TV Game Shows of the 1960s: Ten You Might Have Missed
Anyone who was watching television in the 1960s probably remembers it as the Golden (or at least the Silver) Age of Game Shows. Quite a few classic shows -- What's My Line? To Tell the Truth, I've Got a Secret, Password, Concentration, Jeopardy!, The Match Game -- either premiered at this time or continued their long runs. Game shows were on TV both during the day and at prime time. It seemed that someone was always playing for something.
But for every memorable hit, there were other game shows which didn't do nearly as well, but still made an impression, at least on me. What follows are ten little-known television game shows of the 60's, each of which I watched at least once, along with some personal recollections.
10. Your First Impression
This game show was a little spooky. It ran on NBC from 1962 to 1964 and I remember it as being one of the first game shows I watched in color. We didn't have a color TV at that time, so I watched it at the neighbors' house.
There was a team of celebrity panelists -- Dennis James was one -- who were shown pictures of five other celebrities. The spooky part was that one of the five celebrities was seated in a soundproof booth up and behind them, shown only in shadow. Based on how they answered fill-in-the-blank questions, the celebrities on the floor had to guess which celebrity it was.
The only other thing I remember about this show was that Donna Douglas of The Beverly Hillbillies was one of the five photographs in one episode (I don't remember whether she was sitting in the booth or not), and that the show was hosted by Bill Leyden, who looked a little like my pediatrician.
Obviously the show didn't make much of an impression on me.
9. Dream House
The title says it all. Contestant-couples on this game show competed for a house. That's right. A house. With a roof, four walls, a kitchen, bathrooms, everything. Not only that, but they got to choose the style they wanted. Or, if they preferred, they could get a mobile home.
Of course they had to answer a bunch of quiz questions in order to win. And -- here was the catch -- they could only play for one room at a time. But if they won several rooms in a row (seven in the daytime version and four at night) the house would be theirs. But even if they didn't win all the rooms, they could still walk away with a bunch of great-looking furniture and some nifty carpeting by Broyhill.
The show ran on ABC from 1968 to 1970. In the last episode host Mike Darrow came on and said that a few couples actually did win a house. I actually saw one couple do it. The show aired right before Christmas and Darrow told them, "Merry Christmas! You just won your dream house." We all should be so lucky.
8. Fractured Phrases
The object of this NBC show, hosted by Art James, was to take words or phrases written on cards and put them together to form a longer well-known phrase. The fractured part stemmed from the fact that the winning phrases weren't immediately obvious. They relied heavily on puns which often turned out to be real groaners.
One phrase, I recall, was built something like this:
BUTTER | DIE | GOERING | YACHT | HANK
Say that over and over again to your partner fast enough and one of you would realize the phrase they were looking for was "Put a tiger in your tank," which was a slogan for Esso at the time.
The bonus round was played similarly, although there you had to put words together to get the names of celebrities which were equally cringeworthy. Apparently a lot of other people thought so, too. The show only ran from September to December 1965 and aired from Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center (30 Rock), later famous as the home of Saturday Night Live.
7. Treasure Isle
Some people might think that The Jackie Gleason Show was the only program originating from Florida in the pre-Disney 60's, but this one did, too. It even came with a catchy Calypso-style theme song.
Treasure Isle was actually part of the Colonnades Beach Hotel ("on sunny Palm Beach Shores"). Teams were comprised of two-person couples, and in one round they had to assemble a large jigsaw puzzle with a rebus on it, like what you would see in Concentration, and solve it. It seems to me they had to go in boats out onto the lagoon to gather these pieces up from buoys, but I could be wrong about this.
The winning team got to go over to Treasure Isle, on the other side of the lagoon and dig up little treasure chests containing prizes. I don't remember what the prizes were, but I remember some of the chests were literally buried in the sand. (Hey, it was Florida.)
The show was hosted by John Bartholomew Tucker and aired on ABC from late 1967 to 1968.
6. You're Putting Me On
Remember that famous Barbara Walters interview question, "If you were a tree, what sort of tree would you be?" Imagine that as a TV game show, and you've got this.
