December 31, 1962-September 26, 1969


NBC Daytime


Johnny Olson


Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions


“From New York City, it’s time to play…”



Gene’s signature series began life as a shockingly straightforward game of judgment.


Two teams of three (a celebrity captain and two civilians) compete. Gene reads a question such as “Name a large corporation” or “Fill in the blank: Body _____.” All six contestants write an answer on an index card inside their cover and raise their hands when finished.


The contestants then reveal their answers one at a team. If two members of a team match, it’s worth 25 points. If all three match, it’s worth 50 points. If neither team scores, Gene rereads the question, and all six contestants have the option to change their answers or write the same answer. The first team to score 100 points or more wins a dollar a point and goes on to play Audience Match.


For Audience Match, Gene reads three questions asked of 100 members of a previous studio audience. For each question, the three team members give individual verbal responses, trying to guess the #1 answer (they have the option of agreeing with a teammate or giving a dissenting answer). Each contestant that correctly guesses the #1 answer earns the team $50. Over three questions, this means a maximum of $450 can be won.

“The Match Game” originally came to life when Goodson-Todman staffer Frank Wayne gave other staff members pieces of paper and told each of them to “write a fact about elephants,” and afterward everybody would compare answers. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the strongest, and Gene, a familiar name to Goodson-Todman by that point, got the call to host.

The next step was producing the pilot. “The Match Game” pilot was recorded on December 5, 1962. Peter Lind Hayes and Peggy Cass joined Gene for the game, which was fundamentally the same as the aired series except for a slight cosmetic differences and different scorekeeping. A match by two teammates scored 10 points, a match by all three scored 20; 50 points won the game.

The series launched later that month, on New Year’s Eve. Although not evidenced in any episodes that survive today (most of the original “Match Game” was erased by NBC), the show evolved over the next few years in an interesting way. The show was conceived as an intellectual game, and producer Mark Goodson, in the early weeks of the series, drafted memos complaining that Gene was getting laughs during the show.

At one point, NBC cancelled the series, but left them with six weeks to produce new episodes. Question writer Dick DeBartolo (who also happened to write for MAD Magazine), figuring  that the show was at a point of no return anyway, stopped writing serious questions and began submitting questions along the lines of “Mary liked to pour gravy on John’s (______).” The ratings picked up, NBC un-cancelled the show, now a full-fledged comedy game, and it survived until 1969.

No one could have been happier with the success of the show as a comedy game than its master of ceremonies. Gene made his name in morning radio and on the original "Tonight!" show. At heart, he was a clown, and with a game played for laughs, Gene was finally free to indulge his silly sensibilities.

Despite Mark Goodson's memos, Gene was doing something right. It became his signature show, and he turned the series into appointment television for viewers across America, whether it was a young boy in West Virginia named Ernie who grew up to host “High-Q” because Gene had inspired him to become a game show host, or a boy in New York named Howard who grew up and declared himself “The King of All Media.” They knew Gene and they knew “The Match Game.”



Up two levels to GENE RAYBURN'S WORLD
Up three levels to GAME SHOW UTOPIA