And the Number One Game Show of All Time Is....

The #1 game show of all time according to Game Show Network's "The 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time" is.... Since the top game was announced two weeks ago, if you care you likely know already by now. The MediaLog has been on hiatus since then, so I'm only now getting around to commenting on the top six game shows.

Prior to the final week of GSN's countdown, I made a prediction as to what the top six shows would be. I predicted that they would be "Family Feud," "Match Game," "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," "The Price is Right," "Jeopardy," and "Wheel of Fortune," with the last three as the top three, and any one of those three potentially landing the top spot. As it turns out, I was totally right on which shows would make up the top six, totally off on what the sequencing would be.

Since the countdown is long over--not to mention the fact that these final six game shows are well-known and don't require great explanation--I am going to dispense with detailed discussion of the game play and format of these shows. Rather, I am going to indulge in something I have been doing in small doses throughout my commentaries: point out where I think GSN got it all wrong!

The number six game show was "Wheel of Fortune." I honestly thought that this would very likely be the number one game, so I was a little shocked to see it at this rank. Further, GSN did not air an episode of the venerable and monumentally popular show (presumably because they did not have the rights). "Wheel" was the highest rated syndicated television show in American for something like fifteen years running. It became a cultural touchstone in the mid-1980s, at the height of its popularity, when (for some godforsaken reason) letter-turner Vanna White reached superstardom. I've never cared much for "Wheel" but it probably should have been the number one game show.

Number five was "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," the juggernaut turn-of-the-millenium show hosted by Regis Philbin. I always thought "Millionaire" was a little overrated, and so I find its position in the top five to be unfortunate. There's no question the show was hugely popular for about two years, and it remains a top syndicated show (hosted in that version by Meredith Vieira). But--is it really a greater show than, for example, the longtime (now over twenty years running) "Wheel of Fortune"?

"The Price is Right" was the number four greatest game show of all time. I thought that this too might have landed the top spot, but GSN did not even show an episode of it. I guess almost thirty-five years as the most popular game show ever on daytime television, cult status in the minds and hearts of a few generations of young people, and what is perhaps the most interesting and versatile game play of any game ever isn't enough to get it any higher than number four.

The number three game was "Family Feud." "Feud" has become almost as venerable as "TPiR," even if it has done so in fits and starts with several different hosts and iterations. Believe it or not, "Feud" this fall celebrates its 30th anniversary, although it has not been on continously, leaving the air for a few years in the mid-1980s then for a few more in the late-1990s. I don't have a big problem with this ranking for the show, except for the fact that it puts "Feud" ahead of "Wheel" and "TPiR," two shows which are clearly greater.

The runner-up game show was "Jeopardy," also a venerable show that in its current version with host Alex Trebek has been on the air for over twenty years (in addition to the original version's eleven years). This is the only of my predicted top three that actually ended up in the top three. Its ranking is justified and absolutely right. The problem that I have here is the fact that GSN did not show an episode of it.

Now, GSN's use of voiceover and still photo treatment in lieu of airing an episode for a great many of the game shows in the "50 Greatest" has been one of my biggest complaints about the countdown. It's simply unfortunate that many of these great game shows were not given proper respect by showing a complete episode. If a show is great enough to make the top fifty of all time, isn't it great enough to show an episode of?

The underlying issue, of course, is that GSN did not have the rights to show some of the shows in their countdown, and I understand and appreciate that. If the choice was between having shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" in the countdown, but only with a voiceover because rights to show an episode could not be secured, and not having these shows in the countdown at all, then it's better to feature them with only a voiceover. In some cases, though, it seems like GSN just didn't try hard enough. Take, for example, a show like "The $64,000 Question." I know that there are at both excerpts and at least one full episode extant of the show, so wouldn't GSN want to make every effort possible to try to show at least a clip of it on their countdown? Apparently not (which points up my other big complaint with the countdown, that it did not give proper respect to the pioneering game shows of the 1950s).

There should, however, have been no reason why GSN couldn't have shown an episode of "Jeopardy." They air the program currently on their daytime schedule, so getting the rights couldn't have been an issue. For some reason, the dubious executives or programmers who made the decisions about the rankings and episode choices (or choices not to show episodes) made the determination that the game show that is legitimately the 2nd best of all time did not deserve to have an episode shown.

The #1 greatest game show of all time, according to these same executives and programmers, was "Match Game." I like "Match Game." I occasionally watch "Match Game" on GSN. I enjoy as much as anyone the goofy celebrity interplay and sharp sexual innuendo of the show. Gene Rayburn is unquestionably among the best game show hosts of all time, and the show would not have been the same show without him. I predicted that "Match Game" would in fact be one of the top six shows in the GSN countdown, a relatively lofty perch that the game deserves. But number one?

My beef here is not based on whether or not "Match Game" should or should not be considered the best game show of all time. My beef is that there are at least three games ("TPiR," "Wheel," and "Jeopardy") that are greater. Number four, behind these other three, would have been just fine for "Match Game." Here's my theory: throughout the countdown, GSN jerryrigged it with their original shows (seriously, what the hell is "Hollywood Showdown" doing in the fifty best game shows of all time?) and shows that they are currently airing reruns of (such as "Blockbusters" and, indeed, "Match Game"). Several of the lower rankings were filled easily and unthinkingly with GSN original shows which they didn't have to worry about getting rights to. Although most of these no longer air on GSN, the ludicrously high ranking for "Lingo" (#16) can only be interpreted as a promotion for the show, since it still airs regularly. GSN's main interest (surprise, surprise) does not seem to have been formulating what might have been seen as a legitimate countdown with integrity, but rather self-promotion in the form of rigging the countdown to highlight shows that in one form or another are on the network's current schedule.

Which sheds a lot of light on the number one position for "Match Game." "Match Game" is GSN's favorite vintage game show right now, and the network promotes it to the exclusion of most other vintage shows (they bill the hour of "Match Game" episodes as the "Seventies Hour," even though "Match Game" is the only show that ever airs under that billing). And these are the reasons why "Match Game" is the so-called number one game show of all time.


Roger Schoolcraft said...

Chris, I've been enjoying your coverage of this game show countdown and I share your reservations about it. I also enjoy Match Game but do agree it is certainly not the greatest game show of all time. One thing that is telling is that not once in this 7-week series did the host ever say how the rankings were detemined. It's like me doing up a series of the greatest super-heroes of all time...and sticking in some of my own creations. Yes, my Captain Quasar was certainly better than Green Lantern...

Anonymous said...

I agree with you completely. I don't think MG should have been the #1 Game Show of All Time. In my opinion, it should be The Price is Right. If you don't see my point, start naming off game shows that have been on for 35 years straight and are known by more than one generation. There's only one, and that's PIR. MG only aired, in total, for about 15 years, counting both versions.

I do believe their countdowns were rigged. Who's going to put "Whammy," a show that barely lasted two years, on a countdown when the original is simply better? I believe I'll stick to TV Guide's ratings of the greatest game shows of all time and leave GSN in the six-feet-under hole it belongs in.

Chris the MediaLogger said...

I'm glad to hear that there are some people who are in general agreement with me! I was a little worried that this final installment of my "50 Greatest Game Shows" commentary would be seen as nothing more than complaining and grousing. Thanks for the comments and the support!

Fred said...

Personally, I think all you game show freaks are just nuts! Of course, I mean that in the kindest possible way. Cheers!