A game show is a non-reality television show where amateur contestants regularly compete for a reward.
Matt Ottinger created the basis for this definition on alt.tv.game-shows in 1994. His definition, more or less, continues to apply. Today, some shows fall in the gray area, and may or may not be considered game shows. In particular, several game show fans may count lottery shows, reality shows, and/or quizbowl shows as game shows.
- Main article: History of game shows
The history of game shows dates back to the invention of television as a medium. The first regularly airing television show, according to the Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows, was CBS Television Quiz, which premiered July 2, 1941.
In the 1940s and 1950s, a variety of games appeared on various networks, including ABC, CBS, Dumont, and NBC. The 1950s saw the development of panel shows, such as What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth. However, the biggest development of the 1950s was the creation of the big money show. Shows such as The $64,000 Question and Twenty-one were pioneers in that field, giving away more money then ever before imagined. The big money drew high ratings for such shows, and by the late 1950s, many big money shows were on the air.
However, the edifice began to crash, as allegations arose that the big money shows produced by Jack Barry were scripted, and that contestants were being fed the answers (and in some extreme cases, told exactly how to act). A contestant on Dotto had mailed herself a notebook with all the questions of a future game. On Twenty-One, a disgruntled Herb Stempel claimed that he was told to lose to Charles Van Doren (see Twenty-one scandal for details). When the allegations proved true, the public lost confidence in game shows, and the genre almost became extinct. However, there were several results of the scandals. First, it became a federal crime to rig a game show. Second, many networks began having Standards and Practices monitor all the action on the stage nonstop, to ensure that no cheating could possibly occur. Finally, many networks established low winnings limits for contestants, the theory being that no producer would want to rig such a low-stakes show.
In the 1960s, many venerable shows aired. The long-running Password premiered in 1961, and Concentration, which had premiered in 1958, ran through the 1960s, only finally leaving NBC daytime in 1973 after a then-record 15 consecutive years of airing. Jeopardy! with Art Fleming premiered in 1964, and has become a staple of television.
The 1970s saw game shows being played for significantly higher stakes than before. Previously, players could expect to win a couple hundred dollars on shows like Jeopardy!. The premieres of The $10,000 Pyramid, where $10,000 was up for grabs twice each show, and Match Game, where $5,000 could be won by simply matching a celebrity, caused the inflation of almost all game show payouts. The payouts would increase again in the late 1970s to partially combat the rampant inflation of those years.
The New Price Is Right (now known as The Price Is Right) began airing on September 4, 1972, and holds the record for the longest continuously airing national game show in the United States, now in its 41st season. Wheel of Fortune premiered January 6, 1975, and has been on the air, first-run in some form ever since.
In the 1980s, cable channels began to air game shows. Shows like Everything Goes (1981 Playboy), Starcade (1982 TBS), and Fandango (1983 TNN) were pioneer game shows on cable television. However, the most groundbreaking cable game show was Nickelodeon's Double Dare. After the show's 1986 premiere, Nickelodeon's ratings skyrocketed, and the show was credited with putting the network on the map.
The early 1990s saw the end of daytime network game shows (except for The Price Is Right). ABC's last daytime show was Match Game (1990), while Caesars Challenge was the last NBC daytime game show. The death of the daytime game show is credited to affiliates preferring syndicated programming, such as talk shows (which were at the apex of their popularity in the mid 90s).
However, the 1990s on cable television was marked by a swarm of game shows, especially ones for children. Following the success of Double Dare, Nickelodeon continued to create new game shows, culminating in acclaimed and well-known series such as Nickelodeon GUTS and Legends of the Hidden Temple. Other channels then followed suit, including PBS, with Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, the Family Channel, with Family Challenge and Masters of the Maze. The craze even spread to syndication and networks, with shows such as Secrets of the Cryptkeeper's Haunted House (1996 CBS), Peer Pressure (1997 syndication), and Click (1997 syndication) gracing the airwaves.
By the late 1990s, game shows had a greater place in television. The Game Show Network, which launched on December 1, 1994, was airing classic series as well as some original, interactive shows. Shows like Shop 'Til You Drop and Supermarket Sweep became staples for Lifetime (and then PAX). Win Ben Stein's Money was an Emmy award-winning show for Comedy Central.
In August 1999, the premiere of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire became a sensation that revived the big money show. The show's success inspired other networks to produce clone shows, such as Greed (FOX), Winning Lines (CBS), and a revival of Twenty One (NBC). However, in the early 2000s, overairing of Millionaire led to low ratings and the show's cancellation from ABC. (The show has since performed well in syndication.)
By the mid 2000s, game shows were in a decline similar to the decline in the mid 1990s. However, the December 2005 premiere of Deal or No Deal saw the return of big money shows to primetime. Deal or No Deal was then followed by a multitude of big money shows, including 1 vs. 100, The Rich List, Show Me the Money, Power of 10, and Million Dollar Password, a revival of the classic game show Password.
Today, game shows show significant promise. Many new shows are premiering in syndication, in primetime, and on Game Show Network. Even if game shows fall out of popularity, it is clear that they will never completely fade away.
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