This month we are taking a look back at some of the game shows on television in the fifties and sixties. If you grew up in that era you will definitely remember The Dating Game. Airing in December of 1965, it was created by Chuck Barris who would create many game shows and might be known best for The Gong Show.
The original host was Jim Lange. The show was revived several times, a trend we continue to see with Match Game and the 100,000 Pyramid among other shows that have appeared in different decades. The original series was on the air until 1973. Jim Lange continued to host for the syndicated version in 1973 which only lasted a year and again in 1978 without the participation of Barris. Johnny Jacobs was the announcer with Lange. In 1986 the show was rebooted with Elaine Joyce as host, followed by Jeff MacGregor for 1987 and 1988. The show popped up again in 1996 with Brad Sherwood hosting, again followed by Chuck Woolery for two years.
The Newlywed Game, which we’ll discuss next week, was often packaged with The Dating Game for an hour of programming beginning in 1966.
If you are not familiar with the show, three bachelors would sit on stools behind a wall and a bachelorette on the other side asked the three men questions. Every once in a while, things would reverse with the man asking questions to three women. She referred to them as Bachelor No. 1, 2, and 3. At the end of the question-and-answer period, the bachelorette would choose one of the three and the pair would go on a date with the show paying the expenses. The dates began as expensive dinners, but when the show went to primetime in 1966 exotic locations like Paris or Hawaii were the destinations, and the couples were chaperoned.
That chaperone would have been very important in the case of Rodney Alcala, one of the bachelors chosen for a date in 1978. Jim Lange introduced him as a successful photographer. At that time, there was no technology available to conduct background checks which would have already flagged him as potentially dangerous. Cheryl Bradshaw, the bachelorette, found him creepy and refused to go on the date. It was later learned that by the time he made his appearance on the show, he had killed at least two women in California and two in New York. After the episode aired, he continued his serial killing career and killed between 8-120 women in a nine-year time span. He was on death row at San Quentin Prison and is currently serving his time at the Corcoran State Prison with his execution postponed due to a moratorium on the death penalty in the state.
Bradshaw was not the only contestant who refused to go on the date. Many contestants chose to skip that once they met in person.
Barris had a problem with the show in that so many of the responses were not appropriate to put on the air. Often, they were crude or had sexual connotations. Finally, he came up with a creative solution. He hired an actor to dress like an enforcement official. He appeared in the dressing room before the bachelors were sent to the set. He told them any profanity or sexual references would be a violation of the FCC policy which was a federal offense, and it could lead to jail time. This was not true, but the bachelors did not know that, and Barris said the threat took care of his problem.
While I do remember seeing Mel Harris as a contestant on Pyramid reruns, and I’m sure that happens sometimes on game shows, this show really hit the jackpot with contestants who later became celebrities including Yvonne Craig, Farrah Fawcett, Leif Garrett, Phil Hartman, Don Johnson, Andy Kaufman, Steve Martin, Lee Majors, Burt Reynolds, Michael Richards, John Ritter, Tom Selleck, Suzanne Somers, and Lindsay Wagner.
The set screamed 1960s with colorful daisy-like shapes on the wall designed by Art Director George Smith. The flowers were vivid sixties colors. The show ended with the winning contestants and Lange blowing kisses to the audience.
The music was also easily identifiable with the show. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass songs were used in the three different parts of the show. “Spanish Flea” before introducing the bachelor, “Whipped Cream” when introducing the bachelorette, and “Lollipops and Roses” when the couple first meets.
The show was a hit from the beginning. Airing during the day in 1965, in 1966 it switched to primetime.
If watching the show was not enough excitement, you could play at home. Hasbro released three different games based on the show. In 1968, an album was recorded called The Dating Game Party Pak. Jim Lange narrated the album and packaged with it were invitations, name tags, and scorecards.
As for “happy ever afters,” I could only find two mentions of potential marriage from the show, and I could not verify either one of them. Barris said the network told him he needed to have at least one couple end up together; one couple discussed marriage and the network was involved with it but they called it off right beforehand; the other was a reporter who Barris knew would not give the show favorable publicity, so he apparently had three call girls as contestants and asked the reporter to be on the show. The reporter and one of the prostitutes went on their date, hit it off, and apparently, married. Happy ever after? Who knows?
Like Laugh In, this was a show that could only have come out of the late sixties and early seventies. While I do remember watching the show often, I think it was probably because my parents were watching it. I’ll take Jeopardy, Concentration, or Sale of the Century any day.