TV Guide’s 50 Greatest (2001)

The 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time
by Michael Solomon
Source: TV Guide, January 27-February 2, 2001

And heeeeeeere they are! Meet the cavalcade of contestants who vied for the title of TV’s Ultimate Game Show, starting with the most priceless showcase of them all.


It’s the longest running game show in TV history, and for good reason. Since its 1956 debut, The Price Is Right has changed with the times but always stayed true to its winning formula: Four contestants try to guess the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (without going over) of everyday items. The show’s original emcee was Bill Cullen, but since 1972, players have “come on down” to Contestants’ Row to be greeted by beloved host Bob Barker. Sure, the likes of Jeopardy! and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire may boast players with higher SAT scores, but would those contestants know the price of a tub of margarine or a fresh-off-the-showroom-floor minivan? For its unrivaled democratic appeal and its rollicking high spirits, The Price Is Right (CBS, weekdays) hits it right on the money.

(Hearing Voices?: Announcer Johnny Olson gave the first “Come on down!” cry in 1972. Since Olson’s death in 1985, the sartorially challenged Rod Roddy has made the call.)


Jeopardy! broke a very simple game-show convention when it first aired, in 1964: Players were given the answers and had to come up with the questions. (Considering that the game-show scandals of the late ’50s were still fresh in viewers’ minds, it was a particularly bold move on the part of creator Merv Griffin, who also wrote the infectious theme song.) With the dollar value as well as the difficulty increasing with each answer, the syndicated Jeopardy! has long deserved its reputation as the most rigorous game show. While Jeopardy!’s original emcee, the late Art Fleming, was a genial and urbane presence for more than a decade, the show has become a genuine American institution under Alex Trebek, who has been its host since 1984.

(Final Jeopardy Clue: During his 11-year run as its original announcer, he missed only one episode of Jeopardy!

Final Jeopardy Answer: Who is Don Pardo?)


A game show that originally began on radio, G.E. College Bowl debuted on television in 1959 with pitch-perfect Allen Ludden as its host. Two teams of four undergraduate brainiacs (representing their colleges or universities) squared off in a fierce liberal arts Q&A battle in such categories as science, history, literature and mathematics. Following the initial “toss-up” question, the team that answered correctly would then play for bonus questions. The winning team members would receive scholarships and a chance to return the next week. As dramatic as it was wholesome, College Bowl displayed America’s brightest at their best for 11 network seasons, on CBS and NBC.

(Bonus Round: In 1960, College Bowl became the first game show to receive a Peabody award for outstanding achievement in broadcasting.)


In this circa ’60s classic, teams pairing a “civilian” with a celebrity (such as ace players Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence, flanking host Allen Ludden) used word association to guess the “password” from one-word clues, without the benefit of hand gestures. The point level dropped by one with each additional clue, from 10 to one, and the first team to reach 25 points won the game. (Ludden’s wife, Betty White, was a Password wiz.) The winning team then headed to the “Lightning Round,” where one player tried to guess five words in under a minute.

(Bonus Round: Felix Unger and Oscar Madison appeared as Password contestants on The Odd Couple. The password was “birds”, and Felix’s clue was “Aristophanes,” the Greek playwright who wrote “The Birds.” Oscar’s answer? “Ridiculous.”


It’s hard to imagine a game show (or any show, for that matter) lasting nearly 18 years in prime time, but from 1950 to 1967 that’s exactly what What’s My Line? did. With perhaps the wittiest lineup of celebrities in game-show history (including Dorothy Kilgallen, Steve Allen, Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf) the game itself was seemingly impossible: The panel of four celebrities asked yes or no questions to a guest in an attempt to divine his or her occupation. Contestants received $5 for each “no” answer, 10 of which won the game. (In the final round, a celebrity mystery guest signed in, and the panel was blindfolded. Future presidents Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan were among the luminaries who tried to stump the panel.) It was on What’s My Line? that panelist Allen who coined the famous phrase: Is it bigger than a bread box?

(Bonus Round: On September 3, 1967, the final broadcast of the show’s original run, host John Charles Daly was the evening’s mystery guest.)

#6 – THE $25,000 PYRAMID

Like Password, the Pyramid was a word-association game pairing a celebrity and a contestant. The object was to communicate seven words in a particular subject to your partner using clues, hand gestures and various facial contortions. The team ahead after the first three rounds then went on to the Winner’s Circle, where they had to guess six categories in less than 60 seconds using one-word clues without gestures. When the show began, in 1973 (with Dick Clark as its host), the Pyramid was worth $10,000. By the show’s end, in a syndicated run in 1985, winners could walk away with $100,000. But it was during the $25,000 prime-time version, from 1974 to 1979, that the Pyramid reached its peak.

