television and radio personality, Peter Marshall, took over as host the following year. The show featured nine celebrity guests sitting in boxes like a “tic tac toe” game. Two contestants vie for prizes by completing the “tic tac toe” board. The catch is they must agree or disagree with the celebrity seated in the square when he or she is asked a question by the host. The show featured a “secret square” which the television audience was privy to that included a bonus prize if won. Tom Bergeron took over as host from 1998 through 2004. “Hollywood Squares” featured a variety of popular celebrities and some that were staples, especially in the coveted center square. Popular guest celebrities included Paul Lynde, Vincent Price, Rose Marie, Florence Henderson and Sandy Duncan and later Joan Rivers and Woopie Goldberg.
“Password” was a popular game show from 1961 to 1989. The show was created by Goodson-Todman Productions and originally featured popular television and radio personality, Allen Lundon, as host. Tom Kennedy, Bert Convy and Regis Philbin would host versions of “Password” further on. Each episode of “Password” featured teams consisting of a contestant and a celebrity. Each team was given a round of words that the one team member would have to give one word clues for and the other team member would have to guess. The show would have several versions and would remain popular for decades.
Mark Goodson produced “Family Feud” remains a popular game show since it began in 1976. The American game show has inspired international versions. The show features two families, each with five members. Each family is given a chance to provide the most popular answers to a topic which was surveyed by the public. Each family member has a chance to provide an answer until they earn three strikes and the survey question is passed to the competing family. In the final “Fast Money” round, the winning family picks two members to compete in a lightening round of survey questions. The show is simple, fun and easy to play along with at home. The key to its success is the eclectic families and great hosts. The show began in 1976 with host Richard Dawson. Dawson can be remembered for kissing all female contestants. Ray Combs hosted from 1988 through 1994 before comedian Louie Anderson took over for a couple of years. Other hosts included Richard Korn and John O’Hurley. Al Roker hosted a special celebrity edition in the summer of 2008. The show remains popular and is currently hosted by funnyman Steve Harvey.
The Newlywed Game
“The Newlywed Game” is one of the most iconic game shows in television history. Bob Eubanks hosted the show from 1966 to 2000. Jim Lang, Paul Rodriguez and Gary Kroeger hosted the game show at times. “The Newlywed game” featured several newly married couples. With one spouse off stage, the other would predict how that spouse would answer a particular question. In the game of “how well do you know your spouse”, many of the questions were peppered with sexual entendre. Even after a time when censors would balk, host Bob Eubanks continued to use the phrase “making whoopee”. The show’s funniest moments are when a spouse would answer “incorrectly” ensuing in embarrassing moments and hysterical arguments.
It started out as “$10,000 Pyramid” when it debuted in 1973. The show that would eventually become “$100,000 Pyramid”. Icon Dick Clark hosted the show until 1988. Donny Osmond hosted a new version of “Pyramid” from 2002 through 2004. Like “Password” the show featured teams of a contestant and a celebrity guest. A variety of celebrities regularly appeared on the show including Betty White, Billy Crystal, Carol Burnett, Cloris Leachman and Fred Willard. Teams took turns giving clues to a secret word or phrase for different levels of the game. The game got its name for its game board in the shape of a pyramid. The winning team competed the final round in the “Winner’s Circle” gated off in the center of the stage. The show was a big hit for several generations. Of course the celebrity personalities had fun with it.
The Dating Game
Way before “The Bachelor” the biggest and best dating show was “The Dating Game” which ran on ABC and later syndication from 1965 through 1980. The show was hosted by Jim Lange who famously blew a kiss to the audience at the end of each show. “The Dating Game” featured a male or female contestant separated by a partition from a panel of three members of the opposite sex. The contestant could ask “Bachelor or Bachelorette 1, 2 or 3” questions before choosing one to go on a date with. Many young stars appeared on the show before they became famous in Hollywood. These include Farrah Faucet, Suzanne Somers, Steve Martin and Tom Selleck.
Let’s Make a Deal
“Let’s Make a Deal” was a popular and funny game show created and produced by Monte Hall and Stefan Hator in 1963. Monte Hall was the original host and Wayne Brady would host the final years of the show. Contestants, called “Traders”, would be chosen from the studio audience. To make themselves stand out, studio audience members would often dress in crazy costumes. Once chosen, a Trader was offered a prize that they could keep or choose a mystery item from behind one of three curtains or doors. The contestant could end up with something valuable, money or something worth nothing at all. The show was funny and zany even when the client was left disappointed with the prize.
Name That Tune
“Name That Tune” was a classic game show that Americans tuned into from 1953 through 1985. Hosts included Red Bensch, Bill Cullen, George DeWitt, Richard Hayes, Dennis James, Tom Kennedy and Jim Lange. Contestants chosen from the audience had the opportunity to name a song title after just some of the bars of the song were played. During the 1950’s the game entailed bars of a song played by an orchestra on stage. Contestants would run across the stage and ring a ship’s bell before making a guess. Money prizes range from $5 to $40. The show continued its popularity into the 1970’s. Daring contestants would bet that they could “name that tune in ____ notes”, sometimes as few as 2 notes. Cash prizes were larger and sponsors donated merchandise to be used as prizes. Games expanded including “Bid-a-Note”, “Build-a-Tune”, “Cassette-Roulette”, “Melody-Roulette” and “Sing-a-Long”.
Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?
The Mark Burnett created game show “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader aired on Fox Television from 2007 through 2009. It was syndicated for the next 2 years. The show was a prime time hit when it first aired. Comedian host, Jeff Foxworthy, posed questions to an adult contestant who had the option of being helped in answering by a panel of 5 fifth grade students. The concept was great. Many adults don’t realize how much fifth graders are learning in school. It was a great game to play along with as a family at home. The contestant would answer 10 questions plus a bonus question with the chance to win up to $1 million. The 2 top winners of “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader” had a good chance at winning. Kathy Cox was the Superintendent of public schools in the state of Georgia, and George Smoot was the winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics as well as a Professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
The Amazing Race
“The Amazing Race” is a popular CBS reality game show that premiered in September 2001 and has won thirteen prime time Emmy Awards. “The Amazing Race” consists of teams of 2. The teams are sent around the world and must complete a number of competitions on their trek. Transportation can include anything including airplanes, automobiles, bicycles and hot air balloons. The goal is for the team to reach a destination during each leg of the journey before any of the other competitors. Often the stress causes issues on the team’s dynamic. “The Amazing Race” has spawned several international versions.
“Love Connection” came between shows like “The Dating Game” and “The Bachelor/Bachelorette”. The show was hosted by Chuck Woolery and ran in syndication from 1983 through 1994. A contestant would have the option of going on a date with one of three people based on the video that person sent in to the show. Following the date, the contestant would join Chuck Woolery on stage before a live audience and talk about how the date went. The date was listening in back stage and would also comment on the date. The audience, having previously watched the video applications would have voted on who they thought the best match was. If they chose the same date as the contestant, and the contestant and the date agreed the date was a success, the show would pay for a second date. If the audience chose a different date for the contestant, the contestant could opt to go out with the audience winner and the show would pay for the date. Obviously, “Love Connection” dates could be successes or disasters. The disasters made the most entertaining shows.
What’s My Line
“What’s My Line’ is considered one of the most classic game shows ever. It aired on CBS from 1950 through 1967 and in syndication until 1975. The main moderator during the early years of the show was John Charles Daly. The concept of the show was that a panel of 4 celebrities who would try to determine the contestant’s occupation by asking a series of “yes/no” questions in the course of several rounds. “What’s My Line” featured a mystery celebrity guest each week. Regular and popular panelists included Dorthy Kilgallen, Arlene Frances and Bennet Cerf as sell as Steve Allen and Soupy Sales. The show was a major hit at the time and won Emmy Awards for Best TV Show and Best Audience Participation in a Game Show.
The Gong Show
“The Gong Show” is a well remembered television game show that debuted on NBC in 1976 and ran in syndication through 1980. The classic 1970’s entertaining game show was briefly revived in 2017 on ABC. Creator, producer and host, Chuck Berry, was an iconic figure and made the show the hilarious fun that it was. “The Gong Show” featured a panel of 3 funny celebrity guests. Popular celebrity panelists included Jaye P. Morgan, Jamie Farr, Arte Johnson, Rip Taylor, Phyllis Diller, Anson Williams, Steve Garvey and Rex Reed. The panel would judge contestants as they performed a talent show. Some were so bad, and many purposefully bad, that the judges struggled to maintain composure while they waited the allotted 20 (later 30) seconds of the contestant’s performance to gong them. Some contestants received a “Gang Gong”. If the act was decent and the contestant was not gonged, the celebrity panelists would rate the contestant’s performance between 0 and 10. “The Gong Show” was not meant for contestants to receive huge money or merchandise prizes but merely as audience entertainment. The build up to the gong was key.
Generation Xer’s grew up on classic television game shows. MTV’s “Remote Control”, the first original non-music show featured on the budding cable network, ran for 5 seasons from 1987 through 1990. The show was a hit with high school and college students at the time. “Remote Control” featured host Ken Uber. The premise was that Ken wanted desperately to be a game show host so he set up a set in his basement which was bedecked with a big screen television, lounge chairs and autographed pictures of famous classic game show hosts. The show consisted of 3 contestants who sat in lounge chairs and used their remote controls to choose from 9 categories of questions on a big screen TV. Trivia questions were about television, music and movies. Between rounds, guests were treated to snacks delivered in interesting ways. Skits were performed during the rounds. Comedian Colin Quinn was a writer for the show and acted as announcer and sidekick to Uber. Other head writers who made appearances on “Remote Control” included Adam Sandler and Dennis Leary. The hit game show featured specials including a “Celebrity Edition” and “Spring Break Edition”.
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