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.
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.