The long-lived Game Shows viewers see on TV daily the classics and modern-day shows are often the result of tweaking the format on the air. Rarely, if ever, does a long-running game show retain the exact feel, flavor and whatever of its early weeks. Often, the producers haven't yet worked out all the kinks in the rules; some gameplay factor that may have worked well in test runs may turn out poorly when actually played out.
In addition, many of the earliest episodes of the long-runners will see the host explain the rules in more detail. Once everyone becomes familiar with how the game works, he'll revert to a brief summary.
By the time a show has been on a few weeks, the rough edges have been smoothed out, contestants are more comfortable with the rules, games involving celebrities will have figured out who plays the game the best and invite them back ... the list goes on.
The Chase: The first series was quite subdued by comparison. The set was darker, and there was a lot less banter involving the Chasers. There were only two Chasers in the roster; the one who was competing was revealed before the titles, and given a profile before facing the first contestant, instead of a humorous mention in a "roll call".
Countdown, if one were to see the earliest episodes, looks very different even for those more than familiar with the Richard Whiteley/Carol Vorderman era.
The obvious differences in the first Channel 4 episode (rebroadcast as part of the channel's 25th anniversary celebrations) being in the presentation team- Vorderman's role being only to check the workings-out in the numbers game and the roles of putting up tiles fell to "hostesses" Cathy Hytner and Beverly Isherwood. No Susie Dent (resident lexicographer) and celebrity guest in the dictionary corner- this was left to Ted Moult and an "assistant" named Mary. Richard Whiteley's lame puns, on the other hand...
For much of the show's history the programmes were only half an hour long, now they're three quarters of an hour, and were shown in the late, not mid-afternoon. The edition of the "teatime teaser" (a little puzzle for the viewers at home to do during the break) came in about this time.
Of course this pales into comparison with the earlier Calendar Countdown shown on Yorkshire Television- then a spin off of the local news programme!- a pilot of which can at the time of writing be found (however legitimately) on YouTube. For example the clock ran for 45 seconds instead of the current 30, and many of the rounds never made it into the current version.
Face The Music: This famous guess-the-song game had a few interesting wrinkles in the early episodes, namely four contestants playing round 1 (with the lowest scorer being eliminated after Round 1, which matched songs to pictures of famous faces or landmarks), the $10,000 level in the bonus game was played for a prize package (and not awarded as a cash prize, unlike later) and ... most importantly, contestants were more sedated. (In the latter example, contestants did not yell "I GOT IT!" the show's signature phrase when they rang in to guess the song.)
The original ABC version had the theme played in a lower key and announcer Gene Wood using a more hyped-up voice, as opposed to his more mellow delivery used once the show logged its first couple of months on the air. Also, at least one episode (during the first week) had a new challenging family introduced during the episode's final segment and host Richard Dawson engaging in chit-chat before wrapping up the proceedings for the day. In addition, the buzzer podiums at the Face Off table were thinner, with the more familiar wide buzzers coming several months in.
Another early quirk was that, for the first few weeks, the camera shot during Fast Money was different: instead of being superimposed on the right half of the board, the second contestant was shot with a full view of the entire board behind them. Also, when the second person's answers were revealed, they would use a shot from directly behind Richard and the second contestant's back, instead of just cutting from them to a tight shot of the board.
Early on, games were only played to 200 points, with single-single-double as the default structure. When this made them drag (thus leading to such filler as the aforementioned chit-chat and introduction of the next family), the point value was upped to 300, and the round structure became single-single-double-triple (sometimes with a third single).
Also, for the first couple of weeks of shows, Dawson did not kiss the female contestants; he had picked up this practice on Match Game.
Several published histories of the original 1966 version stated that creator Merrill Heatter was disappointed with the early episodes due to the celebrities' joking, which often ground the game to a halt. There was very little actual gameplay (one episode, aired during the first month of the show, had 11 total questions asked, and the next day just eight were asked; surely, there were other episodes with fewer than 10 questions asked). Some quick conferring with the celebrities to get their joke over with and then give their answer ... plus some editing to chop out the unneeded carrying-on sped up the pace of the game considerably. By the end of November 1966 a month and a half into the series' run more than 20 questions were being played a day and the pace was what viewers came to expect.
