Book Talk | Match Game 101: A Backstage History of Match Game

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An icon of an era, Match Game had everything: Stars! Prizes! Orange shag carpeting!

The premise was simple: as the host read off a racy fill-in-the-blank statement, two contestants competed to match answers with a panel of six celebrities. But the score was secondary to the banter between the panelists and host. The modern-day equivalent to lunch at the Algonquin Round Table, Match Game has run on American television in six separate incarnations (thus far) beginning on NBC in 1962 and was successfully remade abroad (in Australia and the U.K. the format proved as popular as in the U.S.).

But it was the second U.S. version that proved most popular with American audiences. In this best-known version of Match Game (which ran nine years beginning in 1973) host, Gene Rayburn played ringmaster to a circus full of celebrity panelists who tried to match contestants’ answers to naughty questions written by a team of comedy writers. While other game shows focused on intellectual stimulation and physical challenges, watching Match Game in the seventies was like being invited to the hottest cocktail party in town. The set was shag-adelic, the humor was cutting-edge, and the celebrity guest panel smoked, bickered and bantered like they were at a party in a friend’s living room, rather than in a TV studio.

But it wasn’t called the ‘Match’ Game for nothing, so the panel had to judge contestants’ likeliest answers for themselves–knowing when to answer with wit, and when to answer like a nitwit.

Hugely popular in the U.S., it proved just as durable abroad, spawning hit spin-offs in both the U.K. and Australia. When reruns of Match Game began airing daily on GSN (the Game Show Network) they inspired a growing cult among couch potatoes of all ages.

Having previously worked in talent agencies in Chicago and Los Angeles, A. Ashley Hoff encountered many of the surviving hosts, writers, directors, producers, and celebrity panelists connected with Match Game in its various incarnations. He lives in Los Angeles. This is his first book.

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