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Series / To Tell the Truth

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Only one of these people is the real <name>, and is the only one sworn... To Tell the Truth!

"It's a lie, lie
You're telling a lie
I never know why you don't know how...
To tell the truth, truth, truth, truth
You don't know how to tell the truth, yeaaaaaaah..."
1969-1978 theme song

One of the many successful Goodson-Todman panel games, To Tell The Truth gives a simple premise: A person of some notoriety and two impostors try to fool a four-celebrity panel into choosing one of the impostors instead of the real person. Each celebrity has some time to question the three contestants; while the fakes can obviously lie, the real person usually has to tell the truth about him/herself. After every celebrity has had time to question the person, they guess who the real person is, and each wrong guess earned the trio cash to split amongst themselves.

This one has been revived many times. The original ran from 1956-68 on CBS with Bud Collyer as host. After CBS dropped it, it lived on in syndication from 1969-78 with Garry Moore at the helm until he retired due to throat cancer in 1977, succeeded by Joe Garagiola for the final season. Two years later, the show returned briefly to syndication with Robin Ward as the host. Then in 1990, NBC revived Truth for its morning game show block with three hosts, Gordon Elliott, Lynn Swann, and Alex Trebek, peppering its single season. A third syndicated revival took place in 2000, with John O'Hurley as its host.

A second network revival, this time for ABC, premiered in June 2016 with Anthony Anderson as host, making Truth one of only two US game showsnote  to air a new episode in every decade since the 1950's. It features several new elements, including a round where the panel tries to identify the subject of a second anecdote among the two remaining impostors from the previous round, and the celebrity with the worst score facing humiliation at the end of the show.

The show, like most panel shows, was renowned for its recurring cast of celebrities. Truth's most famous panelists included Bill Cullen, Bert Convy, Tom Poston, Peggy Cass, Orson Bean, and Kitty Carlisle (the only panelist to appear on the first five versions of the show).

These Tropes Are Sworn To Tell The Truth:

  • Affectionate Parody:
    • In The Monkees episode "Captain Crocodile", they spoofed the show as To Tell A Fib.
    • DirecTV, of all things, grabbed Alex Trebek and an eerily-accurate full-size replica of the 1973-78 "blocky" set for a series of promos. Here's the first promo that was aired. The whole lot can be found in these search results as, even though three of the promos are on the company's official YouTube page, you have to root through the playlists to find them. Oh, and although they can get the set right, they can't get the rules right.
  • Ambiguous Gender: If the affidavit didn't specify the contestant's sex, and the contestant has a name that could be used for ether gender (e.g., Chris, Gene/Jean, Pat, etc.), the show would often present a mix of male and female impostors to further confuse the panel. The Anderson version helps enable this by not even giving the contestant's name until the reveal.
  • The Announcer:
    • Bern Bennett announced from 1956-60, when he was replaced by Johnny Olson. In 1972, Olson left Truth to announce The New Price Is Right and was replaced by Bill Wendell until mid-1977, when he was replaced by Alan Kalter, whom, ironically, would also replace Wendell as announcer for Late Show with David Letterman in 1995. Bern Bennett would return as a contestant for the 1990s version and got three votes.
    • Burton Richardson announced on the 1990s and 2000s versions (the 1990 run being his first game show; up to that point, he had primarily been known as the announcer on The Arsenio Hall Show); Don Pardo served as a substitute during the 1969-78 run, while Charlie O'Donnell subbed during the 1990s run.
  • Ascended Extra: Bert Convy, a regular panelist in the second incarnation, originally appeared in the first incarnation in 1967 to introduce his then-pregnant wife for the panel to pick out from two pregnant imposters.
  • Bandaged Face: In a Moore episode, prankster Alan Abel appeared with his head wrapped in bandages. As it turned out, this was not so much that he wouldn't be recognized, but so the panel couldn't identify his two impostors Larry Blyden and Tom Poston.
  • Body Double: Prankster Joey Skaggs once pranked the show by sending one in his place, just to see if they'd notice. They didn't.
  • Bonus Round: On the 1990s version, The Announcer would pick an audience member to play One-On-One, where a person gave two different anecdotes about himself or herself, and the audience member would win $500 if he or she picked the story that was true, while the subject won $1,000 if they didn't.
    • The last subject of this game was Paul Alter, who directed the 1990s revival. The contestant chose incorrectly, but Paul Alter decided he couldn't keep the $1,000 all to himself. Instead, he donated half to charity and gave the other half to the contestant.
  • Catchphrase: "Will the real (name of contestant) please stand up?" and "Number (1, 2, 3), what is your name, please?"
  • Christmas Episode:
    • The April 1, 1958 episode of the original run featured Robert J. George, Santa Claus to the U.S. President. All three contestants were dressed in Santa outfits. One of the impostor Santas was Mitch Miller of Sing Along with Mitch fame.
    • The 1990 edition had an episode where the central subject was a man who ran a Santa Claus hotline. As in the 1958 episode, all three contestants were in costume, which led to a Christmas surprise when the impostors were revealed. (The impostors were Rip Taylor and Christopher Hewitt.)
  • Crossover: On January 18, 1965, the panel traded places with the I've Got a Secret panel (Bill Cullen, Bess Myerson, Henry Morgan, Betsy Palmer); both shows aired Monday nights on CBS at the time.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Bill Cullen was both host and panelist. Also, semi-regular panelists Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy hosted a few episodes of the CBS version.
  • Dirty Old Woman: Mama Doris can usually be counted on to hit on an attractive male contestant in any given episode of the 2016 version.
    Anthony: Mama, have you ever ridden a bull?
    Doris: Yeah, his name was—
    Anthony: Okay!
  • Disguised in Drag: Invoked in an Anderson episode where the subject was a Tupperware Lady: one of the impostors was a woman dressed to look like a man in drag. Also played with, when one of the impostors in the very next round winds up being the Tupperware Lady from the previous round, out of costume.
  • The Ditz:
    • Polly Bergen, who would usually write down one number and say "Well I voted for #2, but I know it's really #3..."
    • For the 2000s version, Paula Poundstone picked up the Ditz title. After one episode in which a panel member used the word "recuse" to explain why they couldn't vote in that round, Paula became obsessed with the word and would endlessly say "Well I should recuse myself from this round because of _________, but I won't..." before voting in each round in each episode. As with Polly, some found this cute others...not so much.
    • Orson Bean would always get creative with his number card, having the number running up stairs, wearing eyeglasses, etc. Once he showed what looked like a blank card, only to reveal that there was a thin black border around the edge, it was supposed to be a huge 1 that filled the whole card.
  • Dog Food Diet: Often, when a food-related guest came on the show, the panel got a sample of the cuisine to taste while Garry read the affidavit. On this episode, the contestant cooked with dog food. If you listen closely you can hear Bill Cullen, veteran of 15 years of similar surprises as an I've Got a Secret panelist, suspiciously listen for the other shoe to drop as Garry reads.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The original version took the first half of 1957 to work out the kinks in the show...
    • Questioning originally went around the panel multiple times before voting took place. By the latter half of the year, the questioning changed to the usual once-round-the-panel.
    • The affidavit scrolled across the screen as Bud read it.
    • The audience voting element from the pilot apparently stuck around for the premiere before being removed altogether.
    • Bud collected and read out the votes himself.
    • The show in general moved slower; the contestants were shown walking up to their positions at the top of the staircase at the start of each segment, and only two games were played in an episode.
    • The show ended with each panelist lying about their name; before long, this was replaced by Bud's usual line.
  • End-of-Series Awareness: On the final episode of the 1969-78 run, Joe Garagiola signed off by saying that it is a different kind of goodbye "known only to us". Due to the bicycling method of syndication,note  a Grand Finale was impossible.
  • Every Episode Ending: In the original version, "This is Bud Collyer reminding you to tell the truth," complete with accusatory hand gesture.
