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Game Show
aka: Game Shows

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I was there to match my intellect on national TV
Against a plumber and an architect, both with a Ph.D.
I was tense, I was nervous
I guess it just wasn’t my night
Art Fleming gave the answers
Oh, but I couldn’t get the questions right!

One of the oldest TV show types, and the granddaddy of Reality TV; individuals or teams compete for cash and prizes. Descended from radio quiz shows (which are also covered here), they have fluctuated in popularity since their debut in the 1920s.

Considering they were easy and cheap to stage without the visual element to consider, there were numerous radio quizzes such as Dr. IQ (which was recorded in various stage theatres around the US), The $64 Question (which aired from 1950-52; $64 in 1950 is roughly $640 in 2020), and You Bet Your Life. In fact, you can watch the test film of the latter to get an idea how such a radio show was staged.

Game shows were enormously popular in America during the 1950s when TV became a progressively more viable purchase, until several of the most popular onesnote  turned out to be rigged.

Game show rigging began in 1954, when an indictment of the FCC against ABC that accused the latter's quiz shows of legally counting as gambling was ruled by the Supreme Court of the United States as not counting as such, and dismissed the case as motivated by prejudice against lottery, which was a moral panic at the moment. Since game shows were not legally lotteries, that meant the laws that governed authorized lotteries didn't apply, and this included the laws that prevented rigging; the producers knew that damn well, and thus they immediately proceeded to rig the hell out of their game shows, sometimes even going as far as decrying honest game shows like the pilot broadcast of 21 as complete failuresnote . In one particular instance, the producers of The $64,000 Question actively tried as hard as possible to block a contestant from winning the top prize, with a side serving of sexism due to said contestant being a woman blessed with extreme photographic memory and thus having a fair share of knowledge about "manly" pop culture topics such as boxing and horse racing. And then, to top it off, many producers proceeded to cover everything up as hard as possible; Dotto was abruptly cancelled as soon as the producers found out that a contestant blew the whistle to the FCC about having seen a notebook in the backstage with all the answers his rival said, and when 150 producers and staff members were summoned to a state grand jury to explain, 100 of them ended up lying to the jury.

The fallout from the scandals resulted in the amendment of the Federal Communications Act that declared "fixing of televised contests of intellectual knowledge or skill" illegal. Many cooperating contestants ended up with their lives ruined and their public reputation tarnished: Charles van Doren was kicked from his old tenure at Columbia University, and barely managed to secure a low-profile job as an Encyclopedia Britannica editor where he was paid peanuts; and Teddy Nadler, who made $264,000 on The $64,000 Question (about $2.5 million in 2020 dollars), ended up applying for a simple job as a census taker and absolutely failed a simple map-reading quiz. Throughout the 60s, the prizes were not allowed to stretch beyond four digits; big-ticket game shows (especially quizzes) fell out of favor until 1973 with The $10,000 Pyramid. The British had an identical scandal in 1958 (Twenty One on Granada) and this resulted in a limit of £1,000 on cash prizes until the mid-1990s; more frequently the top prize would be a car or, in one case, a speedboat.

As the game show genre slowly rebuilt its old reputation, the 1970s-80s brought flashy sets and catchy music, with 1975, 1985, and 1987 being particularly good years for the genre.

The 1990s brought with it a sense that ideas were running out, as networks and cable stations dropped games left and right (the last Big Three victim being Caesar's Challenge in January 1994). Only The Price Is Right, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy! remained through the entire decade, with a few other games briefly popping up here and there. More discerning contestants opted to appear on game shows you're most likely to win in order to up their chances at a big prize. Game Show Network launched in December 1994, giving fans a constant home for classic games and new formats; prior to that, they'd had to rely on other cable nets, including Nickelodeon, USA Network, and CBN/The Family Channel for their fix. 2015 would bring the launch of a new classic game channel, Buzzr, owned by Fremantle and serving as vault channel for their classic game show library.

In 1998, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? gave the genre a shot in the arm and brought a new age of Follow the Leader games that use the editing room to manufacture drama legally. However, in the mid-2010's this started to fall out of favor, especially after ABC began ordering revivals of more traditional games (such as Match Game and Pyramid) with formats that were more faithful to their classic formats, yet still modern in execution.

For the celebrity-oriented variant, see Panel Game. For the variants which allow audiences at home to participate, see Phone-in Game Shows and Home Participation Sweepstakes. See also Game Show Tropes.


Producers (arranged alphabetically by last name):

  • Paul Alter
  • Ralph Andrews (You Don't Say!, I'll Bet/It's Your Bet, Liars Club, 1969-70 It Takes Two, Celebrity Sweepstakes, 50 Grand Slam, 1987-88 Lingo, Yahtzee)
  • Peter Arnell (1952-53 Wheel of Fortune)
  • Chuck Barris
  • Jack Barry and Dan Enright
  • Mark Burnett
  • Stephen J. Cannell (Caesars Challenge)
  • Bill Carruthers (Give-N-Take, Second Chance, Press Your Luck)
  • Carsey Werner (Bill Cosby version of You Bet Your Life)
  • Desilu Studios (By the Numbers, Show Me, Zoom)
  • Ralph Edwards (Truth or Consequences, 1974-81 Name That Tune, The Cross-Wits, Knockout, Bzzz!)
  • Fremantle Media (and its predecessors, All-American Television and Pearson Television)
  • Mark Goodson and Bill Todman
  • Merv Griffin
  • Reg Grundy (Hot Streak, Scrabble, 1980s Sale of the Century, Time Machine, almost every Australian adaptation of an American game)
  • Stefan Hatos and Monty Hall (Let's Make a Deal, Split Second)
  • Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley
  • Wink Martindale (Headline Chasers, Bumper Stumpers, Family Channel's interactive games of 1993-94)
  • Nick Nicholson and E. Roger Muir (Pay Cards!, Spin-Off; also created The Newlywed Game)
  • Allan Sherman (creator/producer of I've Got a Secret, 1952-58)
  • Scott Sternberg (Let's Go Back, Wheel 2000, Jep!)
  • Bob Stewart
  • Talent Associates (1960s Supermarket Sweep and The Honeymoon Race, among others)
  • Greggo (Greg Wicker; The Pokémon Game Show)
  • Jay Wolpert


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Quiz Show, Game Shows


Golden Balls- Split or Steal?

In this game, the contestants can both choose to split 100,150 pounds or steal and get the whole pot, leaving the other with nothing. The problem is if they both steal, they both get nothing. And they most choose at the same time.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / PrisonersDilemma

Media sources: