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Series: Match Game

"Get ready to match the stars!"

The Match Game began in the 1960s on NBC as a simple parlor game: Host Gene Rayburn read questions such as "Name one of Columbus' three ships." Two teams, each consisting of two contestants and a celebrity captain, earned points by matching answers. This first series lasted from 1962 to 1969.

The format everyone remembers debuted on CBS in 1973, again with Rayburn as host. This time, two contestants tried to match answers with six panelists, including regulars Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly and Richard Dawson. By 1976 or so, the questions — and the stars' answers — featured Double Entendre and Unusual Euphemisms. Beginning in July, Dawson began hosting a new show over at ABC called Family Feud; subsequently, he became more and more bored with Match Game until finally leaving in 1978. Concurrently with the CBS series, Rayburn was the host of Match Game PM in syndication until 1981.

There were three revivals of the CBS format: The Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour on NBC with Gene Rayburn and Jon Bauman, a 1990-91 run on ABC with Ross Shafer and poor affiliate clearance, and a syndicated 1998-99 run with Michael Burger and only five panelists. None of the revivals lasted long. This show has become difficult to revive: In the 1970s, the panelists had to show some creativity to answer the dirty-sounding setup questions while still falling within the bounds of daytime television acceptability. By the 1990s, standards had relaxed enough that panelists would go ahead and give the obvious answer, which defeated the purpose and got boring very quickly.

It was featured on the penultimate episode of Gameshow Marathon in 2006, hosted by Ricki Lake, with an impressively detailed replica of the original set.

The British version was called Blankety Blank, hosted by Terry Wogan (1979-83) and Les Dawson (1984-90) during its original run on BBC1. It was resurrected in 1997, hosted by Lily Savage (aka Paul O'Grady) first on BBC1 (1997-99) and then ITV1 (2001-02). It also became Blankety Blanks in Australia when Graham Kennedy hosted a version of it on Network Ten from 1977-1978; prior to that, a straight-up remake of The Match Game had aired in the 1960s. A French-language version for the Canadian market, Atomes Crochus, began production in 2010 on V; an English-language equivalent (titled Match Game, the first foreign remake to use the original title since Australia's The Match Game in the 1960s) began airing on The Comedy Network in 2012 (it is essentially Match Game '90 with the Video On Trial regulars as the regulars)

Not related to Dream Match Game or Match Three Game, or a free bonus game in pinball awarded when the numbers at the end line up, known as a "match game."

Game Show Tropes in use:

  • Bonus Round: Super Match, which consisted of the Audience Match (a carryover from NBC) and the Head-to-Head Match.
    • On the Rayburn version, the contestant originally chose a star to play against in the Head-to-Head Match, with most of them picking Richard Dawson because he was so good at it. In 1978, the Star Wheel was introduced to randomly determine which star would play and whether the stakes would be doubled. (A previous attempt to vary things up forced a contestant playing their second Head-to-Head Match to select a different celebrity than their first attempt.) Guess whose name it stopped on when it was used for the very first time?
      • This caused one of the many (joking) walk-outs on the part of the celebrities.
  • Bonus Space: The star spaces on the Star Wheel (circles on the ABC version), which doubled the pot. Originally five stars in a row, they were changed to three spaced-out stars when the daily syndicated version began in 1979.
  • Confetti Drop: Not for big winners, but balloons were released at the end of the New Year's Eve episodes as the title sign indicating the year was changed.
  • Personnel:
    • The Announcer: Johnny Olson announced from 1962-82. Gene Wood (who had been a panelist for a week in 1974) held these duties on the ABC version. Paul Boland announced the 1998-99 version.
    • Game Show Host: Gene Rayburn hosted from 1962-82. Bert Convy filmed pilots for what became the ABC revival, but was ultimately replaced by motivational speaker Ross Shafer due to Convy being diagnosed with a brain tumor (Convy died after this version ended in 1991). Michael Burger hosted the 1998-99 version.
    • Studio Audience
  • Speed Round: Match-Up!, played at the end of each round during the Shafer version. The first playing was $50 per question in 30 seconds; the second was $100 per question for 45 seconds.
  • Think Music: A variant; music plays while the stars write down their answers on the cards.