  • Fanservice: The 2000s versions had contestants who were into at least vaguely fetish-related material, such as latex suits, mermaid costumes, et cetera.
  • Game Show Host: So many, it currently ranks second out of all game shows ever produced; the leader is Britain's Have I Got News for You.
    • Bud Collyer hosted the original run, followed by Garry Moore from 1969-77. When he left, Joe Garagiola took over for the remainder of that version's last season. Robin Ward, a virtual unknown to America, hosted the 1980s version. Gordon Elliott, Lynn Swann, and Alex Trebek hosted the 1990s run. John O'Hurley hosted the 2000s revival, and Anthony Anderson hosts the 2016 revival.
    • Other hosts include Mike Wallace (original 1956 pilot entitled Nothing But The Truth), Ralph Bellamy (1957), John Cameron Swayze (1958), Sonny Fox (1959), Robert Q. Lewis (1960/1963/1964/1967), Jim Fleming (1960), Merv Griffin (1961/1962), Jack Clark (1963), Gene Rayburn (1963), Orson Bean (1963), Mark Goodson (1967/1991), Bert Convy (1968), Bill Cullen (1970/1971/1977), and Richard Kline (1990 pilots).
  • Halloween Episode: One Halloween Episode featured three people (one male, two female) claiming to be Lee Parsons, host of a local horror movie show called Nightmare. All three were made up as ghouls, and the segment included: screams as they announced their names; a giant spiderweb graphic behind them; cob webs sprayed on them; and dust that they had to blow off of the contestant podiums.
  • Hotter and Sexier:
    • The 1990 version had shades of this with Shelley Michelle as the real contestant.
    • The 2016 version is planted firmly in this, both in the occupations of certain central characters and in the not-so-subtle crassness of the panelists (including NeNe Leakes and Betty White).
  • Humiliating Wager: The Anderson version has various indignities inflicted on the "losing" panelist. In the first season, Anthony posts a false statement on their Twitter profile. In the next, Anthony does a fake newscast with a humiliating lie about the loser. After that, Mama Doris grants a crown to the "King of the Dummies" and Anthony lets them start an acceptance speech before cutting it off.
  • I Am Spartacus: A variant on the basic theme, where each of the three contestants would stake a claim to the statement "My name is John Doe..." with the impostors and the real claimant revealing their identities at the end of questioning.
  • Large Ham: Anthony Anderson on the current version, with bouts of No Indoor Voice as well.
  • Lovely Assistant: The 2016 version has Anthony Anderson's mom Doris Hancox; she sits in the front row of the audience, chiming in with commentary on the proceedings every so often. Officially, she served as scorekeeper in the first season and end-of-show tiebreaker in the following seasons.
  • Lying Finger Cross: Several of the show's logos included hands with crossed fingers.
  • Obvious Beta: The second pilot for the 1990s version actually aired in the Eastern and Central time zones by mistake in place of the premiere, with marked differences from the actual series most notably the host and set. The fandom didn't complain.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: Possibly a holdover from the pilot's judge-and-jury set motif, early episodes had Bud Collyer collect up the ballots and reveal them one by one, saying which celebrity voted for which contestant.
  • Pilot:
    • The pilot for the CBS version was entitled "Nothing But the Truth", had a judge and jury motif, and was hosted by Mike Wallace.
    • The one for the 1990 NBC revival aired on the East Coast by mistake.
  • Porky Pig Pronunciation: Defied on an episode late in the 1969-78 run. The first contestant gives his name as Peter Agabanbi Polangen. The second points at #1 and says, "My name's the same as his."
  • Product Placement: As was common practice at the time, the sponsor's logo was seen on the panel's desk. There were also logos on the host podium and a small sign by the stairs the three contestants walk down. Additionally, an icon of the product would be seen on the contestant's #1, #2, and #3 signs (e.g., a round container for Arrid, the familiar Marlboro pack design for Marlboro, etc), and host Bud Collyer would mention that a sampler of the product would be given to the contestants along with the money they won. He would also plug the product at the start of each show, holding a pack of the product while giving a quick sales pitch.
  • Rearrange the Song: The 1990-91 version used an instrumental rearrangement of the vocal "You don't know how to tell the truth" theme. A gospel version by Take 6 was recorded but never used on the show.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: The very short-lived You Lie Like a Dog, hosted by JD Roberto for Animal Planet, was basically To Tell the Truth WITH PETS!
  • Second Episode Substitute: As mentioned above, the pilot of the 1990 version was hosted by Richard Kline instead of Gordon Elliott.
  • Shoddy Knockoff Product: Goodson-Todman sued Chuck Barris for attempting to have ABC air Bamboozle, which was pretty much a flagrant ripoff of Truth. This lawsuit became part of the reason Bamboozle flopped out of the pilot stage.
  • The Show Must Go On:
    • In this episode, the question segment was accidentally erased, so Garry and the panel had to ad-lib and redo the voting segment.
    • Counting the pilots, the 1990 version had five hosts in one season. Richard Kline hosted the pilots, and Gordon Elliott was the main host until he was fired and temporarily blackballed over a contract dispute with Rupert Murdoch. Lynn Swann then took over until scheduling conflicts forced Alex Trebek to move to the hosting seat. Trebek then had to skip two episodes because his wife was about to give birth, so Mark Goodson filled in for him.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Studio Audience: Voted on the three contestants during some versions. In some versions, quickie sketches featured audience members who did something weird that the audience would vote on (between what they actually did, and something made up).
  • Thematic Theme Tune and Title Theme Tune: The 1969-78 version had a vocal theme, a type rarely used in game shows. Not only that, but it took the form of a love song:
    "It's a lie, lie, you're telling a lie / I never know why you don't know how / To tell the truth, truth, truth, truth..."
    • This was actually an original song by Robert Israel, a semi-regular composer for Goodson-Todman. The 1990s revival was going to use a re-recording by Take 6, but went with an instrumental orchestral rearrangement instead.
  • Title Drop: "Only one of these people is the real (name), and is the only one sworn...To Tell The Truth!"
  • A Worldwide Punomenon: At least in the Anderson version, the affidavits always end with a pun on whatever the subject is.