The #22-#16 Greatest Game Shows

Game Show Network's game show countdown, "The 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time," broke the Top Twenty last week. Unfortunately, a few of the choices they make for games they think deserve to rank that high are complete jokes.

It begins with #22, "Weakest Link." This show was a brief fad that popped up in the wake of the huge renewed popularity of game shows created by "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" in 1999. All told, the show is not bad, but it sure as hell ain't the 22nd best of all time. It might be 122nd.

For some inexplicable reason, GSN chose to show an episode of the syndicated version of "Weakest Link," hosted by George Gray, instead of the better and more popular network version hosted by the acid Anne Robinson. My guess is that they did this because the syndicated version was a half-hour instead of the hour-long Robinson edition. Robinson's tart and humiliating retorts to the contestants were perhaps the best thing about the show (Gray gives them the old college try, but it's not the same), so not showcasing them is just as asinine as having the show this high in the countdown.

The game play features six contestants, each at podiums, working as a team to answer rapid-fire questions with escalating cash value. Each contestant in turn can bank the money if they choose at the beginning of their turn, because if one answers a question incorrectly any accumulated unbanked cash is lost. At the end of the round, the players vote on who they think is the "weakest link" (i.e. the contestant who has played badly and might hurt the team in later rounds), and the "loser" is given an ingracious send-off and eliminated from the game.

Additional rounds follow until only two of the original six remain. They face off in a three-question final round, with the entire episode's bank going to the winner.

Number twenty-one was "I've Got a Secret," the classic game in which a four-person celebrity panel guesses the sometimes offbeat secrets held by contestants. For once, GSN got it right, as "Secret" truly deserves its rank (if not one a little higher). Also for once, GSN is showing some respect to the pioneering games of the 1950s; the original "Secret" started in 1952 and ran for fifteen years, moderated by 1950s/60s daytime talk-show host Garry Moore. The only problem is, GSN didn't show an episode from that incarnation, they showed one from the 1972-73 syndicated revival. It could've been worse--they might've shown one from their current original version of "Secret"!--as the early-70s version was hosted by the multitalented and always interesting Steve Allen.

The game play of "I've Got a Secret" was elegantly simple (as was the case with most of the pre-big-money 1950s games). I've basically already described it: a four-person celebrity panel (here consisting of Alan Alda, Pat Carroll, Betty White, and Richard Dawson) guesses a contestant's secret. The secrets were usually pretty odd (by design, natch)--the episode featured in the countdown had a contestant who brought along a cage full of chimps, one of which was her husband in a chimp costume, which was her secret. Celebrity contestants also appeared regularly, with Milton Berle and his secret of a trunk filled with his classic TV jokes in the episode featured.

"Concentration," another classic 1960s show, was the #20 game show. This, too, seems like an appropriate ranking. However, "Concentration" is only given the voiceover and still photo treatment that so many other shows (both from the 1950s/60s and afterwards) have received, presumably the ones for which GSN did not have the rights to show full episodes. Running fifteen years from 1958-73, followed by a couple of revivals in the mid- to late-1970s, "Concentration" was based on childrens' rebus puzzles. A pair of contestants tried to solve a rebus (in which symbols and small pictures are combined with select letters to spell out an axiom or phrase) by selecting two squares that had the same prize on them, upon which they got the prize as well as a shot at guessing the solution to the puzzle. Hugh Downs, later of "Today" show and "20/20" fame, hosted the original incarnation.

Yet another classic game, "To Tell the Truth," entered the countdown at #19. Again, this is a pretty good ranking, although, like "I've Got a Secret," a few slots higher might have been truly appropriate. Also as with "I've Got a Secret," although the original version of "Truth" aired from 1956-68 (moderated by "Beat the Clock" host Bud Collyer), the episode aired was from the 1969-78 syndicated version. Hosted at other times during this run by Garry Moore and Bill Cullen, the episode featured was hosted by Joe Garigiola and had as a contestant the legendary con artist Frank Abagnale. Abagnale, famous now as the subject of the 2002 Steven Spielberg film "Catch Me If You Can" (and played by Leonardo DiCaprio), was an imposter who at one time or another impersonated an airline pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer, while cashing millions in bad checks around the world and serving time in three different countries (though reformed by the time of the "Truth" episode). (Incidentally, he conned the panel, too, none of whom guessed that he was the real Abagnale.)