"Get ready to match the tropes":

  • Absentee Actor: Charles Nelson Reilly had other commitments for a few weeks in 1974, so Gary Burghoff sat in his usual spot.
  • Advertising Campaigns: Many then current ad campaigns were regular fodder for questions, including The Pillsbury Dough Boy, The Jolly Green Giant and his niblets, Euell Gibbons and Grape Nuts, Mr Whipple, and the Ty-D-Bowl Man.
  • Affectionate Parody: The "Weird Al" Yankovic song tribute to Charles Nelson Reily "CNR" contains a number of Match Game references.
  • Blatant Lies: A question once said that McDonald's was charging double for burgers because "____ fell into the meat grinder". Brett, referring to Ronald McDonald, wrote "The clown whose name I can't remember". Charles complains that he has been accused for weeks of copying off Brett. He says his answer will prove he doesn't copy, only to reveal "The clown whose name I can't remember".
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Most of the regulars and Gene would occasionally do this- notably Gene, when reading Old Man Periwinkle questions, would often do an old man voice. (Similarly, when he portrayed Dracula.) Averted, however, in the Head-to-Head match where Gene would read the question using a flat delivery in order to avoid suggesting a particular answer.
  • Camp Gay: Charles Nelson Reilly, the Mark Goodson-Bill Todman answer to Merrill Heatter-Bob Quigley's Paul Lynde. Reilly wore a caftan on national television.
  • Catch Phrase: "Get ready to match the stars!"
    • Rayburn typically said "Slide it, Earl!" when asking to reveal the $500 answer in the Super-Match.
    • Sometimes when the questions got a little too un-PC, Charles and/or Brett would say "We're gonna get letters..."
    • For Brett, it was "Good Gravy Marie!"
    • Whenever neither contestant made any matches during the first round, Gene would point to the 0 - 0 and say "My, we have a real pitcher's duel going on here!"
    • Sometimes Richard would give his answer as "El-_______-O."
    • In the Canadian reboot, Sean Cullen has "What I was going to say was...Insert ridiculous answer
  • Censored for Comedy: From which the majority of the humor is derived.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Patti Deutsch is probably the best example among the panelists. Her answers generally had some sort of warped internal logic to them, but they were still far removed from anything either the contestants or the other regular panelists might offer. In some cases her answers may have been more entertaining for their bizarreness, but it did undermine the goal of giving an answer which the six panelists would match if one panelist had a penchant for extremely unlikely answers.
    • To her credit, she usually gave the oddball answers only in the first round, usually constructed with questions which had more than one obvious fill to the blank..
      • Even better, sometimes Patti would be the only one to match a particularly crazy response from the contestant.
    • Soap star Jacklyn Zeman filled this role on the 1990 version.
    • Emma Hunter fills this role on the 2012 Canadian reboot
    • And then there's...ah... Joyce Bullifant. (Junk...yard...)
  • Creative Closing Credits: In the 1973-82 era (with the exception of the first few episodes), on a full credit roll (usually on Fridays), the credits roll sideways from right to left, instead of vertically.
  • Crossover:
    • The Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour.
    • A few times Gene Rayburn would host Bert Convy's Tattletales and Bert, while not actually hosting officially, would read a Match Game question or two so Gene could play.
    • The main cast from The Carol Burnett Show (including MG regular Vicki Lawrence) made a special appearance and played a round where Gene threatened to replace Brett with Vicki permanently.
    • Match Game and The Price Is Right shared the same announcer (Johnny Olson) and much of the same production staff; also, Bob Barker was a semi-regular, leading to several in-jokes. One of the best was a Super Match with "Come On _____" and the contestant did not call on Barker first.
      Bob Barker: Gene, where did you find this girl?
      • And the same studio (Studio 33, now the Bob Barker Studio)! The fact that both shows used turntables extensively is not a coincidence. Same turntables.
      • Models Janice Pennington and Holly Hallstrom both appeared on the panel as well. Holly a few times, including after the show left CBS.
      • Bob was also known to make jokes referring to the "other" show, including offering refrigerators to the entire audience.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Charles Nelson Reilly.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The early 1970s episodes can seem quite weird, since the questions were far more generic (no "Dumb Dora" or "boobs"-type questions), and the overall mood less silly since the panel had not yet had time to gel. Also, neither Charles nor Brett were on the panel for the first several weeks. By about 1974, the show had begun to hit its stride.
    • The first season of PM (1975-76) used two rounds per game just like the daytime version. All episodes afterward used three rounds per game, because two rounds led to lots and lots and lots of filler.
  • Even the Subtitler Is Stumped: In one game, Pat Morita writes an answer in Japanese and Gene demands the judges deem it a match or not. They respond by simultaneously dinging AND buzzing it.
