Friday, February 02, 2007

Match Game

The original Hollywood Squares and Tattle Tales are in the same ball park, but the all time best game show must be the Match Game. Not the original in the late '60s, and not the later remakes (such as the 1990 travesty), but the long running version beginning in 1973. I bless the television deities for allowing the re-runs to be shown nightly on the Game Show Network!

Sure, I'm glad to see some star struck contestant win some extra cash. And, yes, I'm amused to revisit what passed for fashion in the 1970s. And I enjoy the quirky unhummable theme song. But what I like most is the chemistry of the celebrity panel (and, of course, the host Gene Rayburn).

The regulars: Brett Summers (wife of Jack Klugman), Charles Nelson Reilly (accomplished theatre actor and director and fairly obvious homosexual), and Dick Dawson (television actor and game show host).
The rotating semi-regulars: Betty White (television actor), Patty Deutsch (voice over actor), Joyce Bulifant (I honestly don't know what the hell else she ever did), and the FABULOUS Fanny Flagg (brilliant author).

In addition to the two contestants and broadcasting veteran Gene Rayburn, there was the gender balanced panel of 6 celebrities. Somehow, this arrangement lent itself to humorous, smart, and even naughty play. It was a combination party/variety entertainment/improvisational theatre that included audience participation and almost at the margins, two contestants competing for fairly modest sums of money.

In addition to the 3 regulars, 3 other "stars" would rotate in from week to week. The first celebrity panelist would be either a charming (Bob Barker), sexy (Bert Convey), or quirky (Nimpsey Russell) personality, always male. Next to this rotating first chair was Brett and Charles.

The next row on the panel would be Dawson with two women on either side. The first woman usually played the part of a sexy, buxom, "airhead" (Ethel Merman and Dr. Joyce Brothers being notable exceptions) and the final panelists would rotate funny, smart women who could be counted on to give off-the-wall answers (Flagg, Bulifant, White, Deutsch).

This formula created an energy on stage that has not been matched in American television history. The Match Game modeled community building, use of intellect and wit, spontenaity, and the value of fun. I long for that kind of intelligent, clever, cohesive (but not overly rehearsed) entertainment again. The Match Game made me feel smart, witty, sophisticated, and part of a group of people who would never meet me in person. That kind of magic is needed in our world today. I hope such a spell can be cast over the airways again.

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