The game play of "To Tell the Truth" is amongst the most well-known of any game. Three supposed contestants were at the beginning introduced as all being the same person, even though only one of them actually was. The job of the panel was to query each of the three in an attempt to discern which was genuine. The contestants were typically of roughly the same age and appearance (although sometimes, in an attempt to throw off the panel, they were not), and the members of the celebrity panel gauged the veracity of each of the three contestants based on how knowledgably they answered the queries. The panel voted on who they thought was the real deal. If most of the panel guessed correctly, the were the "winners," and if none of the panel members guessed correctly the actual contestant "won." You can see why Abagnale was such an ideal contestant for "To Tell the Truth."

The #18 greatest game show of all time was "Love Connection." "Love Connection"? "Love Connection"? One more time to make my incredulity clear: "Love Connection"?? If "Love Connection" is a better game show than "I've Got a Secret" and "To Tell the Truth," then...well, I don't know then what exactly, but it's not good. It's not clear that "Love Connection" even is a game show; host Chuck Woolery is reported to have said that he believes that it was not, although the show is listed in "The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows" (a great book for game show fans, by the way).

For the record, "Love Connection" (in syndication from 1983-94) was a show inspired by "The Dating Game," in which a contestant (sometimes male, sometimes female) chose a date from three potential suitors. Instead of having the suitors respond to questions posed by the contestant, "Love Connection" was more laid back, using conversation between Woolery and the contestant and each of the suitors. The audience voted on which of the suitors it thought was the best for the contestant, although this vote was not binding and the contestant was free to choose whomever he or she wished. After having gone on their date, the two returned and reported on the date's success and whether or not they planned to date again, with a successful date labelled as a "love connection." Each episode, then, had a mix of new and returning contestants.

Given only voiceover and still photo treatment, number 17 was "Name That Tune." Reasonably well-known, this game involved contestants guessing the name of a song using the fewest number of notes possible. Originally on the air in the mid-1950s, it had a couple of revivals in the 1970s and 1980s (one of which is best known today for providing one of the first TV jobs for Kathie Lee Gifford). This ranking seems a little dubious, especially given the truly great game shows that come in just below it.

If "Love Connection" at #18 wasn't enough of a travesty, "Lingo" at #16 ought to do it. If GSN thinks there are only fifteen game shows of all time better than "Lingo," I'll show you 50 more that are also better. "Lingo" is a current original GSN series (big surprise), so that's why it came in this high in the countdown. True, it is the most successful of all of GSN's original game shows, but that's not worth much (just like most of the shows). It does mean, though, that there shouldn't be any more GSN original shows polluting the remainder of the countdown.

"Lingo" is actually not a bad show. Host Chuck Woolery moderates two two-person teams, each of which makes guesses at five-letter words for which the first letter is given. Like in the board game "Master Mind," correct letters in the correct positions and letters that are correct but in the incorrect positions are marked accordingly. The team continues, using any additional correct letters to help guess the word, until they have either guessed it or made five guesses without getting it right. A correctly guessed word earns a team a chance to draw out a Bingo-like ball with a number on it, which is marked on the team's Bingo-like board. A team that fills a line Bingo-like gets bonus points. (Have you figured out that the game is a little like Bingo?)

I want to make perfectly clear that my indignation at the rankings of "Love Connection" and "Lingo" does not mean I have a vendetta against Chuck Woolery, who happens to have been the host of both. I actually really like Woolery, and I think that he is one of the better hosts that has worked in the genre. It's just that GSN decided to rank his shows much too high to make their rankings legitimate.

Now that only the top fifteen greatest game shows remain, it's apropo to make some predictions regarding what some of the remaining shows will be. Here are several that have to be in the upper reaches: "Jeopardy," "Wheel of Fortune," "What's My Line," "Family Feud," "Match Game," "The Price is Right," "Hollywood Squares," "Password." If any of these are missing from the top fifteen, then this countdown is even more discredited than it already is (which would be an accomplishment). I predict additionally that the top three shows will be "Jeopardy," "Wheel of Fortune," and "The Price is Right," although they could fall in any order and any of the three could nab the #1 spot.

"The 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time" continues tonight, and runs Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, 10 pm EST/9 pm CST, through the end of the month.

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