Sunday, July 31, 2016

Gene Rayburn and "The Match Game"

Gene Rayburn and his telescoping mike.
The latest revival of The Match Game--this time as a summer TV series hosted by Alec Baldwin--comes 54 years after the debut of the original. Frank Wayne, who later executive produced The Price Is Right for many years, created The Match Game for Mark Goodson/Bill Todman Productions. It premiered on NBC as a daytime quiz show in 1962 (it aired at 4:00 where I lived).

The show's format was simple. There were two teams, each consisting of two celebrities and one contestant. Teammates tried to match each other's answers to a fill-in-the-blank statement like: "John gave Mary a shiny new ____ for her birthday." A team earned 25 points if two teammates had a match and 50 points if all three had the same answer. The first team to score 100 points won the game.

The winning team then played "audience match," in which they won money for matching answers given by the studio audience in an earlier survey. This part of The Match Game was very similar to the later (even more successful) game show, The Family Feud.

The original version with Gene flanked by two celebrities.
Gene Rayburn hosted The Match Game and it was his personality, along the humorous and later risque questions, that made the quiz show a hit. Rayburn had worked in radio, television, and theater since the 1940s. He began as a page at NBC and attended its "announcer's school" before serving in the Army as a pilot during World War II. After the war, he found success on WNEW radio in New York City, teaming with Dee Finch on the show Rayburn and Finch. During this time, Rayburn popularized the novelty hit The Hop Scotch Polka and even received a co-composer credit with Carl Sigman and William Whitlock (the origin of this song could be the subject of an entire post.)

When The Tonight Show was launched with Steve Allen as the host in 1954, Gene Rayburn became the announcer and Allen's second banana (even appearing in skits). Rayburn's national exposure sealed his fame in the entertainment business and he subsequently guest-starred in TV series (Robert Montgomery Presents, The Love Boat), hosted several games shows, and even replaced Dick Van Dyke in Bye, Bye Birdie on Broadway.

Yet, Gene Rayburn is best remembered for The Match Game. The popular quiz show had a good run on NBC from 1962 to 1969. However, it might have been forgotten if not for the CBS revival, intially dubbed Match Game '73, that first appeared in--you guessed it--1973. The number of celebrities was expanded to six and the format was tweaked so that two contestants competed against each other by trying to match answers with the six-member panel. In addition to more celebrities, the naughtiness also increased, with questions such as: "You could tell by the way she was dressed that she was a ________" (the most common celebrity answers were "swinger" and "hooker").

Gene joking with Joan Collins, Richard Dawson, and _____.

Regular panelists on the new Match Game included Richard Dawson, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Brett Somers (who was recommended by her husband Jack Klugman). Other celebrities that appeared frequently were: Betty White, Dick Martin, MacLean Stevenson, Elaine Joyce, Marcia Wallace, Fannie Flagg, Gary Burghoff, Bert Convy, and Joyce Bulifant.

A syndicated nighttime version called March Game PM, also hosted by Rayburn, aired from 1975-1981. And when CBS canceled the daytime version in 1978, it continued in syndication for another three years. There have been various revivals over the years. The format has also been exported to other countries under the title Blankety Blanks (in Australia, for example, it was called Graham Kennedy's Blankety Blanks).

When TV Guide ranked the Top 60 Game Shows of All Time in 2013, The Match Game came in at No. 4, right behind Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, and Family Feud. And when TIME Magazine listed the 15 Best Game Show Hosts, who was it in the No. 4 slot following Bob Barker, Groucho Marx, and Gary Moore? That's an easy match: Gene Rayburn.

8 comments:

  1. I loved Gene on The Match Game, and I remember him as a congenial host on Radio's Weekend Monitor broadcast. The current revival of this show and Pyramid are extremely lacking in quality. My wife and I like to catch reruns of Pyramid hosted by Dick Clark on GSN. Dick knew what the audience liked.... to be able to watch a word play game show. He treated it with respect. Sadly, most television today is lacking said respect.

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    1. Yes, Gene Rayburn was truly one-of-a-kind. Don't think MATCH GAME would have been as popular without him.

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  2. I've been enjoying all of the older game shows during the past few years but I have not yet seen The Match Game. It does indeed sound a lot like Family Feud! I just can't picture Gene Rayburn playing Dick Van Dyke's role in Bye Bye Birdie. He had a brief part in It Happened to Jane where he was, once again, holding a microphone to his mouth.

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  3. When it was two celeb team leaders, Edgar Bergen introduced his daughter, nineteen year-old "Candy". Think she got tv/movie offers the minute she appeared. Even Charles Nelson Reilly would've been stunned, had he been on it then....

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    1. And she went on to have a long film and TV career!

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  4. I don't remember the two celebrities and one contestant, I thought it was one celebrity and two contestants. I am probably wrong.


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  5. I had searched all day long for somethins like this.
    lucky patcher

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  6. Gene Rayburn looks like the ultimate TV Game Show Host, and I mean that in the best possible way. It seems to me a game show host would have to be very smart and quick on his/her feet. It sounds like Gene gave audiences their money's worth!

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