Survey Says: America Loves Game Shows!
Spin the wheel. Let’s make a deal. Name that tune. Who wants to be a millionaire? Who doesn’t? The password is: Press your luck.
You bet your life the game show, one of the earliest formats to translate from radio, is embedded in TV’s DNA. It’s also among the most enduring, with ABC’s revivals of Celebrity Family Feud, Match Game, The $100,000 Pyramid and To Tell the Truth striking a perfect chord of join-the-party nostalgia.
Truth or Consequences is credited with being the first U.S. game show to air on broadcast TV, 75 years ago, as a 1941 experiment in the New York market. (It went national in 1950.) The game show represents the earliest wave of reality TV, thrusting ordinary men and women into extraordinary situations as audiences, eager to play along, become invested in their wins and losses. Even today, cult status attaches to champions like Ken Jennings, who set a Jeopardy! record in 2004 with 74 consecutive wins—and how shocking was it to see him flame out recently within the first minutes of 500 Questions’ season opener?
“TV games are popular because they test people’s ability to think under stress. This has always interested people,” said the late, iconic Match Game host Gene Rayburn 50 years ago this summer, in a TV Guide Magazine article declaring game shows “America’s Great Spectator Sport.”
Sociologists and psychologists interviewed for that story concluded the genre’s popularity had more to do with the “traditional American pleasure in a contest” and the “intellectual pleasure of play” than with the spectacle of greed. “Anyone who’s concerned about the money he might win is a bad risk,” a Password producer told TVGM in 1967. “The best contestants play for fun.”
And that’s why we watch. Having weathered a credibility crisis with the quiz show scandals of the late 1950s, game shows remain a resilient, enjoyable TV staple. CBS’s The Price Is Right is going strong in its 44th season. Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! are daily habits for millions—I consider Jeopardy! the TV equivalent of a crossword puzzle, perfect for winding down after a long day.
If game-show goddess Betty White (a Truth panelist then and now) is still up for the challenge, who are we to resist?
Celebrity Family Feud, Season Premiere, Sunday, June 26, 8/7c, ABC.
The $100,000 Pyramid, Series Premiere, Sunday, June 26, 9/8c, ABC.
Match Game, Series Premiere, Sunday, June 26, 10/9c, ABC.