Monday, June 12, 2017

The Comfort TV Game Shows on Buzzr

As someone who already watches too much television, the last thing I needed was another reason to stay on the couch and avoid other activities. But when DISH Network added Buzzr to its channel options, I knew I was in trouble. 

What is Buzzr? It’s what Game Show Network used to be when that channel was worth watching. The lineup includes the classic celebrity panel shows from the 1950s (What’s My Line, I’ve Got a Secret, To Tell the Truth) and many of the 1970s hits the played daily mornings and afternoons throughout the decade – Sale of the Century, Press Your Luck, Tattletales, Match Game, Password Plus.

For some fans these shows are the ultimate in comfort TV – bright lights, bold colors, happy hosts, chirpy music, and nice people winning stuff they need. Here’s what I learned after about two weeks of watching several hours worth of vintage game shows every day.

In Card Sharks, the worst thing you can do is pass.
I can’t even count how many times a contestant froze on a pretty decent card  – like a five or a jack – and then lost control of the board and subsequently lost the game when their opponent ran the table. When you have control of the cards, you should keep it. And yes, I realize this advice is about 30 years too late to do anyone any good. 

Table shuffleboard can be exciting.
The 1970s version of Beat the Clock pitted two teams of couples against each other, with a winning team decided by a table shuffleboard game, in which players alternated sliding discs toward a series of lines representing escalating sums of money. Whichever team had completed more stunts at that point received three discs while the other team received two. You wouldn’t think there would be that many variations in what could happen, but every match I watched was more exciting than anything I saw at last year’s Rio Olympics. 

Jim Perry was really good at his job
In the show business hierarchy, game show hosts have never ranked very high.
But in watching these shows one does gain renewed appreciation for their talents – especially when compared to their modern-day counterparts on some of the classic game show revivals. One of the very best was Jim Perry, who spend three decades hosting games shows in the U.S. and Canada. 

The tall, lanky Perry had all the qualities we associate with a good host. He could calm the nervous contestants, rein in the ones that were too excited, and seemed to actually listen after asking the standard “Tell us a little about yourself” question. He could say to a parting contestant “Good luck raising those giant vegetables” and sound like he really meant it. Perry spent four years on Card Sharks but was at his best on Sale of the Century. He was a smooth salesmen in trying to get contestants to risk the money they earned with special offers, and received able support from the radiant Summer Bartholemew, a former Miss USA back when that title actually got you real jobs. 

Match Game stretched the definition of “star.”
Think Dancing With the Stars sometimes wanders too far out into the showbiz hinterlands to find its contestants? If it does, it’s just following the path forged by Match Game in the 1970s. Usually these borderline stars occupied the lower-left spot on the tier next to Richard Dawson. Many were attractive young women that Gene Rayburn could welcome with a kiss and then affectionately tease (or as some prefer in 2017, sexually harass). When the contestant’s answer was “boobs,” as it was at least three times every week, Gene could turn to these ladies and say “Show us your boobs,” or “Have you got boobs as well?”

Let’s see how many of these names are familiar to you: Ann Elder, Trish Stewart, Sarah Kennedy, Stu Gilliam, Marcia Rodd, Tudi Wiggins.

Whoever’s doing the Buzzr promos was a Nick at Nite fan. 
You can tell the style. They’re clever and funny and celebrate the shows without making fun of them, a temptation that may have been tough to resist given how awash they were in ‘70s fashion. 

They will make you nostalgic for things you may have forgotten.
To hear Johnny Olsen say ‘Stay tuned for Love of Life over most of these CBS stations’ is to be transported back to another time. I never watched Love of Life but I remembered that promo, and changing the channel while the opening credits played. 

Double Dare deserved a better fate
I was delighted to see Double Dare on Buzzr’s weekend schedule, as the show only lasted for one year (1976-1977). 

The concept had contestants trying to guess the identity of people, places or things from a series of clues that progress from cryptic to giveaway. My favorite part was the bonus round, when host Alex Trebek introduced the winning contestant to “The Spoilers,” three stern-faced PhDs, each in their own soundproof booth. When one of the Spoilers guessed the right answer, he received 100 bucks. Eight years of intensive study at major universities, just to sit in a glitzy cubicle on a game show.   

All this, plus Family Feud with Richard Dawson, Blockbusters, Body Language, Child's Play, Now You See It – I may not leave the house until Labor Day.  


