Vintage TV: Bill Cullen

This is an updated version of something I first posted in 2008. I’m running it again because a biography of Bill Cullen was recently published; you can buy it here.

The show was a yawnfest, just boring as all get out, but I watched it every weekday afternoon anyway.

Bill Cullen at the helm of Three on a Match

It was Three on a Match, a game show that aired on NBC from 1971 to 1974. Part of what made it boring, given that I was four years old, was that its rules were complicated. I could never figure out what was going on! I started watching this confusing program because it was on against Let’s Make a Deal on ABC, which my mother could not abide, and As the World Turns on CBS, which I could not abide. But I kept watching because its congenial host always made me think of my grandfather, and I rather liked imagining seeing my grandfather on TV every weekday afternoon. The grandfatherly host was Bill Cullen, the most versatile and prolific game-show host ever, who worked almost non-stop doing them on radio and television for 40 years. If you were breathing at any time between the 1950s and the 1980s you almost certainly saw Bill Cullen on TV. Here’s a complete episode of Three on a Match from February of 1974 that shows how the game was played.

Bill’s first TV game show was Winner Take All in 1952, and his last was The Joker’s Wild in 1986. In between, he did more than twenty others.

I outgrew my grandfather projection issues and for years changed the channel when I saw fuddy-duddy old Bill Cullen. But when I got (and became addicted to) Game Show Network on cable in the 1990s, I saw that not only did Bill Cullen handle every show as if he was born to host it, but he was also funny. This is one of my favorite Bill Cullen moments, from To Tell the Truth.

So lasting was Bill’s game-show legacy that it is said that when the US version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was being developed, producers wanted to tap Cullen to host it – until they learned that he had been dead for eight years.


8 responses to “Vintage TV: Bill Cullen”

  1. pesoto74 Avatar

    My Brother and I both thought Bill Cullen was funny when we were growing up. I think his bland appearance and manner made him funny because you would never expect him to say some of the things he did.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That he looked like any guy on the street was certainly part of what made it work!

  2. 62Skylark Avatar

    Thanks Jim.
    This brings back happy memories of watching game shows as a kid in the first half of the 1960s. It’s amazing how many people smoked on TV back then. And sadly, Bill Cullen died of lung cancer

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes he did. Poor guy.

  3. Todd Avatar

    I watched a lot of TV in the summer when I was a kid, and I always liked him. He didn’t look like he belonged on TV, but he was a pro. P.S. The biography you mentioned is almost 600 pages long! If Bill Cullen is worth 600 pages, then how long would Bert Convy’s be?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Jeez, 600 pages! I’d only read Convy’s bio if it were less than 6 pages.

  4. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    Bill Cullen was a favorite of mine too. He reminds me of summers in front of the TV when game shows were on for hours a day. Others were smoother or better looking, but Cullen was the most fun.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That you’re here says that this posted to Facebook when I updated it today. I didn’t mean for that to happen! I noticed that one of the videos here had gone defunct, so I replaced it and republished. I never know when that’s going to trigger automatic posting to Facebook and Twitter. Anyway, yeah, Cullen was the man.

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