Do you watch game shows? Did you growing up?
I watched a lot of TV game shows as a kid. Many were nighttime programs that I watched regularly with my parents. Daytime game shows, however, were only viewed during vacations or when I was sick. I continued to watch them when I could as an adult. I even competed on a locally produced Portland trivia-based game show when I lived there in the 1980s and won $1700 in cash and prizes. I still watch game shows as a retiree. The World of Game Shows, though, has changed. Today, not only do we have them on ABC, CBS, and NBC, but we have an entire network dedicated to game shows. The Game Show Network airs reruns of programs from the 1970s onward, as well as newly created game shows.
But I don’t enjoy game shows nearly as much as I used to.
There are several reasons for this, but three stand out. First, the shows from my childhood and young adult years focused on the game and the contestants. The host, although the “star” of the program, essentially played a secondary role. He was not the focal point. He did not mug, draw attention to himself, or overshadow the game. By and large, they were pleasant, low-key people with nice faces and “radio” voices. In fact, many had established their careers in radio. The hosts of the past like Tom Kennedy, Bill Cullen. Monty Hall, John Charles Daley, Jack Narz and so many others, seemed happy and satisfied steering their games through rounds one, two and lightening, without turning the program into a showcase for their humor, zaniness, or talent.
Of course, there were exceptions. Groucho Marx was the reason to watch You Bet Your Life. Gene Rayburn and his rotating six celebrity panel made The Match Game work. There were others. But they were the exceptions.
Today’s game show hosts, on the other hand, appear to think they are more important than they are. They seem to think they are more crucial than the contestants, game, or program. They constantly mug, draw attention to themselves, and even disrespect contestants. Perhaps this is because so many come from stand-up comedy and/or acting backgrounds. But, to me, that is no excuse. I do not watch Family Feud to endure Steve Harvey’s constant clowning. I do not watch Idiotest to witness Ben Glieb’s putting down of contestants. I do not view Let’s Make a Deal because I want to see Wayne Brady, who I admire and think is brilliantly talented, and his two sidekicks spiel away the contestants’ opportunity to follow a longtime dream. I do not watch the new To Tell the Truth to be entertained by Anthony Anderson, who I can watch on Blackish where his skills are supposed to be spotlighted. If I wanted to be amused by the talented Jane Lynch, I would prefer experiencing her as an actor, singer, or comedian than as the dominating host of Hollywood Game Night. Therefore, once I discovered that the modi operandi of these hosts was to steal camera time from the contestants or to promote their own careers, I stopped watching their programs.
I watch Jeopardy! regularly and I am, even after all these years, in awe of how Alex Trebek, while allowing us to see his personality, focuses on the show’s contestants, or more specifically their intelligence. The game is the star of Jeopardy!, the contestants are the supporting cast, and Trebek, the script supervisor.
The second issue I have with today’s game shows has to do with their tone. There is an intentional meanness, an inherent negativity about some current game shows that offends me. Two come to my mind immediately and both are on the Game Show Network. Divided, which promotes greed by having “team mates” decide how to divide previous winnings in uneven shares, exploits an already divided nation. It encourages contestants to verbally attack other competitors and it celebrates bullying. Snap Judgment is based on judging people’s appearance and that can include body-shaming, attacking facial qualities, and just plain discrimination. I don’t watch these allegedly entertaining programs; I’ve seen enough watching their teaser promos.
Another issue I have with today’s game shows is the intentional raunchiness, double entendre humor, and vulgarity the producers foist on their audiences because ratings, surveys, and demographics tell them they must. They are, obviously, focused on the business part of show business.
Now, I am not a prude; my humor is raunchy, vulgar, and includes double entendres and horrible sexual puns. But I do not speak or write to an audience that includes children, elderly shut-ins from another era, or the devoutly religious. When I taught, as inane and absurd as my humor can be, I learned to filter thoughts and words. All humor is not appropriate for everyone.
A perfect example of the evolution, or should I say de-evolution, of game show propriety over the years is Family Feud. Years ago, the dirtiest thing about the show was host Richard Dawson’s mouth, not the words that came out of it. His mouth, like all mouths, had germs. But Dawson also was a smoker who surely had cigarette breath and then insisted on kissing every female contestant, regardless of their nun status, obvious lesbianism, or burka.
But the questions on Family Feud during Dawson’s era were simple and their answers innocent. “We asked 100 people to name a body part that needs to be washed every day.” The top answers likely were the face, hands, armpits, and hair. On today’s version, hosted by Steve Harvey, the top answers would be something like “Your back door poop shooter” and “Your nasty baby maker.” The current Family Feud asks leading questions, questions the producers know will trigger off-color answers. “Who would you never want to see doing the dirty deed?” Answers would range from “Grammy” to “My priest” to “A gay relative.” Try explaining any of the questions or answers on the 2017 version of Family Feud to a 4, 8, 10, or 12 year old.
The same complaint applies to the current reincarnation of The Match Game, now shortened to Match Game and host Alec Baldwin. A possible fill-in-the blank could be “Ninety-three-year-old Mr. Dingleberry woke up and the first thing he put on was his blank.” Thirty or forty years ago the six celebrity panelists would fill in the blank with hearing aids, glasses, or slippers. Today at least one would say condom and another would answer Herpes medicine. The audience would laugh, Baldwin would make a faux shocked face, and the ratings would skyrocket. And the six-year-olds in the audience would look confused while the twelve-year- olds would snicker.
On a recent Game Show Network rerun of a 40-year-old The Match Game episode, a contestant was asked to complete this sentence: Ron was so strange he has a bed of nails and a bed of blank. The contestant said “hammers.” The celebrities split between roses, feathers, and other soft items, tactfully and respectfully avoiding the obvious sexual double-entendre of “screws.” I have no doubt “screws” would have been said several times on the current edition.
I am not opposed to ribald humor. In fact, I immediately thought “screws” on the previous example. If you look up “ribald” in the dictionary, you’ll see my picture. But I also am not opposed to keeping children innocent as long as possible, being respectful, and having class. That’s why, when I watch a game show today, it is a rerun from the distant past on the Game Show Network.