  1. I remember Stu Gilliam, but the other five? not a clue

  2. This analogy seems appropriate:
    Me-TV : TV Land :: Buzzr : GSN

    I do wish that Buzzr had rights to the classics which GSN never bothers to show anymore, like the Barry/Enright, Bob Stewart, and Merv Griffin game shows. Since Fremantle owns Buzzr, it can show any Goodson/Todman, Reg Grundy, or Hatos/Hall game shows.

  3. I never watched LOVE OF LIFE either, but I love its theme song. The cast members included pre-Superman Christopher Reeve & Tudi Wiggins, who was one of your mystery celebrities from MATCH GAME.

    1. So that's where she's from! I suspected some of them might have been from soaps I didn't watch.

  4. The problem with Buzzr is that they only show a limited number of a particular show. They only air Match Game 78 (which I've seen countless times now) and have only recently expanded to Match Game 73 and 75. Also, they only show the first year or two of Tattletales. And they only show What's My Line from around 1956-57.

    1. Yeah, they keep showing the same episodes of "I've Got a Secret" over and over again; the ones from 1961-63. There were tons more of them made.

  5. Trish Stewart was one of the original cast members of "The Young and the Restless." The infamous Brenda Dickson ("Welcome to My Home," anyone?) also began appearing on "Y&R" very early on and also made some appearances on "Match Game." Both "Y&R" and "Match Game" were aired on CBS in the '70s.

    BTW, Mr. Hofstede, do you get the Justice Network?

    1. I don't believe I do - but then I really don't scan the options very often these days. I may have had Buzzr for months before I actually noticed it.

  6. Marcy Walker appeared in at least two episodes of "Family Feud" in 1983. Has Buzzr shown them yet?

  7. Odd that your little list includes Ann Elder, one of the most talented comedy performers to not quite make it ...

    These days, the digital Decades is running Rowan & Martin's Laugh-in, in broadcast order: Ann Elder was a regular cast member during seasons 4 and 5 (they've just finished up 5 yesterday), also contributing to the writing (she won an Emmy for a Lily Tomlin special she wrote, post-Laugh-in).
    I also remember an early episode of Wild Wild West, in which she played a sexy villainess, working with a devilish magician played by Don Rickles.
    Ann Elder started out in Cleveland as part of a comedy community that included Tim Conway, Ernie Anderson, Jack Riley, and (when he was in town) Jonathan Winters. She talks about this in an interview on YouTube, which she did a while back from her retirement in Cleveland (and which you ought to take a look at).

    Some other time, we ought to deal with your unfortunate embrace of the "famous for being famous" mythology that so many bloggers with no sense of history subscribe to.

    Scolding over. ;-)

  8. Mr. Hofstede, when do you think GSN started going downhill?

  9. Marcia Rodd was one of those perennial guest stars on TV shows and appeared on other game shows as well. She had one TV show in which she was a featured player but that show bombed. Stu Gilliam was from "Roll Out!' by the producers of M*A*S*H. I think the rest were soap actresses.

    1. This one's for timdub70 ...

      Marcia Rodd was a New York stage actress whose best known credit there was Jules Feiffer's Little Murders; she eventually did the movie version, which was one of Elliott Gould's first screen appearances.
      Norman Lear brought her to Hollywood, where she was originally cast as the daughter on Maude (she's in the backdoor pilot that aired on All In The Family). Someone at CBS didn't like her, and hello Adrienne Barbeau.

      Stu Gilliam was one of a number of Black stand-up comics who tried to get into primetime TV during the '70s; my father once called him "a poor man's Richard Pryor".
      One of his way stations was Laugh-In, during a period when Ann Elder (op cit.) was a weekly regular; he ultimately gave way to Johnny Brown.

      Back to Ann Elder for a bit: on Laugh-in, she was the Designated Blonde after Goldie Hawn left, although she never played dumb (and also managed to avoid body paint).

      When she left after two seasons, her replacement was Sarah Kennedy, who had a Hawn-like squeak to her voice, which sent her into dumb territory. Kennedy was on Laugh-in's final season; one of her co-regulars that year was another Match Game frequent flyer, Patti Deutsch.

      If it's a consolation, you were right about Trish Stewart and Tudi Wiggins.