#144 - Top Five Reasons Why Match Game 1998 Failed
Paying tribute to the red-headed stepchild of the Match Game franchise.

 

Syndication (1998-1999)
Text by: Robert Seidelman


I will be honest. I like watching the failed 1998 revival of Match Game. 

It was a very fun show to watch, even with all of its faults and negative reception.  I want to also preface that this write-up is not an induction of the show, since the show as a whole was better than the sum of its parts.  I give much credit to the show's executive producer Jay Wolpert for taking some defective parts and some amazing parts and made a nice machine that provided some entertainment for those who weren't jaded by a show that was vastly different from the 1970s and 1990 counterparts.  While the amazing parts were amazing, like host Michael Burger, announcer Paul Boland, Vicki Lawrence and the party-sounding theme, the defective parts of the show were more defective than usual.  So, let's take a look at the defective parts that caused the entire show to come crashing down.  Here are the top five reasons that Match Game 1998 failed the way it did. 

#5: The Five Panelist Format

When people think of Match Game they think of six witty and funny panelists.  Every version after 1973 did this.  The Match Game Hollywood Squares Hour had 6 during the Match Game part, the 1990 version had 6, the What The Blank? pilot had 6 and the recent 2012 Canadian version had 6.  The 1998 version had only 5. 

I don't get the five-panelist aspect.  It just feels like they are stretching the comedy at the cost of the game.  In most instances, that's exactly what happened.  The talk between Michael and the celebs at the beginning would become tedious at times, especially with Judy Tenuta's antics, but we'll get to that later.  It also smacks of cheapness, like they couldn't book six celebs at a time due to not having enough cash, so they'd settle for a 5 celeb format to get the show going.  There really isn't much else to talk about here, it just didn't feel like the Match Game that I saw in 1990 or what was on Game Show Network at the time.  It just didn't feel like a Match Game revival without that last component of the show since that sixth seat always brought the drama and the funny, especially if Fannie Flagg, Betty White or Joyce Bulifant were there.  Match Game 1998 didn't have that drama.

#4: A Pretty Lame Pitch Film

There's a saying that goes that it only takes thirty seconds to make a first impression and that first impression sticks with you.  The first impression that the pitch film gave out made it look like it was something that left the show much left to be desired. 

At its core, the pitch film was two parts.  The first one was hyping up host Michael Burger and his work on Mike and Maty and Home and Family.  The second part of the pitch film was host Michael Burger going around downtown Los Angeles asking some passers by some match game style questions and getting their answers, with some classic answers given by the old guard of the show, such as Richard Dawson, Brett Somers, Betty White and Charles Nelson Reilly.

 I can understand wanting to put over a host who really is a spectacular host, but the host should always be secondary to the game itself.  The show itself needs to be put over.  Sadly, we never got to see the show throughout the pitch film.  We got to see clips of Michael playing questions with passers by, but no clips of the actual pilot of the 1998 version itself.  If I were making a pitch film to sell a show to stations for prime access, I would intermix Michael's interaction with the passers by with clips from the pilots to show just how fun the show is and how catchy the game is.  Instead, it's just dull and uninteresting.  No wonder why it wasn't given any good timeslots when it debuted.

#3 The Mid-Season Set Revamp

Sometimes a great set can help a show. Granted, Match Game 1998 didn't have that great of a set, but the original set was bright, simple, lively and brought lots and lots of energy. 

This was a set that looked like it was a party atmosphere, which was what Match Game 1998 tried to convey, and it worked.  It was also helped out by an open where the audience was rushing to get to the party and watch it.  I remember Michael Burger often calling the show a party at the beginning, and that's what Match Game at its heart was; one gigantic party.  Mid-season though, the set underwent a big cosmetic change. 

This doesn't convey much of a party atmosphere that the older set did.  Instead, this one was more of your atypical forced game show party set.  Not only that, the intro didn't convey much of a party either, instead it was just yet another lame intro.  Also, the show itself looked like it wasn't much of a party either, save for in between the commercial breaks when Paul Boland and the celebs and Burger himself would come out and entertain the audience during the stop downs.  The game itself was taken much more seriously and the panelists themselves had to find funny ways to keep the show going, so you'd get stuff like what would Nell Carter would wear and other weird things.  If you watch a show with the original set, you have vibrancy and energy.  With the 2nd colored set, you get a staid affair.  It felt like a game show instead of a party, which is what match game is, a party. 

