My Top 10 TV Game Shows

When I was young (but school-aged), back in the late-70s and early-80s, I have fond memories of watching game shows all morning on the few days I was sick at home. Game shows have always been a staple of television, as they’re cheaper to produce than scripted series. They also give people hope and dreams of winning a brand new car or a trip to some exotic location.

Because some old-school classic game shows have recently been remade and featured on Sunday night prime-time, I figured it would make for a fun Top 10 list. I’m including both daytime and nighttime game shows, but I’m excluding “reality” competitions like Survivor, The Amazing Race, and so forth. That might be a later list.

But for now, let’s come on down and see who the next contestant is!


#10 – Card Sharks

Even though this one was short-lived, I have fondness for Card Sharks. The premise is simple. After correctly answering a 100-person poll question, two players try to make it through a row of five oversized playing cards by predicting if the next one is higher or lower. Contestants loved it when they had twos and threes or face cards, but hated those pesky sevens and eights. You could freeze at any time, thus keeping the cards you’ve overturned and even getting to replace the leading card, but if you were wrong, every card you gained in the turn was lost. Though it probably doesn’t appear in the pantheon of game shows, it’s a solid memory for me.


#9 – Press Your Luck

No whammies! Big money, no whammies! When you really break it down, the question-and-answer part of this show is pretty standard and not exciting. The excitement came from when players faced off against the big money board. They earned “spins” based on getting the questions correct—three spins for buzzing in first with the correct multiple-choice answer, and one spin when either of the other two contestants answered correctly. The board had lots of monetary spaces, some up to $5000, but it also had “Whammies”—little devilish creatures that were animated over the contestants’ winnings and took away the money. Four whammies and you’re out. The movement of the spaces on the board was supposedly random, but one contestant memorized the patterns and raked in over $100,000 in cash and prizes. Afterwards, new software developed new patterns, but that guy really pressed his luck.


#8 – Wheel of Fortune

Here’s a classic game show that just keeps on spinning. Essentially the game of Hangman, Wheel has lasted because of its simplicity and the charm of cohosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White. Back in the day, she had to turn the letter boxes around, and now all she has to do is press a button on the TV screens, but who cares? The game is a classic. In case you’ve lived under a rock for the past few decades, contestants spin a wheel, avoiding the “bankrupt” and “lose a turn” spots. When it lands on a money value, contestants will receive that amount for every time their called-out letter appears in the puzzle. It’s fun watching at home, especially when contestants blank on the puzzles or know what it is and get a little too greedy.


#7 – Deal or No Deal

A game without questions, where the only skill needed is deciding between a guaranteed amount of money and a chance at more based on what’s left on the board. Sounds simple? Maybe. But it’s also compelling, thanks to host Howie Mandel, both supporting and goading the contestants through their choices. Here’s the game: Twenty-six silver cases, each with a different monetary value inside, ranging from one penny to one million dollars. Contestant picks one of the cases which becomes theirs. Then they systematically remove other cases from the mix, and the dollar values inside are revealed. Knowing what’s been removed informs contestants about what’s left—obviously they want the lesser values removed. After each round, a mysterious “banker” offers a deal, usually somewhere in the middle of the remaining values. Then it’s up to the contestant to decide to take the deal…or no deal and keep opening other cases. Simple, but it’s a great deal.


#6 – The Weakest Link

In the late-90s, the Regis Philbin-hosted Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? on ABC sparked new interest in prime-time game shows, especially ones with big prizes and big production values. The other major networks eventually followed suit, with NBC importing this one from England, along with its original host, Anne Robinson. It’s a multi-round multi-player fast-paced round-robin quiz show, with the players starting as a team. But there’s a Survivor-esque element to it, where after each round, the players cast votes against the titular weakest link on the team. The stress level increases as the team size dwindles, and only one player goes home with the money banked by the team. This is a great concept to being with, but adding in Robinson as the host made it a classic. She never smiled, and she cheekily berated contestants, and told them, “You are the weakest link, goodbye!” She was far from the weakest link on this show.


