This month we are looking at some classic game shows from the sixties and seventies. The Newlywed Game which aired a year after The Dating Game, debuted was often partnered with The Dating Game. The Newlywed Game was created by Robert Nicholson and E. Roger Muir and both shows were produced by Chuck Barris.
The premise of the show featured three couples, recently wed. The men would leave the set while the women were asked specific questions, and then the husbands were brought back to see how well they knew their spouses. In the second half of the show the women went off stage. Whichever couple had the most points at the end of the night received a prize.
The host was Bob Eubanks. His trademark phrase was “making whoopee” which is how he got around talking about sex without using words he could not say.
Apparently, the show led to several divorces. I read a lot of sources that made that claim, but I could not verify any couples that actually divorced because of the show.
In 1977 a syndicated version of the show was created that was identical to the original ABC entity. The show was canceled in 1980 when another one of Barris’ shows, 3’s A Crowd created a lot of controversy. In that show, a man’s wife and secretary would compete to see who knew him best. It resulted in so many complaints that all Barris’ shows were canceled.
However, the show was revived from 1985-1989 and again from 1996-1999. Eubanks continued his hosting duties in the first reboot until 1988 when he was replaced with Paul Rodriguez. The 1996 version was emceed by Gary Kroeger but after the ratings did not increase, Eubanks was brought back from retirement. Its first announcer was Johnny Jacobs who also hosted The Dating Game. In the other versions, there were a variety of announcers.
Barris wrote a song “Summertime Guy” for singer Eddie Rambeau. He was banned from singing it on American Bandstand because Barris was employed by the same network. Barris wanted to use the song for something so he had it arranged as an instrumental by Milton DeLugg and it was recorded by Trumpets Ole, a similar style of band to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass who did the music for The Dating Game.
Most of the original episodes don’t exist any longer. Many were unairable due to color deterioration. A few episodes were somehow saved and have been seen on GSN, the Game Show Network.
Hasbro made board games for The Newlywed Game so everyone could argue at home as well as on the show.
Although I watched this show from time to time, I cannot say I watched it often or was a fan of the show. I do remember more contestants being mad than happy during their appearance on the show.
I think I consider it a blessing that not many of the original episodes exist. Once was probably enough to watch this game show.
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.
The late 1960s and early 1970s might have contained the most diverse television shows than any other era. In 1968, there were the rural comedies like Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies; there were the standard sitcoms, My Three Sons, Get Smart, That Girl, Bewitched; there were the remains of a few westerns including The High Chaparral, The Virginian, and Gunsmoke; there were crime and thrillers such as Hawaii Five-0 and Mission Impossible; there was the crime/western in The Wild, Wild West, there were gameshows on at night including Let’s Make a Deal, The Dating Game, and The Newlywed Game; there were sci-fi shows like Star Trek and The Land of the Giants; family shows like Lassie; and even Lawrence Welk.
In addition, there were a couple of shows that were a bit edgier and introduced more provocative concepts and themes. The Mod Squad featured three teens who were helping solve crimes in lieu of jail time, and then there was the almost-impossible-to-describe Laugh In.
Similar to Laugh In was The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour which also debuted in 1967 featuring Tom and Dick Smothers. It had more of a variety format to it but it had the same topical and satirical humor.
In addition to poking fun at politics, the war, religion, and current issues, you could tune in to the Smothers Brothers for some of the best and sometimes controversial music in the industry. Performers such as Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Cream, Pete Seeger, and The Doors appeared on the show.
The show aired Sunday nights against Bonanza on NBC; ABC aired The Sunday Night Movie in its first season and Hee Haw in its second season.
The series had some of the best writers on television: Alan Blye, Hal Goldman, Al Gordon, Steve Martin, Lorenzo Music, Don Novello, Rob Reiner, David Steinberg, and Mason Williams. Reiner and Martin both commented on the show in an interview by Marc Freeman in the Hollywood Reporter 11-25-2017 (“The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour at 50: The Rise and Fall of a Ground-Breaking Variety Show”).
