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The Match Game originally ran on NBC from 1962 to 1969. It was revived in 1973 and quickly became the number-one rated daytime show for the next five years.
It was revived again as part of The Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour on NBC from 1983 to 1984. All three versions were hosted by Gene Rayburn.
ABC tried to bring Match Game back to life in 1990 with Ross Shafer as host. It didn’t work and lasted only one season. It came back yet again in 1998-1999 with Michael Burger as host with regulars George Hamilton, Vicki Lawrence and Nell Carter.
The game was simple: Six celebrities answered salacious questions posed by the host. But the game itself didn’t really matter – in fact, The Match Game was one of the first game shows to focus on humour, not contestants’ scores.
Regular panellists in the classic 70s shows included Charles Nelson Reilly, Richard Dawson, Brett Somers, Fannie Flagg and Betty White, with the other three slots occupied by random visiting stars like Connie Stevens and Dick Martin.
In Match Game clues, Ed was always freezing his blank off, Susie always needed to find a guy who could blank in five minutes, and Pete loved girls who had gigantic blanks.
Viewers also enjoyed Betty White’s occasional practical jokes on Rayburn, Patti Deutsche’s stare into the camera during the intro, Fannie Flagg’s increasingly weird shirts, McLean’s smart-aleck remarks, Bill Daily’s strange answers, and other celebrities like Bill Cullen, Allen Ludden, Gary Burghoff and David Doyle, who would make infrequent appearances.
An entire week’s shows were taped all in one day, and a buffet (with alcoholic drinks) was served between shows. By the fifth taping, the cast would be pretty drunk.
After 1973 the title of the show changed every January to reflect the new year – From Match Game ’74 all the way up to Match Game ’79. There was also Match Game PM – new episodes that ran in syndication from 1975 -1982 with the same cast.
The Match Game proved so popular with audiences it seemed the show could never fail, though fail it eventually did – partly because nothing gold can stay, and partly because it lost the (loved and hated) star who gave it ballast, and a dash of seriousness, Richard Dawson.
Gene Rayburn passed away in 1999.
Charles Nelson Reilly