Truth or Consequences: Truth or Dare for Adults

This month we are looking at some classic television game shows. I have fond memories of watching Bob Barker hosting Truth or Consequences when I was a little girl, but I must admit I had no idea it continued for so long. I would have guessed it ended in 1970.

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The premise of the show was to blend trivia answers with wacky stunts, like a Beat the Clock Jeopardy. Contestants had two seconds to answer an obscure question before being beat by Beulah the Buzzer. If the contestant was able to answer the question, the host would then mention there was a part two. When the contestant was not able to answer the question with the truth, they had to take the consequence; similar to Truth or Dare for Adults. The consequence was typically a crazy stunt that often was embarrassing for the contestants.

For example, in Conveyor Belt of Doom, a woman had to stop a complex machine before the conveyor belt dropped a pie on her husband. She flipped a lot of switches and lights but later learned the only way to stop the machine was to unplug it. On one episode, while contestants were in the Green Room waiting, they “saw” a gorilla escape from a cage and run after them, not realizing it was a man in a suit and being shown to the viewers.

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Occasionally the contestant was there for a special reason and during or after the stunt they were surprised by some event like a child coming home from the military or a long-lost relative found.

During Barker’s run on the show, a segment was added called Barker’s Box. The box had four drawers and three of them contained money with a pop-up item in one drawer. The contestant chose a drawer at a time and could keep the money unless the pop-up was revealed. Barker also ended all his shows with the closing, “Hoping all your consequences are happy ones.”

Photo: ralphedwardsproductions.com

Ralph Edwards created the game and it was a hit immediately. It began on NBC radio where it ran from 1940-1957. In 1950 the show debuted on television on CBS. After his stint as host, Edwards would create This is Your Life which also became very popular.  In 1952 it moved to NBC when Jack Bailey hosted. Three months after going off the air, NBC revived it, bringing in Bob Barker to emcee. Barker would stay with the show until 1975. During Barker’s time on the show, a primetime version was also created hosted by Steve Dunne for part of 1958. In 1977 a syndicated version of the show was produced. Barker had already accepted a position as host of The Nighttime Price is Right, so Bob Hilton became the host but the show was canceled after one season. A decade later the show was revived again with Larry Anderson at the helm. This one also lasted one season.

The City of Truth or Consequences Photo: sierracountynewmexico.com

In 1949, Edwards aired a request as a joke that the first place to change its name to the name of the show would be the host for the tenth-year anniversary taping of the show. The town of Hot Springs, New Mexico agreed to change its name to Truth or Consequences. For fifty years afterward, Edwards returned to the town every first weekend in May for a festival called Fiesta. The town still goes by Truth or Consequences today, and Fiesta is still celebrated annually.

Barker said that the show was not affected by the quiz show scandals in that decade. He said primarily it was because they did not give away a lot of money, and the show was more about the stunts that were performed. The only way they would have been able to “fix” the show was to bring in actors and the whole appealing reality concept of using actual people on the show would have disappeared.

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With the exception of Jeopardy, we tend to think of game shows as prime-time offerings. Many old shows have been rebooted in the past few years. However, in the fifties and sixties, they were an essential part of daytime programming. Truth or Consequences was one of the highest-rated game shows on the air during those decades, and the show propelled Bob Barker to stardom. When contestants were slimed on the Nickelodeon network or have some humiliating consequence on Ellen’s Game of Games, they can thank Truth or Consequences for inspiring such outcomes. It seems odd that a show that relies so much on visual antics was so successful on the radio for 17 years. I guess we all had more imagination back then.