  • Follow the Leader: Jack Barry-Dan Enright productions copied the format pretty blatantly with Hollywood Connection (1977-78), which was pretty much Match Game but with questions about the celebrities instead of fill-in-the-blank. Yahtzee (1988) was basically Match Game WITH DICE!
  • Freudian Slip: One frequently-seen outtake has Gene remarking about an attractive female contestant, "Doesn't she have pretty nipples... er, pretty dimples?"
  • Gender-Blender Name: One of the two female contestants on the first aired episode of Match Game 73 was named Stanley.
    • Three episodes later, Stanley faced off against another female contestant named Gary.
    • Of course, Brett Sommers
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The 1970s version built its reputation on seeing how much they could. Any question involving a female and a pluralized blank usually led to at least one person (not always on the panel) offering "boobs" as an answer.
    • Once, Brett Somers flipped off the audience when they vociferously booed an answer of hers.
    • "I never saw the tip come off before...."
    • Once, Bob Barker dropped an "oh, shit" as the Star Wheel they were using at the time got close to him. Since it's a little muted compared to the crowd's noise, it skated right by the censors. Here's the moment.
    • When a contestant was picking celebrities for the Audience Match:
      Contestant: I haven't tried Betty yet.
      Gene: I've tried Betty.
    • After Gene asked the female contestant if she wanted one of the three celebrity suggestions for the Super-Match or one of her own:
      Contestant: I don't have any.
      Gene: You don't have any? I wouldn't say that.
    • Averted in this question: "Ed Sullivan said, 'Tonight, right here on this very stage, King Kong will _____ the Lemon sisters.'" Louisa Moritz wrote down "Rape", but a clip was obviously edited in of her showing a card with "Ravage" written on it instead. In addition to the jump cuts, the "rape" card can briefly be seen at 2:51 in the clip.
  • Halloween Episode: The 1990 revival had host Ross Shafer (Dracula), the celebrities (including Charles Nelson Reilly as Superman[!] and Vicki Lawrence as Little Red Riding Hood) and the contestants in costume.
    Charles: [having been the only person not picked for a Match-Up] No one ever picks Superman anymore!
  • Hotter and Sexier: Questions on the 1998-99 version tended to be more overtly sexual (translation: lots of Bill Clinton jokes) than on any previous version. Nearly every episode had at least one answer that had to be beeped out and have the panelist's card censored (although that happened at least once on the ABC version, and at least four times in the 1973-82 run).
    • As one example of how bad that version got: a contestant trailed in Round 2 by nine points after his opponent had finished her question, meaning that he needed to match all five panelists (at two points per match) to win the game. The question was read, the stars wrote down their answers, and the contestant gave an answer — one that was promptly censored so viewers could neither hear nor lip-read what was said...and one that all five stars also wrote. The contestant had achieved an amazing come-from-behind victory with an answer that nobody watching at home would ever see.
  • Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons: Ventriloquist Ronn Lucas was accompanied by his dragon puppet Scorch when he appeared as a panelist on the 1990 version.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Dumb Dora/Donald, Old Man Perriwinkle (and his wife), Ugly Edna (changed in 1980 to Ulfrea), and Weird Willie are the most well-known. And that's not counting the real-life stable of semi-regulars, who were "characters" in and of themselves...
  • Luck-Based Mission: Whether a contestant won or lost the Head-to-Head Match depended on whether s/he got a question with only one possible answer or one with many.
  • Most Definitely Not a Villain: At the beginning of an episode where only one contestant was seated, Charles occupied the empty spot and claimed to be "Dale Peters", a 24 year old student (to which Brett comments "You wish!") ...who has been married 3 times with 4 sons and two daughters.
  • Mythology Gag: An April 1976 show had Bill Cullen and Janice Pennington on the panel. Gene points to Bill and says "This is the face you see on The Price Is Right?" Bill: "Not if you've watched lately!"
  • New Year Has Come: The CBS version updated the sign every New Year's episode (Match Game '73 —> Match Game '74), accompanied with party favors for the panel, balloons and streamers, and the singing of "Auld Lang Syne".
  • Nice Hat: Charles Nelson Reilly had quite the collection of hats.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhnteepahhhhhhhhhhhhstooooo", said by Gene Rayburn and Richard Dawson to get themselves to imitate Boris Karloff for the "Mad Doctor/Dr. Frankenstein said..." questions.
  • Off the Rails: The show was really designed around this (like this segment), but the School Riot is a rare actual example.
  • Opening Narration: "Get ready to match the stars!" [lists off all six stars, whose faces appear framed in a rotating orange box] "As we play the star-studded, big money Match Game!" The 1990 version was largely identical, except the celebs' faces were cut into thirds that "slid" on-screen one at a time, creating mix-and-match faces in the transition; also, "star-studded, big money" became "all-new, star-studded".