You're Putting Me On had three two-person celebrity teams, headed by permanent cast members Bill Cullen, Larry Blyden and Peggy Cass. In each round a list of four famous names was announced, and one celebrity on each team was given one of the names. The celebrity then had to "put on" that person by answering questions the way they thought the other famous person would. Bill Cullen, for example, once got Gypsy Rose Lee and answered the question "If you were in the circus, what act would you be?" by saying he would be "The bareback rider."
Cute concept, which could probably be resurrected as a party game. Rather than putting the public on, though, the show mostly put them off. It only lasted from June until December 1969.
Anyone who liked the hidden object puzzles in Highlights for Children (which I did) would do well at this game. Presented on a huge game board was an intricate drawing within which contestants were to find a hidden object, such as a car. After answering a question correctly, contestants got a chance to take a pointer like the one an elementary school teacher would use and trace the outline of the object. Every time they didn't trace the object's outline exactly right, part of the drawing was removed to give them a better chance in the next round.
The show was hosted by Don Morrow and aired from 1961 to 1962.
4. Let's Play Post Office
No, it's not what you think. Trust me, there was no kissing involved.
This NBC show, created by Merv Griffin and hosted once again by Don Morrow, also aired from Studio 8H in New York. Somewhat voyeuristically, the show touted itself as an opportunity to read other people's mail. To complete the imagery, the three contestants were perched behind stamp windows while Don hosted from behind a mailbox.
Playing the snoop, however, wasn't quite what the show was about. Instead, a letter supposedly written by a famous person appeared on a large board. As a voice read the letter aloud, the contestants, based on clues buried deeper and deeper within the text, had to try to determine who had written the letter before the voice read the bottom line. The earlier a contestant guessed correctly, the more points he got.
The postmark at the top -- showing a date and a place -- provided the first clue. As the letter went on, other facts about the person would be revealed -- perhaps a veiled allusion to their occupation or to some important event in their life. The best part of the show, however, was that often the entire letter had been set up in such a way as to provide clue in the last line that would give the whole thing away. One particularly elegant example I remember was postmarked from Russia in the late 1800's and the writer went on and on talking about trying to give skiing lessons to a cow. The cow turned out to be quite reluctant to perform that activity and by the end of the letter the author had just about had enough. In his last line he wailed: "How do you make a shy cow ski?" The author of this fictional letter, of course, was Tschaikovsky, the great Russian composer.
For sheer ingenuity, Let's Play Post Office was one of the cleverest games out there. I was sorry to see it go. It became a dead letter in 1966 after a nine-month run.
3. The Face Is Familiar
This was a very short-lived game show, airing on Saturday nights on CBS during the summer of 1966. The object of the game was to identify famous people based solely on photographs which were cut up into seven horizontal strips.
As each strip was revealed, it would show one-seventh of the person's face, but the strips had been randomized, so that if you asked to see the top strip instead of getting the top of the head, you might get the nose or the mouth, or whatever and had to make your identification based on that. If your identification was correct, they would then show the strips assembled in the proper order. One of the faces, I think, was that of comedian Marty Allen, easily identified by his wild hair.
2. Picture This
Long before Pictionary or Win, Lose, or Draw, television gave us this show, which was basically Pictionary in reverse. One team picked out an object, which was then shown to a player on the other team. That player then had to tell his teammate how to draw the object without saying what the object was. If the player could figure out what he was drawing, the team scored points.
The show aired on CBS on Tuesday nights in the summer of 1963 and was hosted by Jerry Van Dyke. It originated from CBS's Studio 52 in Manhattan -- later to become the fabled disco Studio 54.
1. Take Two
This was perhaps one of the least-remembered game shows of all. Originating from Evanston, Illinois, of all places, and airing on Sunday afternoons, the object of the game was simple. Celebrity players were shown sets of four pictures in a 2x2 grid and had to determine which two of the four pictures belonged together. The only matching pair that I remember was Ed Sullivan and a shoe -- a "really big shoe." I believe one of the contestants for that episode was fabled gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.
Take Two's run was not very long. It only lasted from May until August in 1963.