Top 10 Most Surreal Moments of Game Show Reruns - Part One

Text by: James Fabiano

It’s been a few weeks, and I still can’t believe it. 

The news out of Buzzr’s camp at the beginning of the month – more on that in a bit – made me think…do they have whatever magic wand Triple H uses in the WWE to restore burnt bridges, like with Bruno and Ultimate Warrior? 

For those who don’t want to wait through analogies, I mean, someone is doing the things we thought we’d never see.  For example, the return of Classic Concentration reruns to television for the first time in over 20 years.   

But again, more on that later.  What I’m getting at is the times the game show fandom received big surprises through the actions or acquisitions of Buzzr and Game Show Network (GSN).  Here now are the Top 10 Most Surreal Moments of Game Show Reruns….  

10) Pilots (GSN, Buzzr) –

Usually, pilot episodes were exclusive to fans’ tape collections.   Very rarely did they appear on TV itself, such as when Family Channel reruns of the Jim Lange $100,000 Name That Tune included pilot episodes of the series.  Or when the pilot to the 1990 To Tell The Truth was accidentally aired on NBC on the west coast.  Other than that?  You’d have to rely on tape traders who managed to track down the master tapes.

But both GSN and Buzzr have had special occasions to feature both unsold pilots and ones to shows that would make it to series.  Usually with offbeat marathons named “Wake the Dead” or “Lost ‘n’ Fun.”  GSN brought forth rarities like the 1963 pilot to Let’s Make A Deal (complete with pitchfilm by Monty Hall) and the little-seen Match Game ’90 pilots starring Bert Convy, while Buzzr has taken it a step further with early forms of Ray Combs’ Family Feud and Family Feud Challenge; Body Language, and  WordPlay with Peter Tomarken hosting in the place of series host Tom Kennedy.  That WordPlay would turn up after 30 years was surreal in itself, but rights issues kept that from lasting.   Besides the known shows, Buzzr has also shown us ones that never made it to TV like TKO, On A Roll, and Star Words. 

9) GSN gets The $10,000 Pyramid, various shows in early 2000s –

We’ll talk about the major acquisitions on GSN later.  But in the early 2000s, GSN brought several titles from out of left field, as they didn’t fit GSN’s usual holdings from neither Fremantle nor Sony.  These included the likes of Win, Lose or Draw (owned by Disney), Love Connection (owned by Warner Bros.), and most notably, Let’s Make A Deal (then owned by Monty Hall himself, soon to move over to Fremantle).  The former two shows were fan favorites throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, while Deal of course was iconic and could be said to deserve a place amongst GSN’s classics.   Barring a tribute to Monty after his passing, reruns have since not been seen on GSN or Buzzr, possibly due to CBS being protective of the Wayne Brady version.  But for years, we got a sampling of different Hall-hosted eras to enjoy in reruns.  And it started with GSN thinking outside the box. 

Now, while GSN was permitted to air most incarnations of Pyramid since 1997, earlier versions were a bit of a problem due to the tapes being lost. This is not the last time you’ll hear about this issue.  As a result, GSN’s holdings were said to only be from 1978 and up, and excluded versions held by outside companies.  So it was another big shock when GSN used a Nick-at-Nite “Vertivision” style schedule for its prime time weekdays, and set aside Thursday evenings for Pyramid, which included the usual samplings of $25,000 and $100,000 episodes from the ‘80s.  The ABC $20,000 Version was there too, but as it was aired previously, so that wasn’t too shocking.  What was shocking was the inclusion of surviving episodes of ABC’s *$10,000* Pyramid, which predated the 1978 line we thought GSN’s Pyramid holdings started at and gave us an early look at the days before everyone mastered the game. 

8) Buzzr Strikes it Rich –

Not the biggest acquisition out there, but one that seemed so random it deserves an entry. The 1986 version of Strike it Rich came and gone in its original broadcast.  In some markets, New York for instance, it disappeared into late night before going away for good.  The show found more success overseas, but was merely a footnote in the States.  

But it was its popularity in the UK that led Strike it Rich to return, sort of.  Because Fremantle owned the rights to the format, they had permission to use the American show, even if Fremantle didn’t necessarily have rights to the Kline and Friends library it came from.  And so by the end of 2018, Buzzr put select episodes of the Joe Garagiola-hosted version onto its Amazon Prime channel.  While it has not made it yet to their televised channel, acknowledging the race against the Bandit came out of nowhere indeed. 

7) GSN airs ABC Password –

And we’re back to the follies of tape wiping.  Because of the lack of foresight from different people, there’s many television series that have portions of their runs, if not the entire series, no longer in existence due to tapes being erased to make room for other programming.  There are other reasons too.  And game show fans especially know of this pain.  One major casualty of tape wiping was the ABC run of Password, which ran from 1971-1975, switching to an all-celebrity tournament format and back in the process.  Because the tapes of this version of Password were recycled, very little of these four years are out there.  A couple of episodes from the All-Stars-and-up era were traded amongst game show fans, with a few earlier episodes to be found in the UCLA Archives. 

So it was another big deal when GSN announced that they had one episode from the ABC era and would air it as a special presentation.  It was a typical, pre-All-Stars-era episode featuring Jack Klugman and his wife, a lady game show fans may have heard of named Brett Somers, playing the word game of the stars with various contestants.  This was the version the “Password” episode of The Odd Couple was based on as a matter of fact, as you could tell by the show’s logo.  While it was a one-shot deal, and aired in an obscure timeslot, it was another appreciated look at a lost era of a legendary game show. 

6) GSN airs Daytime Wheel of Fortune, including one with that other guy –

And speaking of tape erasing, one of the biggest victims was the early part of NBC’s run of Wheel of Fortune, particularly episodes with Chuck Woolery and original hostess Susan Stafford.  The lack tapes existing relegated this chapter of Wheel to the Internet and archives such as the Paley Center.  What doesn’t help matters is that Sony Pictures Television is not keen these days on acknowledging the daytime Wheel, instead only counting the syndicated run as canon.  This policy extends to not even mentioning Pat Sajak’s time on NBC, maybe only showing clips of the first appearance of Vanna White, tops. 

Unsurprisingly, the passing of Merv Griffin in 2007 prompted GSN to run a marathon of Wheel episodes in honor of its creator.   What was a surprise was that the lineup did include a handful of NBC episodes…just as you might think, the usual suspects like Vanna’s first episode and Pat’s last were there.  But in a shock, the marathon began with… a Woolery episode from 1976.  I still say the marathon would make an ideal best-of DVD set for Wheel overall.  But this appearance by its original host, and by shows from its daytime roots, made this a pleasant – and surreal – day for Wheel Watchers. 

Part 2 of this list will come out next week! What are the top 5? Come back and find out!

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