AIRDATES October 31, 1983-July 24, 1984
NETWORK(S) NBC Daytime
ANNOUNCER(S) Gene Wood
PRODUCED BY Mark Goodson Productions and Orion Television

"It's time for..."

Gene shared hosting duties with Jon Bauman as part of the best premise for a game show ever to fail.

Three contestants compete during the course of the hour. To start, two new contestants play “Match Game,” with Gene hosting and Jon sitting on the panel along with five other panelists. The game is played the same as “Match Game PM,” with the contestants trying to reach the top score in 3 rounds.

In the event of a tie, Gene reads a simple blank phrase and shows the contestants four good answers (which the panelists can’t see). The contestants choose, by number, which answer they want to give. Gene turns to the panel for verbal answers, and the first contestant to match wins the game.

A new tier then swings onstage, three more panelists make their entrance, and Gene passes his microphone to Jon to start the second half.

The winner of “Match Game” now plays the previous day’s returning champion in “Hollywood Squares,” hosted by Jon while Gene sits on the panel. For “Hollywood Squares,” the contestants face the nine stars arranged in a tic-tac-toe grid. The contestants alternate selecting a panelist, who then hears a question from Jon and gives an answer. The contestant must decide to agree or disagree with that answer. A correct decision captures the square and $25, an incorrect decision gives the square & $25 to the opponent.

 Three stars in a row horizontally, vertically, or diagonally—or capturing a total of five stars—wins a $100 bonus in Round 1, a $200 bonus in Round 2, etc.

“Hollywood Squares” continues for about 20 minutes until a bell sounds, and top scorer at the bell wins the game and plays Super Match.

 Jon returns to the panel while Gene hosts Super Match. Super Match, just as its previous incarnations, is divided into Audience Match & Head-to-Head Match.

 For Audience Match, the contestant is shown a blank phrase given to a previous audience, and can ask three celebrities for possible answers. After selecting one of the answers given or going with one of their own, the answers are revealed. The contestant wins $1,000 for giving the #1 answer, $500 for giving the #2 answer, $250 for the #3 answer, or $100 for giving an answer that didn’t make the top three.

For Head-to-Head Match, the contestant selects one of the panelists who then reveals the number they have hidden above their nameplate. Four are hiding 10, four are hiding 20, and one is hiding a 30. That number is multiplied by the contestant’s Audience Match winnings to determine the total value of the Head-to-Head Match, up to $30,000.

 Gene reads another blank phrase, for which the panelist must write a response and the contestant must give a verbal response. An exact match wins the big money.

 And now, a brief dissertation on why this show, which looked brilliant on paper, failed. The show was produced by Mark Goodson, who brought us “Match Game,” but not “Hollywood Squares” (created and originally produced by Merrill Heatter & Bob Quigley); Goodson simply cut a deal to use the format for the show, splitting ownership with Orion Televison. The Match Game portion of the show was executed just fine because Mark Goodson understood it; after all, it was his show. The second half was excruciating to sit through because Goodson exhibited a shocking lack of understanding about what made “Hollywood Squares” work.

 The celebrities weren’t briefed about the questions they’d be asked before the show. The original show did this so the panelists would have good bluff answers in mind to make the game more interesting, but this show sent the celebrities out to play with no preparation. This meant the stars would sit there and think…and think…and think…and think…before giving an answer. 

Gene even lamented about this flaw in execution out loud in one episode, answering his question by saying, “I have no idea, so I’ll have to take a wild guess…which really isn’t supposed to be the point of this game.”

 In keeping with having the celebrities remain in the dark until showtime, there were no “zingers” furnished to the panelists, meaning there would only be a laugh if a panelist was truly quick on his feet. They tried to solve this problem by having at least one stand-up comic on the panel each week, but if a soap opera star or the Playmate of the Month was picked, there was no danger of a viewer’s side splitting.

 The “Hollywood Squares” half had some the most awkward question-writing in the genre. Chuck Donegan of The Game Show Forum summarized this problem better than I could in a post about the show by giving this example:

A “Hollywood Squares” question from the original series would read this way: “Yes or no: Is it a good idea to freeze your cheeseballs before serving them?”


How the same question would be asked on “The Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour”: “Minnie Mouse is throwing a party. Should she freeze her cheeseballs a few hours before serving them to her guests, or is this a bad idea?”

 Jon Bauman was hosting. No disrespect to Jon, who is both a talented musician and, from accounts of fans who have met him, a genuinely nice man. He simply wasn’t a game show host. The big difference was this: Gene would let “Match Game” degenerate into a circus as long as the audience was enjoying it, but he also wasn’t afraid to tell a celebrity to shut up the moment he sensed that the viewers were getting bored. Jon seemed intimidated by the stars at times and would let them go on forever. Jon also had trouble making the show his own domain. A good host can step into another emcee’s role and make it his own, but at best, Jon came across as a guest host.

 All the little problems added together created one big problem: Unfunny stars…who didn’t have ready answers…but would go on and on anyway…to answer awkwardly-phrased questions…from an emcee…who wouldn’t rope them in…when they became boring…made the pace…of the…entire…Hollywood…Squares…half…move…along…like…this…

 Oh, one other thing. No regular panelists, aside from Gene & Jon doing their seat-swapping thing. And when you have a celebrity panel show, you kind of need regular panelists. Two would have helped this show, four would have been twice as helpful.

And that’s why this show didn’t work. Ten points for the idea, minus a million for execution.

 It’s sad that Gene’s last run as host of the show that cemented his reputation would be lackluster. To his credit, he still manages to make it work now and again by arguing with the judge, chastising “rotten answers,” and dolefully reading the “Old Man Periwinkle” questions just as he always had. Thanks for all the blanks, Gene.

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