U.S. Game Shows Wiki

Game show

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A game show is a reality/non-reality television show where amateur contestants regularly compete for a reward.

Matt Ottinger created the basis for this definition on 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, some reality shows, and/or quizbowl shows as 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. 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 Caesar's 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, especially on cable. 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. ESPN, which had previously gotten into the game show business with shows such as their own version of Trivial Pursuit, got back into the business with Stump the Schwab and 2 Minute Drill.

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.

Home Viewer ContestsEdit

Occasionally, certain game shows would hold special contests just for home viewers. Here are some examples:

Car-Azy FebruaryEdit

On February 1987, all NBC game shows did a special sweepstakes called "Car-Azy February". Each show had a special question or puzzle asked or shown to the home viewers. Correctly answering the questions and/or solving the puzzles won the right to be entered in a drawing for a brand new car.

The Price is RightEdit

Play AlongEdit

In the mid-80s, The Price is Right held a special play along contest. On some shows, one of the pricing games that day or one of the Showcase Showdowns would give a lucky home viewer a chance to win the same prize or cash award as the in-studio contestants. If the pricing game was not won or if no money was won at the Showcase Showdown, the home viewer involved won a play along t-shirt.

The Phone Home GameEdit

The Phone Home Game was a special pricing game where the contestant played along with a home viewer who played the game via telephone.

Seven products were shown and the phone player gave the price of one of them (from a list), without telling the studio contestant what the product is. In a rare case that this infraction occurs, the turn was dead. In a legal turn, the studio contestant picked the product s/he thought was worth that price. A correct answer won a cash award next to the product, but an incorrect answer won nothing for that turn and both the correct and incorrect products were removed.

All money won in this game was shared between both the home & studio contestants. The maximum grand total was $15,000.

Press Your Luck (Home Player Spin)Edit

On three months during the series (20 shows on the first two months & 25 on the third), home viewers got a chance to get in on the fun by playing along with the in-studio contestants. In the weeks prior to the home player month, viewers sent in postcards to the show in hopes to win big bucks or prizes for themselves.

On the months the home player shows took place, during round two, all three contestants playing that day drew postcards from the home viewers who sent them in. One of the spins in that round will become the home player spin, the numbered spin was shown to the home viewers only. When that spin occurred, the player playing that spin read the name of the card he/she drew and whoever it was, that contestant would be spinning for that viewer. Whatever the contestant in control hit on the board was what the home player won; if the contestant hit a Whammy, that player will lose all his/her money as usual (and also be eliminated from the game upon hitting his/her 4th Whammy), but the home viewer still received $500 courtesy of the Whammy and cash amounts plus one spin awarded the home player money only while the contestant got the money and the spin. At the end of the show, the two contestants read off the names of the home players who didn't get to play the lucky spin that day and, as a consolation prize, those home viewers received Whammy T-shirts.

Only once, somebody hit $5,000 + One Spin on a home player spin. It was won by Mrs. Jessie Greene of East Cleveland, Ohio, and that was on the last home player month.[1]

At the end of the final contest, there was a giant Home Sweepstakes Spin, where the board was filled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cold hard cash (no whammies, prizes or extra spins). All postcards from all periods were mixed into a bowl, and the day's winner drew one of those cards. That player was the winner of the spin, and the champ took one spin at the board, and whatever cash amount was hit was multiplied by the accumulated spin total in round 2. This made possible winnings $100,000 ($5,000 x 20 spins).


The TV Ratings SystemEdit

Since the mid-1990s, TV game shows as well as all the other TV genres began their programs by showing lettered ratings for their shows. Like the movies, TV letter ratings show certain restrictions of TV shows. And here they are:


See the Categories page for more information on genres.


  1. The Only $5,000 win on a Home Player Spin


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