The End Of An Era
Text by: Cyndi Seidelman
News broke on October 9th, 2017 that the last bastion of the old guard of game show producers, Merrill Heatter, had passed on at the age of 90.
With the passing of Heatter and Monty Hall a couple weeks prior, every single major game show producer from the 50s-70s has passed on, leaving their legacies for all to enjoy through reruns on Buzzr, GSN, or on YouTube. The game show boom of the 50s started with Mark Goodson and Bill Todman with Winner Take All, Beat the Clock, What's My Line, I've Got A Secret, The Price Is Right & To Tell The Truth. The next contender for the throne would be Jack Barry & Dan Enright with such shows as Tic Tac Dough, Twenty-One among others. Barry & Enright would gain the upper hand by creating dramatic moments with big money on the line with the contestants being given the answers in advance, and getting massive ratings with Twenty-One even beating out I Love Lucy for a spell. With the Quiz Show Scandals being the big news and Barry/Enright being pretty much black-balled from television, leading Dan Enright to produce for Canada and Jack Barry work for local stations after 1960.
Some new challengers would arise to become Goodson/Todman's latest rival and that would come in the form of Stefan Hatos and Monty Hall with Let's Make A Deal. Although NBC wasn't fully behind the show, only giving it 13-week renewals at a time according to Monty himself, the show would become a daytime favorite for all networks, being on NBC from 63-68, CBS for a few months in 1968, and then ABC until the show's cancellation in 1976. In the 70s, they would shore up their ranks on ABC with Split Second, running for a solid 3 years from 1972-1975.
Merrill Heatter & Bob Quigley would be next to come up the ranks. After shows like Funny You Should Ask and the Celebrity Game were one-season wonders, Hollywood Squares would debut in 1966 and bring about the debut of the giant panel game with more than the traditional 4 panelists used in Goodson/Todman shows. While Hollywood Squares would be the duo's biggest hit by miles, they had decent success with High Rollers, which had two runs lasting a tad over two years each. Also on their docket was Gambit, which lasted from 1972-1976.
Bob Stewart would be joining in on the mix as well. After being the brains behind both The Price Is Right and Password, he would strike out on his own in 1966 with Eye Guess, Three On A Match in 1971 and his biggest hit, The $10,000 Pyramid in 1973. It was the success of Pyramid that made Bob Stewart a big name on his own, and he'd continue to come out with inventive games up into the 80s with Jackpot and Chain Reaction, sometimes aided by his son Sande Stewart.
Also in the 60s, Merv Griffin would move from hosting Play Your Hunch to coming up with his own massive hit in Jeopardy! Merv wouldn't have another show on the air until January 1975 where he'd trade in Jeopardy! for Wheel of Fortune. While it was semi-successful for NBC in the 70s, it would hit its stride in the 80s, especially for syndication where it would become the highest rated game show, beating Family Feud for 20+ years until Feud took back the throne of Syndication dominance in 2015.
Chuck Barris, game shows wild card, would get his start in the 60s, with his two longest running shows in The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. When both of the shows were going down, he'd move to weekly syndication with The New Dating Game and The New Treasure Hunt in 1972. When The New Treasure Hunt would be cancelled due to Chuck wanting to push the envelope further and Geoff Edwards wanting none of it, Chuck would have arguably his most notorious show in The Gong Show. With Barris continuously pushing the envelope, Chuck could have said to be the forerunner of the reality shows of today such as The Bachelor/ette.
Goodson/Todman would still be successful in the 60s with Password and The Match Game on the networks where revivals of panel shows What's My Line and To Tell The Truth would thrive in the relatively new frontier of Syndication. In 1971, Goodson-Todman would still be seen as powerhouses with a revival of Password on ABC, and find huge success with revamped formats in Match Game and The Price is Right and new formats of Tattletales and Family Feud. Match Game, Family Feud and The Price Is Right at one time or another would be the highest rated daytime game shows throughout the 70s and 80s.
After the scandals died down, Jack Barry returned to producing game shows with his latest endeavor, The Joker's Wild in 1972. With a solid 3 year run, it gave him the greenlight to have Dan Enright join him again and together they would run syndication with revivals of The Joker's Wild, Tic Tac Dough and a slew of others. Joker and Tic Tac would be partners in crime up until the cancellation of 1986, two years after Jack Barry's untimely passing in 1984.
Now I want you to take a look at all the classics that I have listed: Winner Take All, What's My Line, To Tell The Truth, I've Got a Secret, Beat The Clock, Tic Tac Dough, Twenty-One, Let's Make A Deal, Split Second, Hollywood Squares, High Rollers, Gambit, Eye Guess, Three On A Match, Pyramid, Jackpot, Chain Reaction, Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune, The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, The Gong Show, The New Treasure Hunt, Password, Match Game The Price Is Right, Tattletales, Family Feud & The Jokers Wild. All these shows were created by legends of the industry and all of them have now shuffled off this mortal coil.
This commentary is in dedication to Mark Goodson, Bill Todman, Jack Barry, Dan Enright, Bob Stewart, Stefan Hatos, Monty Hall, Chuck Barris, Bob Quigley, Merv Griffin and the last bastion of the golden era before passing away this past weekend, Merrill Heatter. Thank you for giving us thousands of hours of entertainment. The TV Landscape is a less fun place without all of you around.
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