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Author Topic: Origins of the “Game Show Host” Stigma  (Read 2443 times)

Jeremy Nelson

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Origins of the “Game Show Host” Stigma
« on: January 15, 2020, 11:16:50 PM »
Game show hosts, to me (and I bet to many of you) seem to have some of the most fun jobs in all of television- you get to be on TV and play games with people, all while giving away someone else’s money and changing lives in the process.

So why is it that the job (at least up until recently) had such a negative connotation attached to it? Now, there’s more star power behind that emcee role, but before, the role was painted as the lowest form of entertainment and the butt of a lot of jokes? It’s not Shakespeare, but I never understood why the job seemed to be such a tough sell to people.

Any thoughts?

TLEberle

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Re: Origins of the “Game Show Host” Stigma
« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2020, 11:24:00 PM »
Bert Parks gets a share of the load. Every question would build up to an enormous climax which he would relieve by screaming “that’s right!” There we’re others, but find an episode of the original Break the Bank and you’ll see.

Also TV critics hated fun and seemed to savage game shows in their reviews generally.
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SamJ93

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Re: Origins of the “Game Show Host” Stigma
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2020, 10:07:48 AM »
I think game shows in general had a negative connotation for a while. First there were the scandals, and when they made their comeback in the 70's, they were mostly seen as frivolous programming for housewives. The 70's were also just a bad decade for America in general, so the idea of a warm, friendly guy who smiles and casually awards prizes like nothing's wrong was easy for critics and cynics to make fun of.

Oh yeah, and then there's Wink Martindale.
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chrisholland03

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Re: Origins of the “Game Show Host” Stigma
« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2020, 11:25:29 AM »
I can't think of a role where Bert Parks wasn't over-the-top Mr Gameshow.  Which is fine, he had a pretty successful career at it, but it's also a contributor to that stigma.

Chelsea Thrasher

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Re: Origins of the “Game Show Host” Stigma
« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2020, 01:41:12 PM »
Anywhere you'll find creative works targeted towards and marketed towards women, you'll find a litany of critics and observers ready to scoff at, mock, belittle, and otherwise parody those works. 

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BrandonFG

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Re: Origins of the “Game Show Host” Stigma
« Reply #5 on: January 16, 2020, 02:16:40 PM »
At some point, being a celebrity panelist gained a stigma as well. At one point in the 60s, high profile stars made appearances on whatever show. Then in the 70s, being a panelist became synonymous with out-of-work actor/fledgling comedian or second banana who could use the money. I wonder if hosting started to get the same reputation around that time?
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Dbacksfan12

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Re: Origins of the “Game Show Host” Stigma
« Reply #6 on: January 16, 2020, 03:48:54 PM »
The transition from mostly primetime to mostly daytime?  I'm tracing the origin going to the year whenever WML bit the dust. Perhaps a stigma existed that daytime was second-hand programming.
« Last Edit: January 16, 2020, 08:17:43 PM by Dbacksfan12 »
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carlisle96

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Re: Origins of the “Game Show Host” Stigma
« Reply #7 on: January 16, 2020, 04:38:50 PM »
Fred Allen made fun of game show hosts as early as game shows themselves when he mocked the radio giveaway show "Pot of Gold" in 1940. Allen called it "Tub of Silver." Harry Von Zell played the overly-unctuous MC and the joke was that the show was unable to find anyone willing to accept the $50,000 it was handing out.

RMF

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Re: Origins of the “Game Show Host” Stigma
« Reply #8 on: January 16, 2020, 07:31:46 PM »
There are several aspects that are of importance.

Some have already been mentioned- namely, that this has roots in the radio era, that there are aspects that relate to those regarded as being the game show audience, that the quiz show scandals and the demotion of game shows to daytime both are of relevance, and that Bert Parks (and similar hosts in his era- try to watch or listen to John Reed King) played a major role in shaping the stereotype.

Other points, however, have also played a role. One is the question of exploitation- since the radio era (look at criticism Major Bowes received from the welfare authorities in New York City in the mid-1930s), there have been continued questions about the willingness of certain game shows to exploit contestants, either through their personal suffering (Queen For A Day and the programs of that ilk) or through having a sadistic streak (Truth or Consequences, much of the Chuck Barris catalog), and this has helped with gaining an unsavory reputation.

Another aspect, and one that has been an item of criticism since the radio era, is our old pal, "Mo' Money Syndrome". Game shows that have given away a vast amount of cash and prizes for very little work have long been a target, as they have had the image of using this as a means of essentially buying an audience, and this has tended to be applied broadly to understanding game shows generally.

A final point, and one that relates to the stereotype direct, is the image of the game show host as being inherently phony- that the warmth is all on the surface, and that these folk are less pleasant the minute the cameras stop rolling. The issue here is that, throughout game show history, there have been enough examples of this (no names here, but we all should be able to think of a few) that it has tended to stick to the genre as a whole.

