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Wednesday, 14 May
Game Shows Touch Our Lives

Earlier tonight, staring at the gaping void that is the Wednesday 8:00 PM time slot, I made a choice. I watched The Price is Right. There he was! Drew Carey! Asking people penetrating questions such as: "So, how much do you think this can of beans is?" I love America.

(Please don't eat canned beans.)

The producers of The Price is Right were smart in that they have preserved nearly every embarrassing, half-assed aspect of the show, from the "Come on down!" hucksterism and hysteria to the bemused contempt of the host: Drew Carey treated most of the adrenalized contestants much like a cruise hypnotist treats the mooks he yanks from the crowd that he's about to force to act like homosexual construction workers. Carey seemed momentarily vitalized by the sudden appearance of a contestant wearing a Bernie Kosar jersey--he very nearly came within shouting distance of actual charm--before settling torpidly back into his colossal suit, like a hermit crab wearily withdrawing into a discarded Ding-Dong wrapper.

When I was a younger fellow, I had an unearthly love for game shows. I do not know why, apart from humanity's seemingly bottomless appreciation for these polyester spectacles. Wikipedia gives 197 pages of virtual ink to American game shows alone (out of 248 possible); I didn't have the heart or the intestines to even see what including the Brits would tot up to.

There was nothing I loved more as a kid than, when staying home sick (or in the summers) waking up to gargle joyously with a potent cocktail of daytime game shows.

(Apart, of course, from Saturday morning cartoons, but even then, I'm not sure. For one thing, I have way too many memories of the fucking Macy's Day Parade ruining everything. There I'd be sitting, at 7:00 AM, nearly in tears, as I saw a giant Pluto float fill my tiny TV screen. FUCK YOU, Macy's Day Parade. That was always the worst day of the year for me. "Look, it's a big Snoopy float!" my mom once said, trying to cheer me up. "You like Snoopy." "Not today!" I shrieked. She gave up and told me that the Smurfs would be back next Saturday. I was unmoved. I hated the Smurfs. Then a Smurf float went by on TV at the fucking parade, and I retreated into autism until I was old enough to smoke and legitimately practice sneering.)

But game shows! And not to get all 'mudgy on you all, but back in the day? THEY WERE GAME SHOWS. Sort of. At least they weren't botulism vectors like Deal or No Deal, which dares to ask the question "Can you count to 26?" Here were some of my favorites.

The Joker's Wild

Joker! JOKER! JOKER!

This one is probably the earliest I remember, almost certainly because of the completely Mephistophelean appearance and demeanor of the host, Jack Barry. It welded all the tedium and dumb luck of slot machines with all the tedium and dumb luck of general trivia questions, and even better, when contestants missed a question, Jack Barry would explode into a cloud of stinging insects and eat his eyes right on camera. Winners were simply allowed to sob emptily as God turned his face away from them; it was a real sinner's game show.

Sale of the Century

I don't remember a lot about this one except again for the host, the diabolical asshole Jim Perry, who would periodically haggle with the contestants over the opportunity to "buy" prizes like robots that juggled dog turds. A surreally unctious douchebag, Jim Perry set the bar high for all future game show hosts to come. The show itself is also a sobering historical document: at the beginning of the show, each contestant had twenty bucks to spend. Awesome. Twenty bucks. That's like getting the opportunity to check your tire pressure at Conoco today.

(On edit . . . does Conoco even still exist? I think I hear my joints gabbling.)

The $(X) Pyramid

Oh, you all remember this; it long ago passed into the Emersonian Oversoul. A relative of the hoary Password game, this one paired B-list celebrities with fools from the crowd you attempted to get your partner to say a word or short phrase without using that word or any variants. I can't tell you how many hours I spent shouting out helpful clues for Michael J. Fox as he attempted to induce his partner to say things like "furburger" or "Morey Amsterdam."

Famously, the big prize money came at the endgame, which was basically the same thing only more restrictive. When (rarely) the contestant actually won, viewers would thrill to the sight of the ageless, ossified Dick Clark rushing over to perch on the back of the winner's chair and ecstatically shit onto the contestant's hair.

Press Your Luck

Another American classic, and another American classic TV hero, host Peter Tomarken, a charmless, witless haircut whose notable character trait was his sadistic good cheer displayed whenever one of the contestants hit a "Whammy," thereby losing all of their accumulated monies and causing some truly primitive animated shenanigans to take place, which featured things like the unfortunate Whammy being assaulted with hooks or date-raped or some such, and all the while Tomarken would be chanting things like "Guess you fucked it!" or "Pulled off your dick-skin there, didn't you!?" This show was really marketed mostly towards self-harming epileptics.

Name That Tune

"I can name that tune in one note."

Nobody can name any tune in one note. FUCK YOU, NAME THAT TUNE.

This wasn't a show for a young kid; they always played fucking garbage like Marvin Hamlisch. The producers probably got a little sweaty when they felt like being nervy and dared to plunk out seven notes of "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Game shows are by definition hopelessly square, but Name That Tune was nearly a hypercube of curdled lameness.

The Hollywood Squares

I don't really have to summarize any of these, do I? They're almost all culture roadmarkers. Anyway, this wasn't even really a favorite of mine except for Paul Lynde, who for years I figured was a brilliantly inventive comic improvisor. "He is so funny!" I would screech at my parents, who would trade worried looks. "Wayland Flowers and Madam aren't nearly as funny," I'd solemnly proclaim. My parents traded a new set of looks, ones that said, "Well, at least he doesn't like bad queeny puppet acts."

I really didn't figure out for a long time that those fucking fools were being fed their zinger lines. And by then, Peter Marshall had left, so who cared? Also, I eventually had sex with women, which cheered up my parents. Sorry, gays! Seriously, you didn't want me lurking around anyway.

Tic Tac Dough

Another tic-tac-toe-inspired game (obviously), also salted with moronically easy trivia elements. Notable mostly for the immaculately lacquered host Wink Martindale (who, seemingly unchanged, now shills for Orbitz). I really only remember this show because my father once called him "Stink Fartindale," which I considered the finest example of comedy ever dreamed up by man.

Clearly, I still do.


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Comments

I loved Press Your Luck. I was constantly amazed at the violence with which the contestants would club the plungers in order to stop the thingy on the board, all while screaming the mindless phrase, 'NO WHAMMIES!' I desperately wanted to see the console explode following a deadly pounding of said plunger, resulting in bodies set aflame by sparks, diving from behind their positions as a whammy chuckled and danced across the screen.

I'm a rabid fan of the underdog.

Comment number: 017335   Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' on May 15, 2008 09:44 AM from IP: 66.76.216.235

Match Game! MATCH GAAAME!! My first indication of the passage of time (and by extension the realization of my own mortality) was when the evening edition of Match Game went from "Match Game '76" to "Match Game '77." Plus, Charles Nielsen Rieley and that guy from M*A*S*H clearly wishing he hadn't given THAT gig up.

Comment number: 017336   Posted by: Topher on May 15, 2008 04:02 PM from IP: 76.170.3.62

Christ, Skot, it's taken me (fuck) eight years of knowing you to figure this out, but you were born to be a goddamn game show host. It's destiny. It must happen.

Comment number: 017337   Posted by: norm on May 16, 2008 02:27 PM from IP: 206.41.150.62

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