I was speaking to someone tonight about game show hosts. I’ll let you in on a poorly kept secret – I’ve always wanted to be a game show host.
I remember the classic Mary Tyler Moore Show episode when Ted is asked to host a game show. Lou, trying to stop him from making the move says, “Ted… is that what you want to be… a quizzzzzz-master?” The “z” in quiz prolonged, to make the point.
That night I yelled at my TV – “YES! I do.”
I’m not sure when or why the job started to appeal to me. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that as host you always knew the answer to questions, even when the contestants didn’t. Maybe it’s because, as a kid growing up in New York City, most of my local TV heroes also hosted game shows.
Back, sometime in the early sixties, I actually went to a live broadcast at 30 Rock. I don’t remember the show, or who the host was. I remember Wayne Howell, the announcer.
Wayne warmed up the audience. Considering my age at the time, it was probably my first experience seeing standup. He was very funny. The jokes were very corny. There is one joke Wayne did that day that I have stolen as my own.
The floor director counted down the time to air, saying “one minute,” “30 seconds,” and finally “10 seconds to go.” At which time without missing a beat, Wayne Howell said, “If you have to.”
The audience screamed, and we were on our way. Forty years later that cheap, little joke still has significance to me. He pulled it off so well.
There have been some excellent hosts. Looking back at the old tapes on Game Show Network, I can see why I loved Match Game’s Gene Rayburn. He was so fast on his feet and always listening, making him topically funny.
Even when he used a contestant’s flub as the butt of his joke, he never came off as anything but nice. It’s easy to make a joke at someone else’s expense and look mean. He was masterful in avoiding that trap.
Bill Cullen was another great host, but in a different way. He was more of a bright everyman. I don’t remember him throwing one liners, but as with Rayburn, he was always listening and responding.
The most important on-air quality for a host to possess is his/her ability to make the audience believe he’s rooting for the contestant. Watch Pat Sajack spin the wheel in the final round – always finding big money. It’s no accident. I think viewers sense Pat is consciously doing that, and subconsciously they like it and him.
Bert Convey was that way too. Though he did a number of shows, I think his best work was on Tattletales. Tattletales was a show where celebrity husbands and their (now divorced or deceased) wives would be quizzed on what they knew about each other. It was similar to, but less low brow, smarmy or sexual than the Newlywed Game. Convery was everyone’s friend, always helping.
I’d like to throw Chuck Barris into this mix for his work on the Gong Show, but I suspect I was watching one very stoned individual who would be incapable to duplicating his performance while straight. I really don’t know that, but it’s my assumption.
And there’s Chuck Woolery, Allen Ludden, Bob Barker, Tom Bergeron, Ken Ober, Regis, and a host of others who’d be offended if they ever came across this site and saw I left out their name. That’s life – get over it.
Without game shows I wouldn’t know about the Michael C. Fina Company or Spiegel – Chicago 60601 or that it was McCormick in the east and Schilling in the west (or was it the other way around) or remember Kathy Lee Gifford as Kathy Lee Johnson, when she was adorable and sang 5 seconds at a time on Name That Tune..
As is often the case in the performing arts, it’s not just the game ,or just the host, but a plethora of interlocking imponderables that make for a success or failure. Chuck Woolery never had the success with Wheel that Pat Sajack does. A number of different hosts tried doing syndicated, nighttime versions of the Price is Right – without success.
I’ve seen Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, from Singapore, hosted by The Flying Dutchman (a morning disk jockey there). Same set, same music, same game. It needed Regis.
Who knows if I’ll ever get the chance? I’d move heaven and Earth. It’s a crap shoot, I suppose. Whether I’m talented or not, being the weatherman in New Haven is probably not a huge selling point. Though I’m immature for my age, it might be said that I’m too old.
I hope I’d be good at it. It would be fun to find out. I think I already know how to play the game.