Stories Told, Vintage Television

Vintage TV: Card Sharks

It was a simple high-low card game, played out on TV for everyone at home. But it was good fun, and it always reminds me of my grandmother. It was Card Sharks, and it aired on NBC from 1978 to 1981.

CardSharks

My grandma used to tell me stories of her grandfather, a sign painter by trade and, according to her, a brilliant poker player. While her dad and his buddies played, she’d serve the drinks and empty the ashtrays — and watch her daddy carefully, trying to figure out his secrets.

Maybe it was her close study, maybe it was genetics, but Grandma had an almost supernatural ability to know which card was next in any deck. When I’d visit my grandma, we often watched game shows together. When Card Sharks came on, she watched especially closely. And frequently, when a contestant would be sitting on a four of hearts and holler “Higher!” — Grandma would holler right back, “No! It’s a black two!” You would have done well to lay bets on those exclamations, because she was almost always right.

Here’s the first ever episode of Card Sharks, from 1978.

From my collection, here’s the Card Sharks theme “in the clear,” as they say, meaning you’ll hear the whole theme start to finish without any voiceovers.

By the way, if you ever encounter me in a poker game, I warn you: my grandma taught me how to play!


Vintage TV is an occasional series. See all the posts here.

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Vintage Television

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

Bill Cullen on 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.

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Vintage TV is an occasional series.
Check out all of my Vintage TV posts!

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Vintage Television

Vintage TV: Bill Cullen

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

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 dull but 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 reminded me 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 between the 1950s and the 1980s you almost certainly saw Bill Cullen on TV. Here are a few minutes from a faded copy of Three on a Match that show 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, including the original The Price is Right, I’ve Got a Secret, Eye Guess, To Tell the Truth, Winning Streak, The $25,000 Pyramid, Pass the Buck, Password Plus while regular host Allen Ludden was ill, Chain Reaction, Blockbusters, Child’s Play, and Hot Potato.

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. If you clicked any of the show names above, you saw clips of some of his finest and funniest moments. So lasting was his 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.

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Vintage Television

Vintage TV: Match Game

All five of my regular readers probably know by now that I love game shows. I get the biggest kick out of watching average people win big prizes by playing silly games, or B-list celebrities make bad jokes and play off each other, or smart people try to figure out answers based on thin clues. A good game show satisfies me by building and releasing tension or by making me laugh out loud.

A show in the latter category was Match Game. This fill-in-the-blank show was about the interplay between host Gene Rayburn and the six celebrities who played the game. Contestants and cash prizes were necessary only to create enough of a game framework for Gene and company to have their fun.  The mechanics of the show did not make for snappy play. Gene would read the statement with the blank, the celebrities would spend a couple minutes writing out their answers, a contestant would say their guess, and then Gene would ask each celebrity to share what they wrote. Done straight, this show would have moved very slowly, and it did in its early weeks after its 1973 debut. But the show became more rowdy and risque (though within the bounds of tight 1970s CBS network standards and practices) over time. As the blanks became easier to complete with humor, inuendo, double-entendre, and sometimes even bodily-function terms, Gene and company had more and more fun, and the show’s ratings went up and up. Within 11 weeks of its debut, it was the highest-rated show on daytime television. It stayed there until 1977.

The time when the celebrities wrote out their answers would always have stopped the show’s momentum if not for the interplay between Gene and the celebrities, and the catchy music played meanwhile. Here’s a clip that shows Gene finally separating Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly after years of them bickering with each other.

From my collection, here are some, perhaps all, of the music cues used while the celebs filled in those blanks during normal gameplay. How many do you recognize?

This one was also used to introduce the celebs at the beginning of each show:

This one is called Changing Keys, for reasons that will become obvious when you hear it. The video clip above used this cue.

This one plays an annoying synth line over a vamp.

This one uses a cowbell.

This one uses bongos. It’s incomplete, but it will give you the flavor.

That’s quite a number of little cues just to help keep the momentum while the celebrities filled in the blanks!

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Vintage Television

Vintage TV: The Price is Right ticket plug

As a kid, I filled large portions of my summers watching game shows, which ruled the morning daytime airwaves in the 1970s. I still love game shows. If I had cable, I’d probably fill large portions of my evenings in front of GSN watching classic reruns.

GSN condenses those reruns a bit so they can squeeze in more commercials. For example, they always cut the ticket plug, where the announcer tells where to write for tickets to a taping. Here’s a ticket plug from The New Price is Right in the early 1970s. Lay it on us, Johnny O!

Most game shows had several music beds for various elements. The Price is Right is especially prolific, with music beds specific to certain games, certain prize types, the showcases, and so on. The show has been around so long that many music beds have been retired! Dozens of the beds have leaked out onto the Internet, such as this, the complete bed for the ticket plug.

Doesn’t that sound a lot better than you ever heard it from your family’s Zenith or RCA Victor?

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