Paul Lynde did not become the permanent center square until about three years in (although he had appeared on the show a few times before). Before he took over, there was no permanent center square.
On the 1986 John Davidson-hosted version, the first two or three weeks had the celebrities names in the same narrow font as the original NBC series. This was quickly changed to the wide Helvetica-type font.
Early Tom Bergeron-era episodes used the same end game as latter-day NBC daytime episodes — pick a star and simply win cash, a trip and so forth. This was switched with adding a question to win the item in the envelope by the end of the first month on the air.
The first season of the Alex Trebek revival was quite different from later seasons. As was the case in the original Art Fleming show (1964-75), contestants could ring in as soon as the clue was revealed, and the buzzers made noises to indicate that someone had rung in. Trebek reportedly found the buzzer system a nuisance, and many contestants were screwed over by knee-jerk buzz-ins, so the buzzers were re-tooled to allow a ring-in only after the clue was finished, and temporarily lock out the contestant if he or she rings in too soon.
Also, early gameplay was much more relaxed, with lots of chatter from Alex in particular. On the flip side, Trebek was a bit more strict on the rules, snapping at contestants who forgot to phrase in the form of a question, or gave a question clearly inappropriate for the category (i.e., a number answer for a "Letter Perfect" category). His admonishments have softened through the years, as has his hosting style as a whole nowadays, he's more of a Sophisticated as HellDeadpan Snarker who's unafraid to laugh and joke around with the contestants without completely dropping his professional demeanor.
The clues and category names were originally more straightforward, with only the occasional joke category, compared to the mix of humorous clues, puns, Shout Outs, and Moon Logic Puzzles of today. (For instance, a category that might've been just "Automobiles" in 1984 would probably be something cute like "Baby, You Can Drive My Car" nowadays.)
Most of the early weirdness of the CBS daytime run had to do with the various changes to the bonus game. Originally, the contestant was guaranteed prizes, but after spinning a first time he could spin a second time in an effort to get better prizes. Eventually, this was tweaked to encircle the prizes, with getting three circles earning the contestant a new car (or a luxury trip). Finally, the bonus game that would be used for much of the CBS run "Jokers and Devils" (spin up to three times to win a prize package, with the third prize the most expensive and desirable gift) was in place. (Late in the run came the signature bonus game, "Face the Devil.")
While the front game was largely intact for the entire CBS and syndicated run, from the beginning to the end, the very earliest CBS shows had a quirky rule that meant an automatic win and game over by a contestant spinning three jokers. This happened once on the first spin of the game, meaning the opponent a challenger never had a chance to play ... and that led to a hasty rule change starting with the next game whereby the contestant spinning three jokers had to answer a question first.
Season one of Legends of the Hidden Temple had a much brighter, cleaner, kind of orange tint than the next two seasons, as well as the set not being covered in wildlife and billowing fog. The temple structure was also quite different; the Cave of Sighs, later the Ledges, could be entered and exited, and the temple gate consisted of two large columns rather than an actual gate, as well as the actual staircase leading into the temple behind Olmec's head being significantly closer to ground level. Kirk also wore khaki shorts rather than jeans, and his delivery and commentary were a lot more rough around the edges; this might have been why the next two seasons had Olmec himself deliver the instructions for how to perform each Temple Game and how to cross the moat, which were Kirk's duties in season one. Olmec was also much less of a Large Ham in the first season.
Lets Make A Deal, in its original form (1963-77), had a lot of weirdnesses early on.
By far the most notable difference was the costumes. For the pilot episode (taped in May 1963) and the first couple of months after the show was picked up as a regular series, there were no costumes all contestants wore ties and jackets (men) and dresses (women). Sometime in circa February 1964, someone brought a sign to get Monty's attention, and he picked her to play. Future contestants got the hint, and then things totally took off when someone wore an outrageous hat to the studio and was picked.
