I nearly cried when a friend told me that Cash Cab, one of my favorite TV shows, wasn’t entirely real. If you’re not familiar, Cash Cab was a show where New Yorkers hailed a taxi, only the inside of the taxi was actually the set of a game show. Ben Bailey, the cab driver and host, would ask them trivia questions as he drove them to their destination, and if they got three questions wrong, they were kicked out of the cab on the spot. It was genius! But half the fun was that the audience thought these people had no idea this was about to happen, and I loved watching that pivotal moment when it’s revealed to the unsuspecting passengers that they didn’t hail just any old cab. In reality, some of the contestants were pre-screened—they knew they were going on a game show, they just didn’t know that the cab taking them to the game show WAS the game show. It’s possible that they were still surprised, but it takes a little of the shine off, you know? And it was especially emotional for me, I’m a legitimate game-show addict.
I think I was five or six when I discovered game shows—probably while flipping through TV channels with my mom and my sister—and I can’t remember any gradual process toward getting hooked, so it must have been immediate. After that, I began every summer weekday with The Price Is Right and fantasized about one day hearing those five magical words: “Gabiiiii Gregggg, come on dowwwwn!” I daydreamed about making a funny T-shirt, kissing Bob Barker on the cheek, and getting the once in a lifetime chance to guess the prices of laundry detergent and peanut butter. The prize possibilities were endless—a bedroom set! A sailboat! A neeeewwwwwwwww car! There was something special about seeing everyday people’s lives change right in front of my eyes. It didn’t stop with The Price is Right, either—I watched Family Feud, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and Supermarket Sweep. Then came the Nickelodeon game shows, like Legends of the Hidden Temple and Figure It Out. I couldn’t get enough! So when I discovered one summer that there was AN ENTIRE CABLE NETWORK DEDICATED TO GAME SHOWS, I just about died.
I hit the jackpot. There were so many game shows out there that I’d never even heard about! I had so much to catch up on! I spent hours at night watching GSN, often until 3am or 4am. They not only had current shows, but also played classics that I never knew existed, and they were even better. Apparently game shows were a huge deal back in the day—they became a television fixture by the 1950s, and many saw continued success through the ’60s and ’70s. I loved watching shows from this time period—the old sets and Hollywood glamour had me totally enthralled. They also had the best show concepts and were way more fun to watch than most game shows today. Since I consider myself a connoisseur of sorts, I thought I’d make a list of my Top 5 Favorite Game Shows Ever to help guide you through your post-midnight viewing.
You guys might know Password because it’s such a classic—it’s been remade a bunch of times, and Jimmy Fallon often plays with his guests. Two celebrities are on separate teams and paired with a guest, and each contestant tries to describe a secret word to their partner by using only a one-word clue. If they get it wrong, the same word is passed to the other team. Repeat. It’s so simple, yet so entertaining. I remember taping pieces of paper to the bottom of the screen and forcing my family to plug their ears while the announcer said the password so we could all play along. This clip from the original show features Lucille Ball, her second husband Gary Morton, and her kids, Lucie and Desi Arnaz, Jr. trying to make the best of it!
Match Game has two contestants and a celebrity panel. The host reads a funny sentence with a blank in it, the panelists write down their answers to fill in the blank, and the contestant gives the word they think makes the most sense, trying to match as many panelist answers as possible. Whoever wins the first round goes onto rounds two and three, which can be seen in the clip below (check out a young Bob Barker on the panel!) I love this show because the celebrity panelists always have so much fun. You totally get to know each of their personalities, and once you watch enough episodes, they start to feel like your friends. The downside to this show, in retrospect, is that there’s a lot of casual sexism and racism—which is true of a lot of these game shows, unfortunately, because of when they were made—but this one seems like the worst offender. In a way, it’s a fascinating peek into the past, though I can’t say I was watching critically as a kid.
To Tell the Truth
This one’s a little more obscure, and when I bring it up at parties a lot of people my age haven’t heard of it. Three contestants all pretend to be the same person with a cool backstory. The celebrity panel asks each person questions about their life, while trying to determine which contestant is telling the truth about their identity. I love that the audience has no idea who’s who, so we’re trying to figure out the truth too—it’s amazing how convincing the imposters can be! Plus, you get to learn about people who accomplished some pretty crazy stuff; I knew about Frank Abagnale, the con artist that Leonardo DiCaprio played in Catch Me if You Can, long before the movie came out because I’d seen the episode featuring the real guy! A young Ally Sheedy appears in the episode below—did you know she wrote a novel about a mouse that lives with Queen Elizabeth I? Warning—questionable and kinda creepy comments are made by some of the men, but it’s still worth a watch.
What’s My Line?
What’s My Line is sort of similar to To Tell the Truth—a celebrity panel is guessing something about a contestant, but in this case, they’re asking yes or no questions to try and figure out the guest’s occupation. Figure It Out, the Nickelodeon show that I referenced earlier, was probably based on this! There are so many cool and uncommon jobs out there, and it’s fun to watch guests constantly stump everyone, and laugh along when the panelists are way off base with their questions. One of the best parts is the end, when a celebrity takes the hot seat while the panelists are blindfolded and try to figure out who it might be.
The $10,000 Pyramid
I saved the best for last! The $10,000 Pyramid is such a fun, fast-paced game, and I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t love it after watching. This is another show that was remade a lot! Two contestants are paired with celebrities. Each team chooses a category, and a player from each team tries to get their partner to guess as many words as possible before the time runs out by describing secret words within that category. The winning duo heads to the winner circle, and things get really intense.
Bonus: Blooper Reels
Every once in a while a game show will run a bloopers episode, because nothing produces more embarrassing moments or quality TV than being up for a huge prize with the pressure of a running clock.
I no longer have cable so I no longer have GSN, but I still consider myself a game show fanatic. I’m sort of disappointed with recent attempts at creating new game shows—Baggage? Bet on Your Baby? Ugh— but watching old standbys like Family Feud and Wheel of Fortune is a daily routine for my boyfriend and me. I’m moving to L.A. in a few months, and while I’m excited for the nice weather and chill environment, I’m most looking forward to standing in line with hundreds of other The Price is Right hopefuls, crossing my fingers that my childhood dreams may still come true. ♦