(Bonus Round: Billy Crystal holds the record for clearing six Pyramid categories in 26 seconds. And he looked “mahvelous”.)


Pulse pounding and techno-tense, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire ignited Reege Rage in 1999 when it single-handedly revived the prime-time game-show genre. Now in its second full season, it airs four nights a week on ABC. The game begins when a contestant wins the “Fastest Finger” competition, earning the chance to sit in the hot seat opposite Regis Philbin. The monochromatically dressed host asks a series of progressively harder questions, starting at $100 and doubling (roughly) until the $1 million level is reached. If a contestant is stumped, Millionaire’s most ingenious devices come into play: the three lifelines. The contestant can ask the audience for assistance, reduce the four possible answers to two, or phone a friend before delivering that fateful final answer.

(Pound For Pound The Hardest Game Show?: Only one contestant has walked away with a million on the more challenging British version, compared with six in the United States.)


One of the silliest yet most popular game shows of all time, Masquerade Party was a favorite of television in the 1950s. Each episode, celebrities dressed up in wacky costumes and elaborate makeup while a group of panelists tried to guess their true identities. The panel could ask a maximum of five questions, and the money earned from fooling the panel went to the celebrity’s favorite charity. While the format never changed during its eight-year run, Masquerade Party could also have been called Musical Chairs: The show had six hosts, including Bud Collyer, Bert Parks and Eddie Bracken, and many “regular” celebrity panelists, including Jonathan Winters, Audrey Meadows and humorist/poet Ogden Nash.

(Bonus Round: Monty Hall bought the rights to Masquerade Party and revived it for syndication in 1974 with Richard Dawson as its emcee.)


Proof that “Thou shalt not bear false witness” does not apply on TV, To Tell The Truth has been around since the ’50s. A 2001 version appears in syndication with John O’Hurley (Seinfeld’s catalog king J. Peterman) as host. Three contestants claim to be the same person, and a celebrity panel asks a series of questions to determine which two are lying and which is, in fact, the real McCoy, or Smith. When the cross-examination ends, the host asks, “Would the real _______ please stand up?” and contestants earn cash for being able to fool a panelist with an incorrect guess. Garry Moore, Joe Garagiola and Alex Trebek, among others, hosted the show, but all were impostors next to the incomparable Bud Collyer.

(My Name Is Bud Collyer…: 60 Minutes legend Mike Wallace was the host of To Tell The Truth for the pilot in 1956, but he was replaced by Collyer before the show went on the air.)


No show did more for the double entendre than Match Game. Gene Rayburn emceed the original version of the show from 1962 to 1969, when it was canceled. The show returned four years later as Match Game ’73, with Rayburn as its host again, but this time the emphasis was on bawdy humor. Two contestants had to match a panel of six celebrities with fill-in-the-blank prompts such as “Dumb Dora had the strangest medical condition. When she went to the doctor, he shined a flashlight in her ear, and the light came out her ________.” The contestant with the most matches went on to a final round. By the time of the country’s bicentennial, Match Game had hit its ribald stride, with such celebrity panelists as Fannie Flagg and Brett Somers.

(A Perfect Match: As one of the shrewdest panelists on Match Game, celebrity player Richard Dawson helped contestants win an estimated total of $3 million.)

(Under______: Celebrity panelist Charles Nelson Reilly first met Rayburn when he was Rayburn’s Broadway understudy for “Bye Bye Birdie.”)


For better or worse, The Newlywed Game changed the state of our unions. When it debuted in July 1966, providing an often hilarious glimpse into other people’s nascent marriages, the show put spouses (mostly husbands) on notice: Pay attention to the details of your partner’s life. With the glib but charming Bob Eubanks presiding, the game challenged four couples to answer cheeky questions demonstrating how much they knew about one another. (“Ladies, how would your husbands complete this sentence: ‘I’m a closet _______’?” “Queen?” one anguished wife replied, much to the embarrassment of her mate.) Taking pleasure in other people’s pain was never so much fun.