Additionally, there were few variants of the trading theme. Most games were simply do you want this "unknown or that unknown," or "a sure thing or the unknown." Once it was clear the show was going to be a hit, more variants on the original theme were added, as were pricing/consumer knowledge games and those playing on what would become known as the "Monty Hall Problem" (e.g., "three keys on the board, only one starts a car, I'll demonstrate one that's a dud, and now do you want the sure thing, or to try your key knowing it may be a dud.")
Wendell Niles was the show's announcer on both the pilot and the first season. He was replaced in the second season by Jay Stewart, who held the role until the original version ended, and went on to become a prolific announcer on several other shows as well.
In the 1984 syndicated version, the biggest difference was the lower stakes of the prizes — usually a base-model subcompact car was the grand prize. By the second week on the air, there were at least mid-level sports cars (including the Chevrolet Camaro) offered.
The GSN revival of Lingo (2002-2007) evolved noticeably in its first three seasons:
In Season 1, they taped on the set of the Netherlands version. There was no audience, and the theme song was a short, generic loop. The Bonus Round involved making 5 in a row on a Bingo board to win a prize package. Each correctly-guessed 5-letter word won a ball that would go on the board, and only two were needed to win. Every Bonus Round was played for a prize package that included a watch and a Borders gift card, and the spiel was pre-recorded.
Season 2 moved to the U.S. with a new blue and wood-grain set. The rules in Bonus Lingo so that the marked-off spaces on the board formed a pattern where 5-in-a-row could be made one one draw. Getting 5-in-a-row on the first draw won a grand prize, and doing so on the second or later draw won a smaller one. Also, for each 5-in-a-row Lingo made in the main game, the winning team also got bonus letters to use if they got stuck (likely because one team in Season 1 won only one ball, and another won zero). However, there was still no model, Randy Thomas (of the Hooked on Phonics "1-800-ABC-DEFG" ads) was announcer, and the shorter theme tune was still used.
In Season 3, the set became darker, with lots of blue neon and the theme tune changed to a longer rock-styled tune; both of these changes remained until the end. Also in Season 3, Stacey Hayes joined as both announcer and the newly-created role of co-host, with Paula Cobb as a second co-host for only two episodes. Season 4 replaced Hayes with Shandi Finessey, who stayed with the show until its end.
The 1970s version had a few weirdnesses early on. Most notably, the show was a lot more laid-back and less humor-based, with tamer questions akin to the 1960s original version no "Dumb Dora" or "boobs" type questions. The panelists joked around a lot less, and the chemistry hadn't yet formed Richard Dawson was the only regular, and neither Charles Nelson Reilly nor Brett Somers appeared until several weeks into the run. Over time, the questions got more bawdy, the panel loosened up (usually with the help of booze), and the game soon hit its stride.
In addition, the first six months or so of the 1970s run didn't fade in with laughter immediately. Announcer Johnny Olson would typically say, "Get ready to match the stars ... " and introduce at least the first celebrity before someone would hold up a card with a humorous saying to entice laughter. By the late winter of 1974, the audience was so revved up that the laughter was already in progress when the opening shot faded in. Also during the first several months, the closing credits (including the full-credit roll) scrolled up the screen in the standard manner of most shows, only to be replaced by a side-scroll from right to left by the end of 1973, while the end-show plugs were moved to the third commercial break.
Also, the ticket plugs were basic with just the address superimposed on a background of rotating lights. This changed to the more familiar Match Game ticket plug featuring mixed faces in 1975.
Password similarly became more and more difficult as its contestants and celebrities got more experienced with the game. However, this zig-zagged with Password Plus, which reverted to slightly easier passwords, but also made it so that points were scored for guessing what each round's Passwords had in common a master solution as it were, which was not always that easy to guess and adding a 10-in-60-seconds Bonus Round. (All of this carried over to Super Password.)
