He Got Game
"Many people have the idea that game shows are easy to come up with," Bob Barker once said. "And nothing could be further from the truth." The same goes for hosting a game show. But here are 20 TV personalities who have made it look easy, starting with the retired host of "The Price Is Right" as he celebrates his 95th birthday.
Quick-witted and avuncular, Bob Barker ruled the game show landscape for a half-century, first as host of "Truth or Consequences" (1956 to 1974) and then as czar of "The Price Is Right" (until his retirement in 2007). With pencil-thin microphone in hand and his "Come on down!" invitation, he played ringmaster to the "Price Is Right" circus with tongue firmly in cheek, always dignified but ever willing to mix it up with his raucous studio audience. Winner of 14 Daytime Emmys, the 95-year-old Barker is still active as an animal rights activist,
Bob Barker had the more fitting name, but Monty Hall, emcee and creator of "Let's Make a Deal," was the ultimate carnival barker as game show host. With his checkered blazers and pockets full of cash, the affable con man (who died in 2017) bartered with his outlandishly dressed audience, giving contestants the opportunity to choose door 1, 2 or 3, behind any of which might be a new car or just a bucket of cottage cheese. Hall's aim was to get home viewers "yelling at the screen," he once said. "Then you know you've got an audience."
As the host of "Password" from 1961 to 1975, Allen Ludden would casually lean over his podium and shoot a gently sardonic look over his glasses toward the viewing audience as a pair of celebrities—often including his wife, Betty White (seen here)—and two contestants tried to connect clue to word. Although "Password" has been revived many times since Ludden's death in 1981, it has never been the same. As Betty White said when asked why she never remarried, "Once you've had the best, who needs the rest?"
For 34 years and over 7,000 episodes, "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek has presented himself as the man with all the answers, and audiences have loved him for it. Along the way, he has won five Emmys for Outstanding Game Show Host and picked up a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Not to mention being immortalized by Will Ferrell on "Saturday Night Live." His gift is his ability to make every viewer shouting answers at the TV feel like the smartest one in the room—even though we know that distinction belongs to Trebek himself..
A Vietnam vet (he was a DJ for Armed Forces Radio in Saigon), Sajak took over "Wheel of Fortune" duties from its original host Chuck Woolery in 1981, bringing to the show a folksy and gently self-mocking everyman personality that instantly endeared him to audiences—and, 37 years later, still does. With longtime sidekick Vanna White, he makes it all look easy. As Sajak puts it, with characteristic modesty, "Sometimes you just stumble into something that works."
Chuck Woolery may have dropped the ball in 1981 when he quit his gig as the original host of "Wheel of Fortune" in a salary dispute with producer Merv Griffin. But the former truck driver rebounded in 1983 with his long-running "Love Connection," a dating game show on which he starred until 1994. Part host and part couple's therapist, Woolery was like Dr. Phil, but better looking and more fun. A staunch conservative, he currently hosts the political podcast "Blunt Force."
Sporting a crew cut and a bow tie, the affable Gary Moore presided over "I've Got a Secret" from 1952 to 1964, challenging an all-star panel to guess the hidden accomplishment or mystery identity of each show's guests. Whether it was a man who had collected seven miles of string or a celebrity such as Carol Burnett, Woody Allen, Ronald Reagan or Lucille Ball, Moore always kept the vault locked, though he would occasionally drop a subtle hint.
Earlier known for his co-starring role as a prisoner of war on "Hogan's Heroes," Richard Dawson had a spectacular second act as the playfully smarmy host of "Family Feud," beginning in 1975 (the same year as "Saturday Night Live," which featured classic sketches with Bill Murray as Dawson). Planting a kiss for luck on the lips of every female contestant, Dawson, who died in 2012, made everyone feel like family.
"The Match Game," which premiered in 1962, was one of the most popular daytime shows of all time. The actual game—a fill-in-the-blank competition in which contestants try to match the answers of celebrity panelists—hardly mattered. Winnings were secondary. It was host Gene Rayburn's witty and freewheeling banter that made audiences tune in. ("We're sorry you didn't win any money, but you will be receiving a broken clavicle and a jar of olives," Rayburn told one contestant.) NBC cancelled the show in 1969, but it returned on CBS thanks to popular demand.
Like many game show hosts, Bob Eubanks started out as a radio DJ. In 1966, he jumped over to daytime television as host of "The Newlywed Game," on which young husbands and wives competed in a sometimes naughty test of marital knowledge. With leering double entendres and pregnant pauses, Eubanks dodged network censors through multiple iterations of "The Newlywed Game," making him the only host to span six decades with a single game show.