The apotheosis of reality TV? Please. It’s a game show: 16 contestants, lots of silly rules, and a dimpled veteran game-show host (Rock & Roll Jeopardy!’s Jeff Probst). Oh, yes, there’s even a $1 million prize. Richard Hatch understood the game-playing concept of Survivor from the very beginning of the 39-day saga, and that’s in part why he won the inaugural run of the show. Even if Survivor had not returned for a second round this month (Survivor: The Australian Outback), the original run’s unique 13-week format, compelling story lines, archetypal characters and phenomenal ratings success qualify it as an all-time classic game show. The sequel debuts Sunday following the Super Bowl broadcast, on CBS. Subsequent episodes will air on Thursdays at 8 P.M./ET.


The Niagara Falls of tearjerkers, Queen for a Day began on radio in 1945 and, 11 years later, came to TV. Each day, four women were selected from the studio audience and would reveal their sob stories (each more agonizing than the next) to the dashing Jack Bailey. The idea was for each contestant to persuade the audience that she was the most pathetic and therefore the most deserving of the prizes that could remedy her desparate situation. At the end, the audience voted (using the infamous applause meter), and one of the women was crowned “Queen for a Day,” The winner received her wish, along with gifts and a bouquet of roses.


The excessively tan and libidinous Richard Dawson was the emcee, from 1976 to 1985, of the original Family Feud (the best of its many incarnations), on which two teams of five family members competed. Squaring off to match the most popular answers with a survey of 100 people (“Name something a dog does to express happiness”), each family tried to be the first to reach 300 points. The winners went on to the $5,000 “Fast Money” round – again, seeking the most popular answers to survey questions.

(Survey Says!: After the demonstrative Dawson was criticized by viewers for kissing all the female guests, the producers of Family Feud asked them to formally weigh in on the matter: The results were 14,600 to 704 in his favor.)


This ’50s quiz show inspired the 1994 film “Quiz Show.” Two contestants, each in a heated isloation booth (to make them and the audience sweat), tried to answer rigorous questions posed by host Jack Barry and be the first to accumulate 21 points. The potential winnings were limitless. It was a solid enough concept, but the sponsor, Geritol, felt the contestants were dull and the show lacked real drama. The solution that producer Dan Enright came up with was to fix the game by providing answers to certain contestants and coaching them to respond dramatically. The scam lasted for a few months, until a former “winning” player, Herbert Stempel, blew the whistle on Twenty-One and its most famous contestant, Charles Van Doren.


Produced and hosted by Chuck Barris (who had created The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game) in the late ’70s, the show was so moronic it was brilliant. Either you got the joke – it was a (mostly) tasteless send-up of talent shows – or you thought, as many did, that it represented the end of civilization. The Gong Show featured some of the weirdest and lamest acts on television (remember the Unknown Comic?) that were judged by a panel of celebrities and demi-celebrities. Their “talent” was critiqued on a scale of one to 10, but an act could be gonged off at any time if it was simply unbearable. The winner on the daytime version received a grand prize of $516.32, an amount based on the minimum day rate for unionized television actors.


Though it had a very short run (1960-62), Video Village was a groundbreaking and influential show. Two contestants competed as “pieces” on a giant game board answering questions and performing stunts for cash and prizes. The board itself represented a fictional town, and the show’s original host, Jack Narz, was its “mayor.” Players moved through the town’s three streets by rolling a die. Video Village was so popular that it spun off a Saturday-morning children’s version a year after it premiered, and two years after it went off the air, creators Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley resurrected the concept as the children’s game show Shenanigans, starring host Stubby Kaye.


One of the longest-running and most successful game shows in television history, Let’s Make a Deal was a cross between a flea market and a flea circus. During each show, several audience members were selected to trade in their (mostly worthless) objects for prizes that were concealed in large boxes or behind curtains. If they got lucky, players won fabulous prizes, such as a car or a new refrigerator; if they got unlucky, greedy or otherwise traded poorly, they got “zonked” and received something worth even less than what they brought on the air. At the end, two players were selected for the “Big Deal of the Day” hidden behind Door No. 1, Door No. 2 or Door No. 3. A year into the 14-year run, audience members began dressing up in absurd costumes to attract host Monty Hall’s attention.

(What’s Behind Network No. 1?: When Hall moved Let’s Make a Deal from NBC to ABC in 1968, NBC’s daytime ratings and ad dollars plummeted, while ABC’s soared to No. 1.)