One last quick observation.  It looked like they swiped the innards from the Scattegories head and flung them on the set.

#2: The Cheap Grand Prize

The year was 1998 and alongside Match Game in new shows debuting was Hollywood Squares.  What did that show offer?  Tons of cash and cars.  Let's also take a look at the other game shows that were in syndication and daytime. Wheel boasted tons of cash and some nice prizes, Jeopardy offered lots of cash for those that were intelligent, and Price Is Right frequently gave away showcases that were in excess of $15,000. 

Compare that to what was being offered on Match Game.  A lowly $5,000.  While a good game can hide the fact the grand prize was dinky, the 1998 version was played for laughs rather than life-changing amounts of money, or have a very interesting game behind it.  I remember one contestant coming on the show after he got a speeding ticket and won enough to pay off the ticket, which was only $100.  Speaking of comparing it to other shows, we also need to compare it to the original where it was possible to give away $10,000 in 1978, $20,000 in the PM version and when the show went into syndication in 1979, $30,000 in 1983-4 when it was paired up with Hollywood Squares and again $10,000 in 1990-1991 for ABC when Ross Shafer hosted it, but with returning champions with the biggest winner of the series winning over $31,000.  They tried to bolster it a bit by giving away a Zenith 25 inch color TV if a winning contestant didn't win the big money. 

 With a grand prize that cheap, it felt more like a cable game show being syndicated.  Especially since there were shows on cable at that time that were giving away $5,000 grand prizes in Win Ben Stein's Money, Supermarket Sweep (although in reruns since 1995) and sometimes more with Shop Til You Drop and Debt (which offered $10,000+ every episode).  Hell, the short-lived and only shown in four markets 100% offered a $100,000 grand prize, making the grand prize for this show seem really unimpressive.  We were getting into an age where if you were a game show and was nationally syndicated, you needed to give away at least five figures or have a great game behind it, Match Game 1998 had neither.

#1: Judy Tenuta

If there were a draft for some of the worst panelists in game show history, Judy Tenuta would be a damned good #1 pick. 

 Where to even begin with her?  She was a comedienne who was always known for being out there with her material, even coming out with a comedy record called Buy This, Pigs in 1987 and being one of the last few character comediennes to come from that era of comedy.  I saw her standup work and it's alright.  I got a few laughs out of it, so she's not as terrible as Daniel Rosen's comedy act, but I wouldn't go out of my way to track down her albums, especially her album, Attention, Butt Pirates and Lesberterians.  However, being a comedienne usually means she'd be good at coming up with stuff on the fly, which would be great for a show like Match Game or Hollywood Squares. 

Unfortunately, she would become the biggest problem with the show.  During the first couple of minutes of the show, either during when Michael Burger is getting everyone situated or the contestant interviews, she'll go into an annoying routine about how she'd call Michael "daddy" when he's trying to get some order to the show, usually climbing onto the desk and sometimes with her posterior shaking, wanting him to discipline her.  It totally borders on the obnoxious and makes me want to flip the channel. 

Speaking of obnoxious, she would sometimes take the game about as seriously as people take Jemele Hill's commentaries on ESPN.  When she does play the game normally, she's alright.  However, she does have the tendency to not play the game normally and come up with some really inside jokes that only she would get.  Most notably, her joke answers would be Mom's Mabley.  I can't even comprehend that one.  I know that the other panelists from older versions would come up with some really off the wall answers and in-jokes, but at least they were hilarious or just in enough to get laughs from the audience.  Judy would give answers only funny to her and other followers of her religion, Judyism (a really unfunny play on Judaism). 

In the future, I'll have to do a deeper look at Judy on here and on Hollywood Squares to really hammer into why she was a terrible panelist on any show, but with all things considered, she is the worst thing about Match Game 1998. 

I like watching Match Game from 1998, but this annoyance needs to just shut up and play the game.