Already a household name as co-host of the morning show "Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee," Regis Philbin became a game show superstar in 1999 with the first incarnation of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," which awarded an unprecedented million bucks to the lucky winner and gave the world Regis' famous catchphrase, "Is that your final answer?" At the height of its popularity, "Millionaire" ran five nights a week and drew in more than 30 million viewers a day.
Presiding over "The Dating Game" from 1965 to 1980, Jim Lange was the swingingest game show host around, often decked out in a wide-labeled neon jacket or a pastel-colored tux. The show, on which three eligible bachelors vied for an all-expenses-paid luxury date with a single female contestant, featured a number of stars before they became famous, including Farrah Fawcett, Tom Selleck, Suzanne Somers and Steve Martin. (Another contestant became infamous: future serial killer Rodney Alcala, aka The Dating Game Killer). Lange, who died in 2014, handled it all with aplomb and a wink to the audience.
He started out as half of a comedy duo, even appearing in an episode of "I Love Lucy." But Peter Marshall found his true calling as the straight-man host of "The Hollywood Squares" (1966 to 1981), setting up one-liners for the likes of Morey Amsterdam, Florence Henderson, Rose Marie, Charo and, in the all-important center square, Paul Lynde as contestants competed for cash prizes. Now 92, Marshall was among the first to be inducted into the American TV Game Show Hall of Fame.
He was journeyman game show host, best known for helming the less-than-challenging "Tic-Tac-Dough" from 1978 to 1985, but Wink Martindale certainly has the best game show host name in the business. Now 85, he was an early discoverer and friend of Elvis Presley, who appeared on Martindale's Memphis-based TV show "Teenage Dance Party" in 1956. Said Wink of his game show career: "You go to work, tape five shows in one day and then go home and play golf for the rest of the week and then start the week all over. I thought if something like that came along, I'd love to do that."
Groucho Marx was already a legend of stage and screen—the fast-talking, cigar-smoking, low-walking leader of the Marx Brothers—when he became the host of "You Bet Your Life." In fact, the primary purpose of this 1950s quiz show was to showcase Groucho's biting wit and eyebrow wiggle. The questions were along the lines of "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?" and every contestant came away a winner. If a player happened to stumble upon the "secret word" of the day, a toy duck with Groucho-style eyeglasses and mustache descended from the ceiling to deliver a $100 prize.
Though better known as the host of "American Bandstand" and "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve," the perpetually youthful-looking Dick Clark also hosted the "The $10,000 Pyramid" for 15 years. The long-running show (which evolved into "The $100,000 Pyramid") challenged contestants to guess a series of words or phrases based on descriptions given to them by their teammates. While it didn't rise to the "Jeopardy!" level of difficulty, Clark's "Pyramid"—he hosted the show from 1973 to 1988—was one of the smarter game shows on TV. Clark died in 2012.
At the center of the great game show scandal of the '50s, Jack Barry was co-producer and host of the prime-time NBC quiz show "Twenty-One." It turned out the show—which gave out six-figure prizes—was fixed. Contestants (most famously Charles Van Doren) were fed answers before going on the air. And Barry knew it. When this became public, the ensuing scandal knocked "Twenty-One" and just about every other game show off the air. Still, the TV game show eventually rebounded and thrived—as did Barry, who went on to create and host "The Joker's Wild."
Billed as the Queen of Mean, Anne Robinson ruled over "The Weakest Link" for only a year in prime time before it was cancelled (the show later went into syndication with a different host). Still, the icy, no-nonsense Brit made her mark with a signature kiss-off, dismissing the losing contestants with the cold catchphrase:"You are the weakest link, Goodbye."
Bill Cullen had a seat on just about every game show panel throughout the 1950s and '60s. And when he wasn't serving as a panelist, the crew-cut, bespectacled TV personality hosted 23 game shows, from "The Price Is Right" (he was its original host) to "The Joker's Wild" (he stepped in after Jack Barry's death in 1984). Cullen, who died in 1990, was nicknamed the Dean of the Game Show Hosts. "I never considered myself a top-flight announcer," he said. "I'm not an actor ... but this I can do."
Not many could have filled Bob Barker's impeccably shined shoes after his 35-year reign as host of "The Price Is Right," but comedian Drew Carey has done very well for himself—and for the show's still loyal audience—with his signature light touch. "I'm down to earth," Carey says of his appeal. "People sense that and they appreciate it."
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