Call it Shtick-Tac-Toe. Nine celebrities sit in a three-tiered grid and answer questions while two contestants decide whether they are telling the truth or bluffing. When the players are correct, they get an X or and O, and the first to match three celebrities in a row (horizontally, vertically or diagonally) wins the game. Whoopi Goldberg’s current syndicated revival is awfully fun, but it doesn’t compare to the original version (1966-1981). Hosted by the perfect straight man, Peter Marshall, the show’s staff soon realized that the ad-libbed answers would be even funnier if some of them were scripted. Chronically cranky Paul Lynde was the show’s slyly sarcastic center square.


A variation of the classic children’s game, Concentration, which ran from 1958 to 1973, featured a board with 30 numbered squares. Each square hid a prize, and two players called out a pair of squares hoping to match the prizes. If they guessed correctly, the prize was credited to them, and the squares would turn over again to reveal a portion of a rebus. The first player to solve the rebus won the game and the credited prizes. Hugh Downs – the show’s host for 11 years – became a kind of TV uncle to a generation of baby-boom kids who watched Concentration when they were home sick from school or luxuriating on summer vacation. During that time, Downs worked nights as Jack Paar’s sidekick on The Tonight Show.


Based on two children’s games, Truth or Consequences required players to answer ludicrous questions (before “Beulah the Buzzer” sounded) or suffer the consequences and perform an even more ludicrous stunt. Created for radio by Ralph Edwards in 1940, Truth or Consequences moved to TV a decade later, with Edwards as the original host, followed by Jack Bailey for a two-year stint. But it truly took off when Bob Barker assumed the emcee duties in 1956. For the next 19 years, Barker’s show developed a huge national following, with its outrageous costumes, silly skits and stunts that would often reunite long-lost kin.

(Name That Town: In 1950, Hot Springs, New Mexico, officially changed its name to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, in honor of the show’s 10th anniversary on radio.)

#22 – THE $64,000 QUESTION

This landmark quiz show was both wildly successful and short-lived. On each episode of The $64,000 Question, a contestant was asked questions by host Hal March about a subject on which he or she was an “expert.” Beginning with a $1 question, the money doubled with every correct answer until the player reached the $4,000 level. Then the contestant was asked only one question a week (to heighten the drama) and given the opportunity to walk away at any time. At the $8,000 level, the contestant was also placed in an isolation booth until he or she reached the titular amount or lost. Though popular, the show, which began in 1955, was killed off in 1958 by the quiz-show scandals and whispers that producers supplied contestants with answers.


Another stunt show that got its start on radio, Beat the Clock moved to television in 1950, after only a year, and became one of the longest-running game shows of all time. With original host “America’s No. 1 Clock Watcher” Bud Collyer, the show required contestants to perform all manner of wacky tasks – usually involving whipped cream, custard or seat cushions – in less than 60 seconds. The money prizes were initially modest, but as the jackpots increased on other game shows in the ’50s, Beat the Clock upped its ante. Aside from the imaginative stunts, another contributing factor to the show’s success was Collyer’s assistant, Roxanne Arlen, the proto-Vanna White.


Part quiz show, part talk show, all Groucho. The most famous of the Marx Brothers moved his popular radio show You Bet Your Life to television in 1950 and found a second career as the nation’s funniest quizmaster. At the beginning of each episode, George Fenneman, the host’s handsome assistant and perfect straight man, informed the audience of the evening’s secret word. If the contestant said the word in the course of the program, a duck floated down and the player won an extra $100. You Bet Your Life was less about knowledge – contestants answered questions in various formats throughout the show’s 11-year run – than it was about Grocho’s peerless wit and hilarious asides as he interviewed contestants. (In truth, the show was almost entirely scripted, and his “ad-libs” were well planned.)


Comedian Dennis Miller has suggested that Jeopardy! is the “harsh tequila shot” of game shows, making the far easier Wheel of Fortune (which follows Jeopardy! in syndication in most markets) the “refreshing lime chaser.” A variation on the chalkboard favorite Hangman, the game features three contestants spinning a wheel to determine dollar amounts (while avoiding dreaded wheel wedges Bankruptcy and Lose A Turn that await the unlucky). Contestants then guess consonants in a word puzzle. If a player selects correctly, he or she retains control of the wheel. (Along the way, contestants can buy a vowel for $250.) Pat Sajak has been Wheel’s cherubic host since 1981, and since 1982 Vanna White has been its letter turner – although now she simply taps the blank spaces.

(Bonus Round: In 1952-53, there was another game show called Wheel of Fortune. On this early reality show, the wheel was spun to determine the rewards for good Samaritans.)



Contestants tried to guess the titles of popular songs in the least amount of time. The show had three TV stints, the last ending in 1985.


