NBC’s Hollywood Game Night (where two teams of celebs and their contestant captains play party games, with the winner getting the chance to win $25,000 in a quick-fire, timed bonus round) has just capped off its successful second season with Jane Lynch nabbing the Emmy award for Outstanding Host (for Reality/Reality Competiton Show), so I can think of no better time to ask for a resurgence of a pop culture favourite from yesteryear – the celebrity game show.
For the uninitiated, way back in the day – in the era before trashy talk shows and group gab-fests took over the daytime airwaves – soap operas reigned supreme and right by their side were game shows. Aside from mainstay classic The Price is Right, the cream of the crop were the celebrity game shows, which allowed viewers to see their favourite stars doing their best to help regular contestants walk away with some fabulous cash and prizes.
The appeal of seeing celebrities just being themselves while playing along with contestants in a variety skill and guessing games could not be understated – and two of the best of these shows offered this appeal up in their own distinct formats (both of which Hollywood Game Night just happens to employ as well, hmm…coincidence?):
There have been a few iterations of Match Game over the years, but the most iconic one would be from the 70’s (originally titled Match Game 73). Perfectly hosted by Gene Rayburn, the joy of watching Match Game came from just seeing celebrities kick back, banter, joke around and goof off. The premise was simple: a panel of six celebrities were given a fill-in-the-blank statement and then contestants had to offer up an answer they think will match the most of the celebrity responses. Longtime panelists like Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, Richard Dawson and Fannie Flagg would be joined by a bevy of rotating semi-regular and guest-panelists ranging from Betty White to Dr. Joyce Brothers to Jamie Lee Curtis . The inneuendo-heavy questions and the laid back attitude that permeated the atmosphere made the show an instant favourite among viewers. Here’s just a sample:
And here’s one with some actual gameplay – notice how even the off-camera crew can’t resist a little goofing around.
The $25,000/$100,000 Pyramid
As with Match Game, there have been many iterations of Pyramid. But again, there’s one version that is the gold standard, and that is the 80’s version superbly hosted by Mr. American Bandstand/New Year’s Eve Rocker himself, the legendary Dick Clark. Again, a simple premise: two celebrities, each paired with a contestant run through two sets of 3-round, clue-giving/word guessing games. The highest scoring team after each set gets to go the winner’s circle for a 60-second bonus round, this time with topics or phrases to be guessed rather than just words (a contestant’s second visit to the circle would be for $25,000 which was later upped to $100,000).
This is where Pyramid shined – the all-or-nothing minute of truth was downright intense and it was thrilling to watch. Not only when there was a surprising celebrity who gave fantastic clues that just clicked with the contestant and they stormed through the pyramid but also when there was a slightly stumbling, down-to-the-wire, will-they-make-it duo, being urgently pressed on by an offscreen Clark while the clock ticks down. Fortunately, we have two such clips. First up is Barry Jenner (at the time, from Dallas) with a truly exceptional $100,000 round:
And here is the underrated Mary Cadorette (from the Three’s Company successor, Three’s a Crowd) with a tension-building trip to $100K (and I simply LOVE how excited both she and Jenner got for their contestants. So awesome.)
So now that Hollywood Game Night has proved that viewers still love to see celebrities having fun (like on Match Game) and putting their descriptive skills to the time-limited test (a la Pyramid), let’s hope it doesn’t stay the only game (show) in town for too long.
*There were of course, many more celebrity game shows from this era, so I’d surely be remiss if I didn’t at least give a little shout out to some of them, namely: Hollywood Squares, Super Password, TattleTales (think The Newlywed Game but with celeb couples) and my own underdog fave Body Language (aka “charades with celebrities”).