The History of Game Shows
Game shows have a rich and varied history on television. It is funny how most things we consider standard parts of our pop culture go back much further than we believe. The history of game shows as we know them is no different. The first one ever, called Spelling Bee, emerged from similar programs that aired on radio. Spelling Bee aired in 1938.
The first one after that was Truth or Consequences and aired in 1941, near the very beginnings of the medium itself. It is hard to imagine TV being around at all during those times, as radio was still the big way most families got their at home entertainment. I imagine the 1940ís and 30ís with families gathered around the radio, listening to dashing heroes or damsels in distress being captured by evil villains.
But TV was coming into its own, even back then, and once the technology improved to where more families could afford to have a TV set in the 50ís, game shows became a fixture for most broadcasters. No one can forget when Quiz Shows became popular, only to see their stock plummet when it was known they were rigged. The scandal almost ended the genre but audiences were discovered to have a short attention span and game shows took off into new levels of popularity in the 1960ís.
This decade saw the emergence of the panel show, where celebrities would come on the show to answer questions and interact with regular people competing on the show against each other. Hollywood Squares is an example of a celebrity panel show that began soon after and proved very successful.
Combing comedy with broad consumer appeal and low production costs, game shows were a very attractive commodity to networks and soon a boom was seen in the industry. The Match Game, Letís Make a Deal and Jeopardy! all made an impact on the airwaves and led to even more shows.
CBS dropped their entire staple of game shows but the other networks held strong and once the 70ís hit and color television became the standard, game shows became heavier contenders for biggest ratings draw. The Price is Right, once a show during the 50ís, became The New Price is Right and a similar incarnation of the show is still on the air today and is not CBSí longest running program but all of televisionís longest running show ever. Hosted by Bob Barker for 35 years, The Price is Right was named the greatest game show of all by TV Guide.
During the 80ís and 90ís though, game shows took a dive in popularity and public interest began to wane. Only The Price is Right was still on during prime time hours and no one really seemed to care about the genre. I remember it clearly, however, when it all began to turn around with the advent of the British series Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and it exploded into a pop culture sensation. Soon, an American version followed in 1999 and game shows were back in prime time and a force to be reckoned with due to the clones of Millionaire that popped up everywhere.
This ratings explosion caught the mind of other TV show creators and the reality boom soon followed, inspiring shows like Survivor and Big Brother, in which contestants compete against each other for big time monetary prizes. The stakes were raised and so was interest in game shows, where the payouts were larger than every before. Even Jeopardy! raised the individual monetary values for each category clues and lifted the normal limit to how long each contestant could remain on the show.
At one time, winners could not go beyond five wins in a row. When this was taken away, Ken Jennings electrified the watching world by winning an astounding 74 games in a row, totaling over 2.5 million dollars in winnings. It seems the popularity of the genre is only growing.