This isn't exhaustive by any means, but these points should help in understanding both why the stereotype came into being and why it has had vitality for so long.

calliaume

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Re: Origins of the “Game Show Host” Stigma
« Reply #9 on: January 19, 2020, 10:23:40 AM »
Fred Allen made fun of game show hosts as early as game shows themselves when he mocked the radio giveaway show "Pot of Gold" in 1940. Allen called it "Tub of Silver." Harry Von Zell played the overly-unctuous MC and the joke was that the show was unable to find anyone willing to accept the $50,000 it was handing out.
Allen had a history of mocking game shows, especially after Stop the Music was scheduled opposite his show and knocked Allen's show out of the top 10. This is one of the better parodies he ran in that era. (It's on YouTube, but it's audio only.)

https://youtu.be/5X8tJ9toH7A

carlisle96

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Re: Origins of the “Game Show Host” Stigma
« Reply #10 on: January 20, 2020, 02:28:34 PM »
Fred did other parodies, including an especially vicious takeoff of "Stop the Music" he called "Cease the Melody" with Henry Morgan in the Bert Parks role -- so you can imagine. Another was "Break the Contestant" with Don McNeill as the host, where contestants had to give up a piece of clothing with every wrong answer, culminating in a pants-dropping finale.

Unrealtor

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Re: Origins of the “Game Show Host” Stigma
« Reply #11 on: January 21, 2020, 10:29:36 AM »
At some point, being a celebrity panelist gained a stigma as well. At one point in the 60s, high profile stars made appearances on whatever show. Then in the 70s, being a panelist became synonymous with out-of-work actor/fledgling comedian or second banana who could use the money. I wonder if hosting started to get the same reputation around that time?

I'll admit to not having seen much before 1970 except for the GT shows that made it onto GSN/Buzzr, but I feel like it's not a coincidence that the shift in perception of game show panelists came alongside the shift to both daytime and LA. The perception can pretty easily go from "Bennett Cerf takes one evening a week to play What's My Line because it's so fun" to "Buddy Hackett has nothing better to do than appear on Hollywood Squares day in and day out."
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Neumms

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Re: Origins of the “Game Show Host” Stigma
« Reply #12 on: January 23, 2020, 10:29:22 AM »
Jack Bailey added a lot to the stigma. Just listen to his hellacious yell, "would YOU like to be Queen for a Day?!" Didn't help that the show was

Wink wasn't so much a yeller, but he probably contributed the look of the part. And, of course, his name is Wink.

It's interesting that the stereotype became so pervasive since at least as many hosts in the 50s were laid back. Take Jack Narz and Hugh Downs. Jack Barry and Hal March were very serious, as the stakes justified.

Matt Ottinger

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Re: Origins of the “Game Show Host” Stigma
« Reply #13 on: January 23, 2020, 12:04:23 PM »
The perception can pretty easily go from "Bennett Cerf takes one evening a week to play What's My Line because it's so fun" to "Buddy Hackett has nothing better to do than appear on Hollywood Squares day in and day out."

Part of that is the overexposure of five-a-day stripping of shows.  Because really, Buddy Hackett was only taking one day a week out of his schedule to play Squares, but to the public it looked like he was stuck in that box every day.  And he's not a particularly great example anyway, because he was still a reasonably big star who'd show up on Carson and talk about his nightclub engagements.

Squares, though, is a pretty great subject for this...subject.  When I was growing up in the late 60s and early 70s, I only knew Wally Cox, Charley Weaver, Rose Marie and probably a few others just from being on Squares.  (I can still recall my delight in connecting Cox to Underdog!)  An older audience knew them from their earlier successes, but to a kid that was ancient history.  Paul Lynde, on the other hand, showed up on my television all the time.  All. The. Time.  To me, he was more of a "real" star because I routinely saw him in other stuff.  In much the same way, CNR was a "real" star, while Brett Somers TV appearances are the answers to trivia questions.  Still, you ask the general public how they'd know CNR and Lynde, and the games are almost always going to be the first thing mentioned.  So it's complicated.
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MSTieScott

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Re: Origins of the “Game Show Host” Stigma
« Reply #14 on: January 23, 2020, 03:33:39 PM »
For the panelist stigma, wasn't part of the problem that there were so many game shows in the '70s that needed celebrity guests? The shows couldn't get most movie stars because that was a time that movies and television were still largely considered separate pursuits. And I would assume that a fair number of A-list prime time TV stars weren't willing to "lower" themselves to serving as costars on a week of daytime television.

So who's left? Mostly soap opera stars and supporting cast members of prime time series (and maybe some musicians... why weren't more musicians panelists?). Filter out the celebrities who were bad at playing games and the celebrities who didn't want to risk portraying their true selves, factor in that a show doesn't want to feature the same celebrities week after week, and the bookers for the multiple daily game shows that needed celebrities had to start getting desperate for anybody who had any connection to some timely piece of pop culture.

And once game shows started regularly featuring B- and C-list celebrities as panelists, the stigma was cemented. Game shows didn't have anybody cool, so why would cool people do them?