Americans began listening to game shows on the radio and were immediately hooked on the excitement and thrill of competition. As television came of age in the 1940s and ’50s, game shows made a natural transition to the new medium. There’s something about watching contestants match wits onscreen: We love to play along, shouting answers at the television.
“We play games at home, we play games at parties, we go to clubs and play games. Americans love games,” says Bob Barker, host of the long-running “The Price Is Right.”
Some game shows were edgy, such as “The Newlywed Game,” or they could be educational, such as “Jeopardy.” Some even disillusioned us.
By the late 1950s, the genre boasted some of the highest rated programs on television. Series such as “The $64,000 Challenge,” “Twenty-One” and “Dotto” attracted unprecedented audiences. The pressure was on to make these programs as dramatic as possible. “Dotto” debuted in 1958 and was an extremely popular game show, but its meteoric rise was halted when it was discovered that the show’s producers had rigged the outcome of the show, feeding questions and answers to contestants of their choosing. This discovery led to the show’s cancellation and scrutiny of other game shows, including the popular game show, “Twenty-One,” which was proved to be rigged, too.
The genre survived the scandal. In its aftermath, however, game shows began to focus more and more on big personalities. Having fun with celebrities became a staple of the game show universe and led to a successful series of shows that included “Hollywood Squares” and “Match Game.”
This game show debuted in the mid-1950s and asked two opposing contestants to match wits in an effort to beat each other to a point value of 21. Although the show was popular, it fell from grace in 1958 after allegations that it was rigged proved to be true. The show produced one of the most popular contestants in game show history, Charles Van Doren, a college professor who, ultimately, won nearly 130,000 dollars. Van Doren became a media darling in the aftermath of his long run on the show, and he was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in February 1957. A federal investigation followed accusations that the popular contestant had help from show producers, and Van Doren admitted to cheating during a Congressional hearing on the subject.
Following the game show scandals of the 1950s, producer Mark Goodson introduced America to game shows that didn’t lend themselves to cheating. Panel shows such as “What’s My Line” traded more on the extemporaneous humor and quick wit of celebrities. In 1961, Goodson’s production company developed the first big game show hit of the post-scandal era, “Password.” This show, originally presented by Allen Ludden, paired a celebrity with a regular contestant, and the two would take turns prompting the other with one-word clues to say the password. It was enormously popular.
“The Price Is Right”
Since its debut on the small screen in 1956, “The Price Is Right” has the distinction of being the longest running daytime game show in North American television history. For much of the show’s run, popular personality Bob Barker has been host. Barker’s talent lies in bringing out the personalities of the people who play the game.
“Spontaneous entertainment … It’s like mining for gold. You’ll find this wonderful little contestant, big contestant, or whatever, and you go with that person … You get the audience laughing. There’s nothing like that,” Barker says.
In 2007, Barker retired and handed over hosting duties to comedian Drew Carey.