In this venerable show (1952 to 1967), a celebrity panel tried to guess a contestant’s unusual circumstance or profession.


Risque and riotous, this cousin of The Newlywed Game, which ran from 1965 to 1980, featured a bachelor (or bachelorette) choosing among three potential mates screened from his or her view.


The first game show on Nickelodeon, Double Dare was a mid-’80s kids’ quiz/stunt program. An incorrect answer could get a player “slimed.”


It’s Jeopardy! on a Comedy Central budget. Players answer difficult trivia questions for the chance to win Stein’s $5,000.


In this mid-’70s variation on The Newlywed Game and He Said, She Said, three famous couples answered embarrassing marital questions to win money for a section of the audience.


Contestants pulled the arm of a giant slot machine to choose categories in this classic ’70s Q&A that was a comeback vehicle for host Jack Barry.


ESPN’s 2000 foray into quiz shows asked sports nuts to go back, back, back in time.


Each weekday in the early ’50s, husbands who had written in to say how wonderful their wives were answered questions about their spouses to win prizes.


A summer replacement series that ran for a decade, this celebrity charades show won the ’49 Emmy for Most Popular Television Program.


MTV’s hysterical late-’80s game show set in a basement, where contestants answered TV trivia questions.


A bit of guessing and a lot of gambling were required for this late-’70s game in while contestants tried to divine whether the next hidden card in a group of five was higher or lower than the last one.


Call it To Tell the Truth for the late ’70s: Four players tried to determine which member of the celebrity panel was being honest about the purpose of a bizarre object.


The first big success for Alex Trebek in the ’70s. Players answered questions for the chance to roll a pair of giant dice and win bonus prizes.


The popular board game came to TV in 1984. With Chuck Woolery as its host, players attempted to solve crossword clues.


On this fast-paced quiz show (1969 to 1973), contestants answered questions for money and then traded for low-priced prizes.


A ’60s children’s version of the stunt show Video Village.


Two teams of two related contestants (husband-wife, brother-sister) tackled problems and questions. The game aired from 1958 to 1963.


RSC, the first cooking game show, which debuted in 1995, pairs two well-known chefs with contestants in a fierce kitchen battle.


Created by Burt Reynolds, this illustrated, late-’80s charades game pitted teams made up of two celebrities and one contestant.


Johnny Carson first made his name as the host of this late-’50s forerunner to The Newlywed Game.


A children’s game show on PBS based on the popular computer game. From 1991 to 1996, three junior detectives tried to solve a geographical mystery.


Art Linkletter was the host of this hilarious ’50s stunt show that asked contestants to perform bizarre or outrageous acts for money and prizes.


Prompted by host Chuck Woolery, players attempted to find a dream mate by choosing among three suitors on videotape. It ran from 1983 to 1995.


In the mid ’60s, husbands and wives ran loose in a supermarket trying to amass as much loot as they could in a set amount of time.


Smart and smooth Allen Ludden was the grand master of game show emcees. But let’s give the runners-up a big round of applause and a case of Rice-A-Roni.


If Ludden hadn’t been the consummate game-show host, he would have been a formidable contestant. With a master’s degree in English, Ludden taught high school in Austin, Texas, before embarking on a broadcasting career. As host of G.E. College Bowl, Ludden, with his horn-rimmed glasses, looked every inch the scholar. When he was named host of the celebrity-studded Password, some old fans felt the show beneath him: The debonair Ludden, who died in 1981, won them over.

(Ludden met future wife Betty White on Password in 1961. His trademark opening line, “Hi, doll,” was directed to mother-in-law Tess White.)


Barker was a disc jockey in Burbank, California, when Truth or Consequences creator Ralph Edwards heard him one day in 1956. Edwards quickly hired him to host a new daytime version of the prime-time game show. Barker emceed the stunt-filled program for the next 19 years, but in 1972 he moved to the show that made “Come on down!” a national catchphrase: The Price Is Right. The charming and unflappable Barker – he has a gift for soothing shrieking contestants smothering him with kisses – is America’s most honored game-show host, with 14 Emmys, including a Lifetime Acheivement award.

(How much is that doggy in the ASPCA? A dogged animal-rights activist, Bob Barker ends almost every Price Is Right episode by asking the audience to have their pets spayed or neutered and to adopt from local animal shelters.)


