Sunday, September 04, 2022

The Day the Games Changed

Overslept and barely had time for breakfast and writing in my journal this morning. I dashed off to work quick as I could. Good thing I barely saw any cars anywhere, not going to work or coming home. Most people were probably at church or sleeping at 9 and had gone to the Shore or were out enjoying the sunny, humid day by 3 PM.

Ended up in a register today. They usually have plenty of bagging help on the weekends. We were busy almost the entire afternoon. On one hand, it went pretty fast. I still have trouble dealing with people, though, especially trying to explain what our rewards program is or why people can't mix and match soda brands, only flavors within those brands. I can never seem to get the right words out. People say they understand, but it doesn't sound right. 

Rushed out as quickly as possible. Went straight home and into bed. I could barely keep my eyes open by the time I did. It didn't really do much good. I remained tired, even when I got up almost two hours later. 

Read Jolene, one of the Mercedes Lackey Elemental Masters books, then worked on writing. Richard's suggestion for armor with union-suit like flaps is universally rejected as Marcia takes them into the dungeons. Brett notes that the Red Knights don't stop them. That's because she's in charge of them now. 

Broke for dinner at 7 PM. Watched The Price Is Right: The Barker Era while I ate and had dessert. In honor of their 50th anniversary today, Barker Era ran episodes from the early-mid 80's with unusually large or exciting Showcase wins for the time. I came in as a woman in a pretty red and white dress won all of the smaller prizes and the boat on the Shell Game. She did miss the extra $500, but she had fewer problems with the wheel. She went on to win her "Pieces of America" patriotic-themed Showcase with an American sports car, a trip to Washington DC, and a bonus signed photo of John Philips Sousa and went home with over $30,000, a substantial amount for the time. 

After a shower, I went on YouTube to see where it all began. Price is one of three game shows CBS debuted on September 4th, 1972 that changed how game shows worked forever. The premiere episode of The New Price Is Right looks quite a bit different from even the mid-80's episode I watched earlier. It had a very early 70's brown-and-orange earth-toned color scheme, and Johnny Olsen sounded noticeably subdued calling contestants to "come on down." The first lady, Carrie, looked a lot like Charlotte Rae and acted eager but suspicious, not sure how any of this would work. Ironically, the very first item up for bids, a fur coat, makes this a episode a rarity today (Barker banned episodes with fur coats later, due to his animal rights activism). 

The Joker's Wild, which originally played at 10 AM as the lead-in to Price, managed to be even bigger in every sense of the word. Jack Barry and his producing partner Dick Enright were blackballed in the TV industry after their show Twenty-One from the late 50's turned out to be fixed. No fixing needed here! The huge set represented a slot machine, allowing two contestants to pull levers and answer trivia from a list of subjects that came up on the machine. If they get a Joker, they can choose whatever subject they like. Two slots mean two answers; one means one answer. The bonus round had them spinning 12 slots for money; if they get a Devil, they lose the pot. 

I forgot how much I used to enjoy this show when the syndicated version ran on USA in the 1980's. Jack Barry also made a comeback as a host, and he kept everything moving at a lightning-fast pace. That huge set is still pretty nifty today. I can only imagine how crazy it must have looked to audiences in 1972.

Gambit premiered after Price. Heatter-Quigley, creators of Hollywood Squares, re-imagined black jack as a huge game show. This time, charming southern disc jockey Wink Martindale led couples through answering a series of multiple choice or true and false questions. The couple who got the right answer chooses a card off the top of an oversized deck of playing cards. They could then keep it for their hand, or pass it to their opponents. They also had the option of freezing if they thought they had a card that could push them over 21. Winners went on to the Gambit board, where the chose prizes from behind 21 cards. They could either continue to attempt to get 21, or stop with what prizes they had up until then.

Sadly, most of Gambit doesn't survive today, including its premiere episode. Heatter-Quigley continued erasing their shows into the 1980's. The tape is terrible on the episode from 1974 I went with, but it does seem to be pretty emblematic of the show as a whole. We even get a good glimpse of that huge 21 bonus board. 

To give you an idea of why these three shows were so huge in 1972 and early '73, let's see what the competition put out then. Concentration and Jeopardy on NBC, with their clicking rebus board and slide-based questions, look almost quaint by comparison. Both of these shows are also largely lost, but Concentration's series finale from a year later and a 1974 black-and-white episode of Jeopardy! give you an idea of how their simple game play and colorful-if-smaller sets were suddenly considered to be outdated. Likewise, Three On a Match with Bill Cullen eventually updated to include the snazzier board seen in this rare 1974 episode. 

ABC wasn't in direct competition with CBS - their game shows at the time aired in the afternoon. The 1970's version of Password had already been running a year by this point. Goodson-Todman did go in for a larger, more elaborate set, but the game play and host Allen Ludden remained largely the same as they had in the mid-60's. Their attempts to jazz things up in response to the popularity of Price and its ilk, including increasing the money on the Lightning Round and an extra "elimination round" with four contestants, proved unpopular. It wasn't until Password Plus in 1979 that Goodson-Todman figured out how to update Password while keeping the fast-paced but simple game play intact. 

Go back in time to see the beginnings of two game-show favorites and one that deserves to be better-known and how they changed the way game shows are played and presented! (Three on a Match is in two parts, but that's another show with episodes that are hard to come by. Look for the original commercials on The New Price Is Right episode!)

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