    • 1962-1969: "From New York City, it's time to play... [logo appears] ...The Match Game. This portion of The Match Game brought to you today by... [lists sponsor and plugs their product] And now here's your host, Gene Rayburn!"
    • 1998-1999: [undercranked footage of audience getting in their seats with stock "running" sound effect] "Wanna have the most fun you've ever had watching a game show?" [stock crowd reply of "YEAH!"] "All you need is a set…" [set pieces fall into place] "…Wonderful stars, like [lists off five stars]… two contestants, like [names of contestants]… and the guy that makes it all happen, our host, Michael Burger! All here on Match Game! [slow-motion zoom onto sign]" Somewhere along the way, this was changed to a "door opening" graphic over the first sentence, and the next part changing to "Well, come on in! We've got five wonderful stars like…"
  • Panty Shot: this contestant.
    Gene Rayburn: Well, I'm certainly glad you wore your undies and all that today, because we'd have had to do a little editing there.
  • Pop Culture Osmosis: The Trope Codifier for personality-driven Double Entendre game shows. "John showed Mary is big hot Blank."
  • Real Song Theme Tune: The NBC version used Bert Kaempfert's "A Swingin' Safari". The 1962 pilot used Billy Vaughn's cover of the same song.
  • Rearrange the Song: The ABC revival used a mellower re-orchestration of the 1970s theme.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: The Bert Convy pilot re-used the Cover Up Think Music from The Price Is Right during the Head-to-Head Match.
    • About 17 years later, Price returned the favor and used the Match Game think music during Cover Up as a gag on an April Fools' Day episode.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Nipsey Russell, regularly.
  • Running Gag: Fannie and Brett's catfights, among others. Many questions had recurring characters, such as Old Man Periwinkle, Dumb Dora (how dumb was she?), Weird Willie, Ugly Edna (later Ugly Alfreida), et al. The ticket plugs (which were mainly featured on the 1979-1982 daily syndicated version) featured a headshot of a funny face by either superimposing a celebrity's/contestant's face or mouth on another celebrity's/contestant's head or by just combining the two faces together.[1][2] This ticket plug style later served as the inspiration for the 1990 version's opening, featuring the celebrities' faces split into thirds and sliding in different formations[3]. These type of ticket plugs were more common in the daily syndicated version.
    • Betty White (sitting in the sixth position) would often roll up Gene's pantlegs (supposedly without his knowledge) as he talked to the upper-level celebs. One time after she did the deed, Gene mentioned that one time she did it previously someone in the audience got a picture of him in said condition, which eventually got printed in both the NY Daily News and TV Guide.
    • Any strange or otherwise off-the-walls answer being a 'rotten answer'.
  • Self-Deprecation: Charles and Brett would sometimes dis the 'think' music played while the celebrities wrote down their answers.
  • Shout-Out: Sister show Tattletales got a lot of them, be it Bert Convy showing up as a surprise as the next contestant is revealed, Convy and Rayburn talking about the show, or Johnny Olson's end tag "Stay tuned for Tattletales, next over most of these CBS stations!"
    • On the introduction of the Star Wheel, Dawson joked that if the player landed on the star markings on the wedges, "Chuck Woolery comes out and punches you in the mouth."
    • From a 1975 episode: "Johnny Olson's wife said, 'Last night it was really hard to get to sleep. All night long, Johnny kept shouting, '____!'" The contestant said "Come on down", which two of the panelists matched. Johnny even demonstrated the line.
  • Smarter Than You Look: Fannie Flagg, who occasionally came across as a bit of a ditz (albeit no more so than the other regular panelists), would later enjoy some success as a novelist, having written the critically acclaimed best-seller Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Panelists frequently smoked (and drank!) on the air.
  • Spin-Off: Somewhat; the Super-Match was the inspiration for Family Feud. The questions used on Feud were patterned after the original Match Game questions ("Besides the White House, name something in Washington D.C.") In addition, Richard Dawson was selected to host the new show based largely on his Match Game popularity.
  • Talk Like a Pirate: For some reason, Paul Boland always growled "Nell Carrrrterrrrr" in a pirate-like voice.
  • Take That:
    Gene Rayburn: The bank teller said, "I think there's something wrong with this dollar bill. Instead of a picture of George Washington, it has a picture of George..."
    Contestant: Wallace.
    • The first panelist was Scoey Mitchell, who gave the contestant a Death Glare before revealing that his answer matched...well, sort of.
      Scoey: Had the old boy let me go to school, I'd have learned how to spell his name. (holds up card with "Walass" written on it)
  • Those Two Guys: Brett and Charles.
  • Trash the Set: Whenever the doors were "glued shut", this happens.
  • Trrrilling Rrrs: If Gene had to say "three", he always rolled the R in it.

Stay tuned for Tattletales, next, over most of these CBS stations!
Masters Of SexAmerican SeriesThe Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour
MastermindGame ShowBlankety Blank

alternative title(s): Match Game
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