The earliest episodes of Password Plus had the Alphabetics board suspended by wires, to the right of the main game set from the viewer's vantage point. By the second week, it had been moved to a cabinet at stage left, where the celebrities and the host make their entrance.
Rich Jeffries announced the first few weeks of Super Password instead of Gene Wood, who also did most of Plus. Once Gene took over, Jeffries helped Wood with audience warm-ups (a common second job for announcers).
Press Your Luck: Several, especially during the first couple of months on the air. By the time the show began hitting its stride just before Christmas 1983, the early weirdness had gone:
The most notable was the opening sequence. Rod Roddy simply introduced the players and spoke of how they planned to take each other out in a game of high stakes but needing to avoid the Whammies!
Also: contestants were more sedated (no "Big bucks, no Whammies!"); no Whammy foghorn, along with different sound effects and musical cues; an even more primitive light pattern that cycled repeatedly and sometimes skipped over entire portions of the board; only a handful of Whammy animations (and those were less intricate than the ones that came later, once the show became a hit); and different cash values (including a lower Round 1 top value of $1,250) and fewer cash-plus-a-spin spaces.
During the very early days of the original Bill Cullen era, reportedly there was the possibility that a four-way loss could occur through overbidding on every item up for bids. A rule was quickly introduced where, at Cullen's discretion and to guarantee a daily/weekly champion, certain items would go back to the contestants for bidding if all four contestants overbid.
Normally there were four bidding games per show. But a few early shows used five games (one such show is at Shokus Video).
As for the current CBS version, the first two years under Bob Barker was a very staid, low-key affair. It was only a half-hour long, almost all of the contestants were housewives, the set was largely brown and orange, the pricing games were very simple, there was no Showcase Showdown, and the Showcases at the end were just prizes presented in a straightforward fashion. When it was apparent the show was going to be a hit, the producers began adding new and more elaborate pricing games, requiring more host-contestant interaction and/or physical activity from the contestant. The Audience Participation increased greatly, as audience members were encouraged to shout out gameplay advice and bids. The set was made brighter and more colorful. The show was also expanded to 60 minutes, thus doubling the number of items up for bids and pricing games, and resulting in the addition of the Showcase Showdown (i.e., the "big wheel") to determine which contestants would play for the big prize Showcases at the end. The models became Ascended Extras, often interacting with Bob during the games. Also, the Showcases often became themed, usually involving the models and/or announcer in some sort of skit.
The very earliest CBS shows saw the audience silent at the beginning; in fact, even the first episode had Johnny Olson exclaim to each contestant to "Stand up!" before calling them down. Only by the end of the week were they clapping as the show faded in and was Olson saying the now-trademark "Come on down!"
And speaking of the Showcase Showdown, it was introduced in an experimental set of hour-long episodes which had a much smaller carnival wheel and seated the three players at Contestant's Row. Once the hour-long format became permanent, the trademark "Big Wheel" was introduced, with the contestants standing onstage to spin it. And even that has its weirdness early on, the beep sound it made was much quieter, it did not necessarily have to make a complete revolution, and contestants used just one hand to spin the wheel while facing the audience. Also, should the contestant earn a bonus spin by acquiring exactly $1.00, the bonus spin was originally "$10,000 if you hit $1.00 again, or nothing", as opposed to a smaller bonus should the $.05 or $.15 spaces be hit.
Some of the individual pricing games originally had drastically different rules. For instance:
Punch a Bunch originally had a far more contrived numbering system regarding the numbered slips that the contestant pulled out of the punchboard they were some number from the top row, then either a "dollar", "hundred", or "thousand" from the other rows. (So if you punched out a "4" on the top, and a "hundred" on the bottom, you'd get $400.) Soon, they just switched to using regular slips with cash amounts on them.
Penny Ante (now retired): Originally, you had to guess the right prices and be off by no more than a dollar; real pennies would shoot down from the game board for every penny you were off. It was later simplified to giving the contestant three big, fake pennies, and taking one away for every wrong guess.
