Me: “Ever notice there aren’t any contestants our age on Wheel of Fortune?”
Wife: “No, but you’re right. Why is that?”
Me: “They fall asleep before the show is over.”
Childhood television viewing wasn’t always filled with endless choices of programming.
A kid today can watch cartoons, nature shows or educational offerings on demand. But a few decades ago, in the dark ages of just three channels, shows for kids were limited to early weekday and Saturday mornings.
Captain Kangaroo and Cap’n Crunch ruled my weekday mornings, with Saturday filled with Kukla, Fran and Ollie, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and Scooby Doo.
After 8 a.m. on weekdays, we had one option during a long, rainy summer day. Game shows.
And what a great time to watch game shows the ‘60s and ‘70s were — not only for kids but also adults.
Between your mom and grandmother watching “Days of Our Lives,” “As The World Turns” and “General Hospital,” there was “Match Game,” “The Price is Right,” “Family Feud,” “Jeopardy!”, “The Hollywood Squares,” “Password,” “The Dating Game,” “Let’s Make a Deal,” “The Newlywed Game” and many more.
If you’re saying, “Where’s ‘Wheel of Fortune’?” It didn’t debut until 1975 — and with a different host than Pat Sajak. But that’s for later.
So on rainy days I grew to not only like but love Gene Rayburn, Bob Barker, Monty Hall, Allen Ludden and the cast of celebrities who appeared on my favorite game shows.
If you’ve never seen “Hollywood Squares,” the premise isn’t complicated. Two opposing contestants sat on either side of the host, Peter Marshall (who is still with us at 95). There were nine celebrities who sat in individual squares on a large tic-tac-toe set. Paul Lynde was the center square.
Contestants would choose a celebrity to answer a question. The celebrity could answer correctly or make up an answer. The contestant could agree or disagree with whether their answer was correct. If the contestant was right, they got an X or an O on the tic-tac-toe board. The one who reached three-in-a-row on the board was the winner.
A child’s game. But, like “Wheel of Fortune,” which is basically a game of hangman, “Hollywood Squares” wasn’t interesting to watch because of a tic-tac-toe game. It was interesting because most of the celebrities gave hilarious answers. Paul Lynde was, hands down, the funniest.
Some of his answers:
Host: “Someone offers to give you a French 75. What is it?”
Paul: “That’s 25 more than it was the last time.”
Host: “Pride, anger, covetousness, lust, gluttony, envy and sloth are collectively know as what?”
Paul: “The Bill of Rights.”
Host: “Scientists say that a small child will believe the story that a stork brought him easier than he will how it really happened.”
Paul: “What do you mean, ‘really happened’?”
I marveled at Paul’s ability to think that quickly and be that funny. Many years later, I learned that he had writers on the show. But, Paul still delivered his lines better than anyone else could have, I’m fully convinced.
But game shows are a lot like Westerns and cop shows. They come and go in popularity. And right now, game shows are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. When “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek passed away, his death received more media coverage than many movie star and singers who pass.
“The Price is Right” and “Let’s Make a Deal” are still on the networks during the daytime, and other syndicated game shows are still airing.
“Wheel of Fortune” began its first run with Chuck Woolery as host in the mid-’70s. The show had a daytime version and a syndicated version. The daytime game was canceled by NBC, and in the early ‘80s, Pat Sajak was chosen as the syndicated host. That version of the game is still on today. Pat and Vanna White have co-hosted more than 5,000 shows.
At our house, “Wheel of Fortune” is called, “The Late Show.” Maybe that’s why we never see any older contests on there, or maybe they just like people who can jump up and down and scream a lot.
If so, the younger contestants can fly out to California and be on the show. We’ll sit in our La-Z-Boys and play.