|Gene Rayburn and his telescoping mike.|
|The original version with Gene flanked by two celebrities.|
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.