Reiner relayed that “you had two cute boy-next-doors wearing red suits, one with the stand-up bass and the other with his guitar. They looked like the sweetest, most innocent kids. You got drawn to them, and then they hit you with the uppercut you didn’t see coming.”
Martin elaborated “When you have the power wrapped up in innocence, it’s more palatable. They were like little boys, but you also had Dickie there to reprimand Tommy when he would make an outrageous statement. It’s like the naughty ventriloquist dummy who can get away with murder as long as the ventriloquist is there to say ‘You can’t say that.’ It’s the perfect setup for getting a message across.”
In addition to the musical acts, hundreds of celebrities appeared on the show between 1967 and 1969, including Jack Benny, Carol Burnett, George Burns, Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, Barbara Eden, Nanette Fabray, Eva Gabor, Shirley Jones, Don Knotts, Bob Newhart, Tony Randall, Ed Sullivan, Danny Thomas and Jonathan Winters, along with so many others.
Part of the show was the brothers’ ongoing sibling rivalry about whom their parents liked best. They also began to add political satire and ribald humor. Pat Paulsen delivered mock editorials about current topics such as the draft and gun control, and in 1968 he had a mock presidential campaign.
Church sermon sketches poked fun at religion. The show lampooned many of the values older Americans valued, often delivering anti-establishment and pro-drug humor. No one was given an exception, and the show lambasted the military, the police, the religious right, and the government.
Battles over content were ongoing with the network. The network pulled Pete Seeger’s performance of his anti-Vietnam War song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” They nixed Harry Belafonte’s song, “Don’t Stop the Carnival” because it had a video collage behind him of the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots.
Younger viewers were tuning in, and despite the conflicts, the show was picked up for a second season. The network insisted they receive a copy of the show at least ten days in advance for editing. In April of 1969, William Paley canceled the show without notice. Some sources contend it was canceled by CBS president Robert Wood. Some sources cite the issue with unacceptable deadlines and others mention Tom Smothers lobbying the FCC and members of Congress over corporate censorship that brought about the firing. The brothers filed a breach of contract suit against the network and after four years of litigation, a federal court ruled in their favor, awarding them $776,300.
Here’s a typical joke from the show that was not as controversial.
Tom: You can tell who’s running the country by how much clothes people wear, see?
Dick: Do you mean that some people can afford more clothes on, and some people have . . . less on? Is that what you mean?
Tom: That’s right.
Dick: I don’t understand.
Tom: See, the ordinary people, you’d say that the ordinary people are the less-ons.
Dick: So, who’s running the country?
Tom: The morons.
The Smothers Brothers elicited humor that was as topical, influential, and critical as anyone had ever heard before on television. Fifty years later, both the network and the brothers realized everyone over-reacted. If the Smothers Brothers had tried to play by the rules a bit, they would not have lost their platform to continue to help change what they saw as a messed-up culture.
The CBS executives felt the program created too much controversy. In their defense, politicians, especially Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, exerted a lot of pressure on the network. Remember this was a time of three networks and ads are what produced the profits to fund shows. The network received a boatload of hate mail daily about the program and, when viewers begin talking boycotting advertisers, executives sit up a bit straighter and listen.
The Smothers Brothers Show, a less controversial series, debuted in 1975. They had two specials on NBC later and another CBS series in 1988 but never regained the influence they had in the sixties. However, the show did help pave the way for a future that permitted, and later embraced, shows with controversy beginning with All in the Family, continuing with Saturday Night Live, and recently seen on shows such hosted by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Although the comedy spouted on the show would seem quite tame by today’s standards, the show had an important part in the history of television and the rights of free speech.
I have seen some DVDs out there from this show, but they are pricey. Recently I saw season two going for $190. I do see Laugh In on Decades quite often, so perhaps The Smothers Brothers might show up somewhere too, although I’m not sure this show would hold up as well as Laugh In, but the musical performances would be fun to see.