BOOTLEG FILES 532: “Match Game” (1973-82 TV game show).
LAST SEEN: A large number of episodes are on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: A collection of episodes was released on DVD in 2006.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: One of the most popular game shows in U.S. television history.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: It is not likely that the entire series will be available on DVD.
Back when I was a kid in the 1970s, my post-elementary school routine was predictable: I would telephone my grandmother to tell her I arrived home (because it was the right thing to do), I would have a glass of milk (because it was the right thing to do) and I would watch the TV show “Match Game” (because it was the best thing on television during the afterschool hours).
Now, “Match Game” was not designed for elementary school kids, but it seems that a generation of impressionable kiddies grew up watching that show. The fact that it was placed in the afternoon TV line-up was something of a mystery, considering that smutty humor and double-entendres were the show’s selling points. Perhaps the kids of the 70s were too unsophisticated to comprehend the more outrageous aspects of the program – but, nonetheless, it offers youngsters into a wild parallel universe that could not be found elsewhere on television, let alone in real life.
I knew nothing of the show’s predecessor, which was dubbed “The Match Game” and ran on NBC from 1962 to 1969. From what I understand, that was a pleasant though somewhat quotidian competition game show which bore little resemblance to the ribald version that debuted on CBS in 1973. Very few episodes of the original edition survive, and those seem to be a bit dull.
But there was nothing dull about the CBS version of my childhood years. For starters, each episode started with a bizarre introduction: “Get ready to match the stars!” Announcer Johnny Olson made that proclamation, but it could have easily come from Rod Serling because these “stars” seem to come out of another dimension – not only of sight and sound, but of mind! Even back in the day, I was perplexed as to the star value carried by the likes of Elaine Joyce, Joyce Bulifant, Patti Deutsch and Fannie Flagg. I almost never saw these people outside of “Match Game,” yet somehow or other they were proudly identified as “stars.” (And considering that rival program “Hollywood Squares” could bring in the likes of George C. Scott, Burt Reynolds, Helen Hayes, Alice Cooper and Tina Turner, one had to imagine how “Match Game” viewed the concept of celebrity icon.)
Then there was the question of the show’s regular panelists – what a brilliant collection of weirdos! There was Brett Somers (she of the husky voice, oversized eyewear, endless wigs and somewhat inebriated behavior), Charles Nelson Reilly (who rivaled Somers with his eyewear and wigs, although his voice was more high-pitched and he preferred smoking his pipe while on the air) and Richard Dawson (who pinballed between playfulness and crankiness, sometimes in the midst of the same sentence). These folks were rude, rowdy and completely adorable – sort of like zany distant relatives that kiddies love and adults fear whenever they visit for the holidays.
And the show’s host, Gene Rayburn, was nothing like the bland, blow-dried men that hosted other quiz programs. Whether diving deep into character with thick imitations of Karloff and Lugosi for horror-related questions, or taking on the more extreme aspects of aging with questions relating to one “Old Man Periwinkle,” or just going for the crass and obvious (including a happy request for Fannie Flagg to “show us your boobs”), Rayburn was less of a game show host and more of a ringmaster at a warped circus.
But what responded to the pre-teen version of me back in the 70s – and this may have been picked up by my peers across America – was that “Match Game” was that the focus was not on the competition, but on comedy. Indeed, the show’s contestants barely registered, except maybe as a punch line (most notably when Fannie Flagg feigned hypnotic adoration and received a few long kisses from a hunky gym teacher seeking the $5,000 top prize). Nobody watched “Match Game” to see who would win – the emphasis was strictly on the outlandish answers that would match the fill-in-the-blank questions being fed to the “stars” on the celebrity panel.
On occasion, the show even dared to challenge authority – a hallmark of that distant era. One classic episode had Richard Dawson disrupting play for several minutes when he perceived (correctly) that the judges were wrong in rejecting answers that matched the contestant’s response. The audience responded brilliantly to Dawson’s challenge, cheering his efforts to drive his point home. (The producers would belatedly admit that their initial decision was wrong.)
To the show’s credit, the panel was mostly filled with funny people that were quick with their wits and knew how to trade good-natured barbs with each other. Ebullient Nipsey Russell would reel off comedy poems, shaggy haired Avery Schreiber would eat his paper answer card if he provided a dreadful response to a question, Orson Bean poured dry witticisms on the comic fires, Patti Deutsch would dumbfound everyone with obscure and off-kilter answers, and chip-on-the-shoulder Betty White would gleefully dish it back when Rayburn and company tried to make her the butt of the joke. Even the audience got in on the act, offering violent booing to poor celebrity answers while cheerfully grabbing Rayburn’s cue when he phrased the inevitable “Dumb Dora is so dumb…” with an operatic single-voice chant of “How dumb is she?”
“Match Game” took a somewhat juvenile pride in serving up risqué fill-in-the-blank questions relating to body parts, sexuality, prominent figures and even members of the celebrity panel. It was politically incorrect by contemporary standards, but no one was offended in the 70s – and even Charles Nelson Reilly happily outed himself to score a laugh regarding oversized produce. Said Reilly: “What’s the biggest fruit you can get, present company excluded?” – bringing about one of the happiest and healthiest laughs in TV history.
“Match Game” was the closest that my childhood came to attending a daily cocktail party. But nothing lasts forever – certainly not childhood or cocktail parties – and the fun began to fray when Dawson defected in 1978 to take over as host of “Family Feud.” His absence was never satisfactorily filled – amusing blokes like Dick Martin, McLean Stevenson and Bill Daily were brought in as replacements, but their low-grade chemistry never really blended into the manic setting. CBS complicated matters by kicking “Match Game” out of the afternoon and into the morning time slots, where it performed poorly (maybe because all of the kids were in school and couldn’t watch it). CBS eventually dropped the show, but it limped about in syndication until 1982; a weekly evening version called “Match Game PM” also ran during this period with the same personnel, but I don’t recall it being as zany as the daytime version. Later attempts to revive the formula were dismal and are best forgotten.
Still, the aura of “Match Game” remained for years until the Game Show Network began to rerun the series, thus restoring its glory to its now-aging fans while introducing a new generation to the vintage craziness. There was a 2006 DVD collection of 30 episodes (including too many from the period after Dawson left the show), yet the bulk of the show has never been made available for commercial home entertainment release. Fortunately, there are many “Match Game” fanatics that have offered unauthorized postings of the program on YouTube, where complete episodes and truly ridiculous excerpts can be viewed.
Some four decades later, I find myself older but not particularly wiser, and still rue the passing of my afterschool routine. My grandmother is no longer here, and I miss her. I don’t drink a glass of milk in the afternoon – I know that I should, but bad habits die hard. At least I can still tap into YouTube and go back to my 70s childhood again with “Match Game.” And no matter how many times I hear it, the idea that “Dumb Dora is so dumb…” can still keep my inner child giggling endlessly.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!
Posted on May 16, 2014 in Bootleg Files, Features by Phil Hall
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