I spent my school-age summer days outside for the most part, but on rainy days I stayed inside with daytime television, which is how I came to dig game shows. I watched them all, but the only one I made appointment television was Password, the word game of the stars.
I wasn’t around 1961 when Password debuted, but I understand that the 1950s quiz-show scandals had made networks cautious of big-money games that relied on knowledge. Password had an element of knowledge in that players gave one-word clues trying to get each other to guess the password. But celebrities were invited to play each week, allowing for banter that lightened play. And CBS lured Allen Ludden away from The GE College Bowl to host, lending the program an intellectual air. Most importantly, the stakes were low; the most anbody could win on the game was $500. These hedges against the 1950s quiz-show excesses gave the game its considerable charm. This 1962 clip with Jack Benny shows not only that charm but how the game was played.
Did you catch the theme music? It’s called Holiday Jaunt, which was composed by Kurt Rehfield. It seems too stuffy and pretentious to be a game-show theme, if you ask me, but I think it’s a nice piece of music on its own. Here it is in its entirety.
Password caught on. It ran each weekday and once a week during prime time for five years, a long time in game-show terms. Top celebrities appeared, including Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Anne Bancroft, Robert Goulet, and Jimmy Stewart. A new theme was recorded for the show in 1963, a jazzy number that Allen Ludden apparently enjoyed given how often he was seen snapping his fingers to it as the closing credits rolled. The show also began airing in color somewhere along the way. But in 1967, ABC successfully counterprogrammed The Newlywed Game, of all things, undermining Password and leading to its cancellation. This clip is from the end of the last daytime episode, in color and with the swinging theme.
Here’s that great theme in its entirety. Bob Colbert wrote it, but nobody’s quite sure of its name.
ABC picked up Password in 1971, giving it a new set, new theme music, and a few new rules. Only a very few ABC episodes survive; here’s a clip from one.
The bouncy little theme was composed by Edd Kalehoff.
Password did fine on ABC at first, even winning the first-ever daytime Emmy for outstanding game show, but ratings were slipping by 1974. Producers decided to try an all-celebrity format called Password All-Stars that flopped, and hard. The old format was quickly brought back, but the damage was done and it survived only for a few months before ABC pulled the plug. Here’s the final episode.
Score Productions has written tons of television music, including this Password theme called Bicentennial Funk. The music trails off at the end of the file, but it’s the best copy I’ve found.
Password caught another break in 1979 when NBC revived the show as Password Plus. This time, the producers successfully retooled the show. Main game play invovled a puzzle – a person, place, or thing that could be guessed by guessing up to five passwords using classic game play. The first team to earn so much money guessing puzzles went on to a new bonus round with a jackpot that started at $5,000. Allen Ludden appeared to be elated to be back as the first episode opened, as this clip shows.
Edd Kalehoff was once again enlisted to write a theme song. Here it is in its entirety.
Allen Ludden fell ill during the run of Password Plus, and it turned out to be cancer. Veteran game-show host Bill Cullen filled in until Allen returned, but then Allen had a stroke and the cancer recurred. Tom Kennedy filled in, but became the permanent host when the cancer finally claimed Allen.
NBC cancelled Password Plus in 1982, but must have regretted it because they brought it back in 1984 as Super Password with virtually the same game play. Super Password was much looser than its predecessors, and host Bert Convy seemed stiff and unsure in his role, but there was never any denying the game’s inherent fun and excitement. Here’s a clip that shows the show’s open and a bonus game with a $45,000 jackpot.
Score Productions was enlisted to write the theme.
Super Password lasted until 1989. Reruns from the CBS and NBC years have been a staple on GSN for many years, and have been an adequate fix for Password fans. CBS finally brought the game back for several weeks last summer as Million Dollar Password, with the big sets, dramatic music, and huge winnings common of prime-time game shows today. But at its heart was the classic can-you-guess-the-password game play, and it still works after almost 50 years.