First an NBC Studios page in 1936, Rayburn got his big break in 1947 as half of the Rayburn and Finch radio team in New York. In 1954, after hosting a game show called The Sky’s the Limit, Rayburn became the original announcer of Steve Allen’s Tonight Show. He then emceed a rather bland version of a program called The Match Game during the 1960s, a show he’d later revive to great success (and in much saucier fashion) as Match Game ’73. During the 1970s, Rayburn presided over the game-show world like a garrulous party host.

(Bonus Round: Rayburn commuted each week from Massachusetts to tape Match Game in Los Angeles.)


Trebek had spent a decade on Canadian TV before heading south. When he made his American debut in 1973 as the host of the short-lived The Wizard of Odds (and, soon after, High Rollers), his dark, curly hair and thick, bushy mustache seemed better suited to the Marlboro Man than a game-show host. But by the time he became host of the revived Jeopardy! in 1984, Trebek’s all-business demeanor set the ideal tone for TV’s most serious IQ test. Sixteen years later, Alex Trebek is still at the top of his game.

(Potpourri: The Wizard of Odds was created by future Growing Pains star and Trebek’s fellow Canadian Alan Thicke.)


With a hairdo borrowed from Jack Lord and a smirk that could light up Burbank, Eubanks brought a genial sex appeal to his role as host of The Newlywed Game. Originally a concert promoter – he brought the Beatles to the Hollywood Bowl in 1964 – Eubanks was a successful disc jockey at Los Angeles’s KRLA (where game-show veteran Wink Martindale and Casey Kasem also made their names) when Chuck Barris signed him for The Newlywed Game in 1966. A likable smart aleck, Eubanks persuaded couples to reveal intimate (and often inane) details of wedded bliss. Eubanks and The Newlywed Game were a match made in heaven.

(What would his wife say is the cushiest job Bob ever had? He once managed Dolly Parton.)


Despite a successful career in radio, Cullen had a difficult time getting hired on television. The reason? A childhood bout with polio left him with a noticeable limp. But in 1952 he overcame his challenge when his humourous banter earned him a spot as a panelist on I’ve Got a Secret. By 1954 Cullen had graduated to host when he took the job of emcee on Place the Face, and his impressive run of game shows soared. At the end of his career, Cullen, who died in 1990, had hosted more game shows – including The Price Is Right, Name That Tune and The $25,000 Pyramid – than anyone in TV history. (He’s also appeared on the cover of TV Guide more times – seven – than any other game show host.)

(Extra Spin: Groucho Marx called Cullen the “second wittiest man in the business.”)


Marshall didn’t set out to be a game-show host. He starred in a stage version of “Bye Bye Birdie” and won roles in such films as “Ensign Pulver” and “Swingin’ Along.” But in 1966, game-show producers Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley hired him to host Hollywood Squares. Marshall presided over the giant tic-tac-toe board for 15 years, earning five Emmy awards.

(Bonus Round: Marshall’s son is former Major League Baseball player Pete La Cock.)


In 1947, the film career of the great Marx had stalled. So when a producer came to him with a radio show called You Bet Your Life, Marx took the job. The format would highlight Groucho’s legendary wit as he interviewed contestants and asked trivia questions. Within three years, You Bet Your Life moved to television, where, thanks to Groucho’s seeming ad-libs (most were written), You Bet Your Life became one of the decade’s top-rated shows.

(Marxism: Groucho once described television as educational: “The minute somebody turns it on, I go into the library and read a good book.”)


Here is an emcee who, remarkably, ages more gracefully than Dick Clark. OK, he’s a Muppet, but Smiley, Sesame Street’s venerable game-show host, was one of the most versatile in the business. First voiced by Jim Henson back in 1969, Smiley hosted such Sesame classics as “The Triangle Is Right,” “Name That Sound” and “This Is Your Lunch.” Though no new Smiley segments have been created since Henson’s death, in 1990, his classics live on in reruns.

(The Name Game: Nashville jazz-funk band the Guy Smiley Blues Exchange named itself after their Muppet hero.)


As a young man, Philbin dreamed of being the next Jack Paar. In 1967, after several years of hosting talk shows in San Diego and Los Angeles, he came reasonably close to that dream as the sidekick on The Joey Bishop Show (one of the many talk shows defeated by Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show). After several other gigs, Philbin began hosting a morning show in New York that really took off when former Name That Tune assistant Kathie Lee Johnson (later Gifford) joined as cohost. Of course, Regis mania truly began with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in August 1999. Few doubt that the show’s astounding success is due in no small part to Philbin. Jack Paar should be proud.

(Final Answer: Philbin’s first game show was The Neighbors in 1975.)