Sunday, April 03, 2022

Master of the Squares

Started off my morning with a very quick breakfast. It was raining and blowing when I awoke, but by the time I got to eating, the rain was just slowing down. I didn't have the time to update my Uber and opted to just take the bike instead. It remained windy, but the rain died as I arrived at work. 

Between the weather and this being the first Sunday of the month, work was a mess for almost the entire afternoon. We had long lines, huge orders, and not enough people to deal with them, especially later in the day. Thankfully, it started to slow down by the time I was almost done. I was able to get off just in time with no relief. 

Went straight home and had a quick leftovers dinner, then did a little writing. Queen Helen's acting very peculiar, telling Brett about jam today and jam tomorrow, and talking about how in Looking Glass Land, everyone knows what will happen in advance. Which turns out to be a good thing, as one of the "advance memories" Helen has is of Sir Richard being in danger...

Finished out the night after a shower with YouTube. Peter Marshall just turned 96 this week (after surviving a bout with the virus), so we honored him with plenty of Hollywood Squares. Marshall started out as a stage actor (he did the musical Skyscraper on Broadway with Charles Nelson Reilly) and came to Squares almost by accident. Bert Parks was the host in the pilot, but Marshall took the job mainly because he didn't want Dan Rowan, whom he didn't get along with, to. 

Hollywood Squares involves nine celebrities sitting behind a tic tac toe board. They each have to answer a bluff or multiple choice question. The contestant has to agree or disagree with them. If they're right, they get money. One panelist is "the Secret Square" who has a special prize. The contestant who choose the square and guesses right wins the prize. 

Marshall had a hard time reining in his panelists at first. Match Game-level anarchy didn't really suit this show. After the first year or two, they started scripting the gags, or 'zingers," the panelists tossed out with their answers. This suited long-time center square Paul Lynde just fine. Lynde preferred to work with a script anyway, and tossing out nasty zingers was a specialty of his, as we see in the 1976 nighttime episode I have here. 

While Squares did lose some fans to Match Game in the mid-70's, it remained popular enough to run on NBC until 1980. Like Match Game, it moved to syndication in its final years. Unlike their rival, they also went to the Riviera in Las Vegas for filming. That made no one, including Marshall, happy. They complained about their accommodations and losing panelists to the casino floor. Fortunately, they didn't have to complain for long, The show came to an end in 1981. 

Ironically, Marshall did turn up on Match Game several times during their syndicated years, including one week that started off with him coming in for Gene Rayburn. (Gene often talked about how much the two resembled each other; personally, I don't see it.) He actually played quite well, including a 10,000 Head-to-Head win. 

Like Rayburn, Marshall never found another show that replicated Squares' success. All-Star Blitz in 1985 was a cross between Squares and Concentration. Marshall asks four celebrities questions. If the contestants get it right, they can uncover a word or letter on a huge board until they guess the words or phrase. The show was pretty obviously imitation Squares, and while not without its charms (Betty White turned up in the episode here), it didn't even last a year.

Yahtzee! from 1988 didn't get that lucky. Marshall found himself filming in a casino again, this time from Trump Castle (now the Golden Nugget) in Atlantic City. It's a weird hybrid of Match Game, High Rollers, and Hot Potato. Two teams of same-sex contestants from the same occupation - shop girls and fishermen in the first episode - have to guess what five panelists will say. If they guess enough correctly, they can roll the dice for prizes. Marshall did what he could, but the format was unwieldly, to say the least, and hard to follow. It barely lasted two months and ended in a flurry of litigations between its producers.

Marshall's hosting career went out with the whimper that was The Reel to Reel Picture Show. Two contestants and two celebrities answer trivia on this very, very low-budget PAX TV game show from 1998. As much fun as watching paint dry, especially if you're a movie fan like me and can easily answer the trivia before the contestants do. 

Marshall did have one last blaze of glory. In 2002, he was one of the ten game show panelists or hosts from years passed who appeared on the then-current Tom Bergenon version of Hollywood Squares for Game Show Week. He took over hosting an episode and didn't miss a beat, tossing out quips and questions as if he'd been hosted the show from the beginning. (Also on that week were some familiar Match Game faces - Jimmie Walker, and sitting in one square, the final appearance of Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly together). 

You won't be square if you check out these episodes and honor the king of squares, reels, and complicated dice! 

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