#5 – The Price Is Right

Bob Barker is an American institution. If I ever do a Top 10 Game Show hosts list, he’d probably appear at the top. It was a difficult decision having this classic game show in the middle of the pack. But it’s only in the middle of the Top 10, and there are significantly more game shows not on the list. So Price Is Right lands at number five without going over. There are so many iconic parts of the game and phrases from the game. “Come on down!” Sitting in contestants’ row. Being the last of the four contestants to bid and either bidding $1 or $1 above one of the other contestants. Plinko! Much audience participation. The big wheel, and winning more money for spinning $1.00—but it has to go at least once around. “A brand new car!” The Showcase Showdown. “Have your pets spayed and neutered.” I think of all the shows on this list, this is the one that always is an energetic place whether you win or lose, whether you make it out of contestants’ row, or whether you’re just in the audience. Drew Carey is doing a commendable job as the current host, keeping this classic on the air for the foreseeable future.


#4 – Win Ben Stein’s Money

When you think of the show Jeopardy! (haven’t seen that one yet—is it coming later?), you think of a serious and smart atmosphere. Well, this show is kind of the anti-Jeopardy!—an honor they embraced, making contestants wear dunce caps if they answered in the form of a question! Take Ben Stein—a speechwriter for Presidents Nixon and Ford, the “Bueller. Bueller.” teacher from the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the “Dry Eye” commercial guy—and make him part-host/part-contestant, competing for a share of his per-episode paycheck. That’s right! In the first round, he asked the questions to three contestants, but in the second round, he replaced the last-place contestant to defend his money. Then in the final round, he faced off against the top contestant in a Best-of-10 minute-long showdown, where they were in separate isolation booths: his all swanky with a comfy chair, and the contestant’s falling apart with a wooden stool. Oh, and Ben Stein’s original co-host, who took over on question-asking duties after round one? Jimmy Kimmel. He and Ben Stein made quite a low-brow/high-brow pair that rivaled great comedy duos.


#3 – Family Feud

The reason this show holds a special place in my heart is because it’s got the best home edition, and my family regularly played it when I was a pre-teen, and now my family plays it again with my children and nephews. It’s just as much fun now as it was then. I’m always the host when we play—back then it was because I wanted to be a game show host at one point, but now it’s because my parents have six grandchildren, and it’s easy to team them against each other. Hey, that makes it an actual feud among the family. In retrospect, original host Richard Dawson was kinda smarmy in the way he kissed all the female contestants, no matter their ages. Current host Steve Harvey does a fantastic job, especially in his reactions to some of the more ridiculous answers given by contestants. Though it’s not the number one answer on my board, the SURVEY SAYS that it’s pretty high up.


#2 – Jeopardy!

Answer: Pete Tarsi’s second favorite game show. Question: What is Jeopardy! It’s the standard bearer when it comes to question-and-answer shows—or should I say answer-and-question shows? The twist of having to phrase responses in the form of questions forces contestants to stay on their toes as the answer difficult and diverse questions. Six categories per round, ranging from things like “18th Century Literature” to “Rap Music” to “Flags of the World” to “Crossword Clues M” to the famous “Potpourri” can make or break contestants depending on their areas of expertise. Alex Trebek hosts over the game with vicious glee, offering sardonic remarks on contestants’ backstories, but it’s all about the questions, Daily Doubles, and Final Jeopardy wagers. I’ve had a few friends appear on the show—one of whom did quite well and gave a fantastic incorrect Final Jeopardy answer. And remember after they removed the five-day winning rule, and then Ken Jennings kept winning and winning and winning—and then they brought him back to face off against IBM’s Watson computer? And what about celebrity charity tournaments, where the questions usually seem easier and gave SNL parody fodder? What is awesome?!


And finally, my favorite TV Game Show…


At the start of this list, were you trying to match what my top game show would be? Did we match up? I think it’s just the overall silliness of the show, where the celebrity panel always looks like they’re having more fun than they should be allowed to have. The classic show in the 70s was hosted by Gene Rayburn, with his unusually long microphone. Original celebrity panelists included Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly, having a blast on the top tier of the panel. The goal is to match the celebrities’ answers to fill-in-the-blank scenarios, many of which have a funny or offensive or raunchy answer. That was the fun! The winning contestant would then have a chance to match the empty half of a phrase with one celebrity. Originally, the contestant could choose the celebrity, but then a big wheel (why are game shows obsessed with big wheels?) was added to make it more random. Before hosting Family Feud, Richard Dawson was a regular panelist, and he was often the one they chose. I don’t know if I got all the jokes then, but it’s fun rediscovering it as an adult now that it has been brought back to television. Alec Baldwin is doing his snarky best as the host, and the panelists have been great. As for the jokes, I’ll just say that they’re as funny as a blank.


Agree? Disagree? You might be the next contestant!

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