Cliff Hangers used four prizes instead of three in its earliest airings.
Plinko had noticeable cosmetic changes, mostly in the reveal of the game itself. The first playing used the final bars of the Family Feud theme (which are also used to introduce Grand Game), and a different reveal for the right prices of the small prizes.
Originally with Gas Money, you picked what you thought was the car's price first before eliminating the other four prices. Now, the goal is to pick the four wrong prices first, and leave only the actual price.
Dice Game (roll a die four times, and then determine whether the number you rolled is equal, higher, or lower than the next digit in the price of a car) used numbers beyond those on a standard die in its first episodes. Later, the game was made easier by using cars whose prices have only the numbers 1-6 in them.
Grocery Game used to award the actual groceries used for pricing.
1/2 Off didn't originally offer a cash bonus for guessing right prices along the way (which, in turn, eliminates more mystery boxes from play).
Hole in One (mini-golf game; every correctly-guessed price puts you closer to the hole) didn't originally have the " or two" rule.
Pass the Buck (determine between two small prizes which one is off by $1; for each correct pick, you get another pick at a six-space board, which has one car, three cash amounts, and two "Lose Everything"s) originally had eight spaces instead of six. The other two were another cash amount and another "Lose Everything".
Pick a Pair originally had a set resembling a ferris wheel. The game was out of rotation for almost two years, then returned with a table set.
Range Game's range (slide the "range" part of the board up until you're within the set range of the right price) used to be a mere $50, thus making it very hard to win. Quickly, the range grew bigger, to $100 and then just as quickly to the $150 spread used now.
Temptation: Initially, the contestant did not have the option to change any numbers in the price they formed; they were told the combined value of the prizes and given the take-it-or-risk-the-prizes-for-the-car option.
Pyramid: The series evolved significantly by the end of its first year on the air. The early episodes often have teams struggling to guess 2-3 words per round, and sometimes having to guess an entire phrase. Come the 1980s, the game was so streamlined that nearly everyone was getting all 7 words, making it all the more intense if someone bobbled.
The first three months (or so) of the 1973 CBS daytime run saw a different opening segment, with the camera focused on the Winner's Circle and announcer Bob Clayton saying the following (as a slow zoom-out happened): "Keep your eye on this spot. You are about to see one celebrity and one contestant step into this circle for the chance to win $10,000 in less than a minute. Ladies and gentlemen...this is The $10,000 Pyramid!" A partition that hid the "Pyramid" from view rose, and then there would be the introduction of celebrities and Dick Clark. After a few days, the partition disappeared, apparently due to difficulty with getting it to raise on cue, but the rest of the intro stayed. When it was clear the show was a hit and there was a good collection of $10,000 wins available, this opening sequence was replaced by the more-familiar "Previously On" sequence.
Also, the judging in the Winner's Circle (convey six categories to your partner using only a list) got increasingly strict no hand movements, no prepositional phrases, and an overall higher regard for precision. The high stakes and difficulty on the 1980s $100,000 Pyramid, combined with the skill of its celebrity partners, often made for exciting TV.
In the 80s versions, the "7-11" Bonus Space initially offered the opportunity of taking a $50 bonus per word, or $1,100 for getting all 7 words right. Almost no one took the former, so it was quickly changed to just the latter.
Sale Of The Century: The first 2 1/2 months of the 1980s NBC version had no cash jackpot as the final prize; the top prize was simply all six luxury prizes plus how much ever cash was needed to award the contestant exactly $95,000. Also, the target scores to win a given prize were significantly lower for instance, only $390 was needed to win a Mercedes Benz sedan ... although contestants were rarely scoring more than $70 per game.
Tattletales originally had jump-in questions which required the celebs to relate a story about their personal lives, interspersed with "quickie" questions which were multiple-choice. After a few months, it became all-quickies.
If the 1978 CBS run could be counted, this 45-episode run had a number of differences from its far-more famous syndicated run. Getting four X's and four O's resulted in a final tie-breaking question being asked to determine a winner; black boxes, which appeared upon category shuffling after both contestants have had a turn, allowed either contestant to ring in and respond, regardless of who selected that category; outside boxes were $100 and the center box was worth $200 (as opposed to the $200 and $300, respectively, on the syndicated series); and there was a different "Beat the Dragon" bonus game (basically, find the hidden tic-tac-toe to win the prize package).
The earliest NBC daytime Wheel episodes have their own weirdness: A "Buy a Vowel" space (on which contestants had to land in order to buy a vowel), contestants almost always playing a puzzle out to the last letter (to gain as much money as possible to satisfy Lin Bolen's desire for "shopping") and so forth. By September 1975, the game had progressed to the point where it remained for the rest of the original daytime run.
Additionally, for about the first year of the show, as announcer Charlie O'Donnell was announcing the value of the prizes up for grabs on that show, the shot faded to an overhead shot of the wheel, with the camera zooming in as the show's logo appeared and a shot superimposed over the center area would eventually fade to host Chuck Woolery coming out. Also, Susan Stafford entered from stage right (from the viewer's vantage point, although this only lasted the first few weeks) before coming through the curtain as would be customary until the end of the original NBC run.
At least two, possibly no more than five, of the earliest syndicated episodes (from the fall of 1983) had prize budgets comparable to the daytime version. One of those episodes featured $55,000 in prizes just waiting to be won but when a contestant named Cindy won $25,100 in a single round (on "THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA," guessing the P's and C's after landing on $5,000 each of those times) the producers got the hint that this is the nighttime show, we do like to feature longer puzzles and we do have a $5,000 space.
The earliest CBS-era episodes had a drastically-slashed prize budget, with the subcompact Subaru Justy (at just over $6,000) and $5,000 cash as the grand prizes. Regular-round bonus prizes were worth as little as $300. And of course, there were the $50 and $75 spaces during the first couple of rounds, spaces not seen since the earliest NBC daytime episodes. By the time Wheel was established on CBS, the value of the bonus prizes both main game and bonus round was upped somewhat (although not quite where it was for the last NBC daytime shows), and $100 was re-established as the lowest dollar amount on the wheel.
Through the early 1990s, the show itself was a far more relaxed game, with a typically mellower contestant base, very short puzzles and few gimmicks. Also, contestants spent their winnings in a "shopping" round that ate up a lot of time. Come the 1990s, the show became faster once the shopping rounds were ditched; many more new categories were introduced to bring thematic variety and longer puzzles; and many new gameplay elements were introduced.
Heck, as tied to the show as Pat Sajak and Vanna White are, the entire first six years with Chuck and Susan can be seen as weird. Even so, there are still a few old-school fans who prefer Chuck and Susan.
The very earliest CBS episodes among those that exist — show evidence of a work in progress:
A female model handing out blindfolds for the mystery guest segment (these were left with the panelists later on)
Panelists that would be seen as "what the hell" today: an ex-governor, a psychiatrist, a poet and an entertainment columnist (although to be fair, the entertainment columnist stayed on until her death 15 years later).
A short skit featuring one of the contestants in a given setting, and the announcer saying "Do you know what this person does for a living?" ... followed by a quick spiel of three or four possible occupations, followed.
The contestants greeting the panelists to begin their segment, and each panelist allowed one "wild guess" as to their occupation.
Arlene Francis not appearing on the first episode, and Bennett Cerf (a non-entertainment panelist who was publisher of Random House) not joining the panel on a weekly basis until the first year of shows were in the books. (Cerf, by the way, was another non-entertainment personality, the rare one who gelled with the audience and had such superb gamemanship he'd appear on game shows, including Line until his death in 1971.)
The earliest syndicated episodes had a short monologue by host Wally Bruner which opened each episode, explaining in detail the concept of the series. By the late winter of 1969, this was dropped and Bruner after greeting the audience and the obligatory pre-game chit-chat with the panel went right to the game.