“I would like to buy a vowel.”
“I’ll take ‘Before & After’ for $600, Alex.”
“No whammy, no whammy…stop!”
If you have used any of those phrases in everyday conversation, you are a product of 80s game shows. You probably watched most of them when you were home sick from school or during school breaks. They aired after the morning talk shows, but before the soap operas started. Some were original while others were versions of games played at home. And some were uniquely 80s. But all of them made their way into the social consciousness.
Although several other game shows could have made the list (look for another column in the future), here are six of the most memorable and iconic game shows of the 80s.
Easily the granddaddy of all game shows, it originally aired in the 1960s and 70s with the legendary Art Fleming hosting. In 1984, creator Merv Griffin decided to reboot the unique “question as answer” game show with Alex Trebek, and as they say, the rest is history. Known for its challenging categories and often witty clues, Jeopardy has always provided viewers with the opportunity to feel smarter for watching it, encouraging active viewing – they’ve even changed their rules to make it easier for people at home to answer along with the contestants.
Another Merv Griffin game show, “Wheel” (as it’s commonly known) began airing as a daytime game show prior to the 80s. However, in 1983, it entered syndication with Pat Sajak as host and Vanna White as hostess, roles they continue today. Viewers loved trying to solve the “Hangman” style puzzles but tuned in for Vanna’s dresses and the shopping. In the early days of the show, the winner of each round had to purchase items from showcases, using up the money won in the round (anything left that wasn’t enough to purchase something went on a gift card). There was always an overpriced ceramic figure that people had to purchase to use up their money. Sadly, the shopping portion disappeared in 1987, but you can bet that there are hundreds of ceramic statues in homes today thanks to Wheel.
Here’s one that was uniquely 80s. Running for only three years, from 1983-1986, it managed to give us an extremely memorable game show feature, the Whammy. The game began with a round of trivia in which contestants won spins on the Big Board, where they could win prizes. The catch was that Whammies populated the Big Board. They were little animated monsters that wiped out any money you had earned and took your prizes away. To this day, people still say, “No Whammy” when they hope for a good outcome on a situation.
Another uniquely 80s game show, this one was for the kids. Originally premiering on Nickelodeon in 1986, it featured two teams answering trivia questions. One team could dare the other team to answer a question, who could then double dare the first team. The team then had to choose whether to answer the question or complete a physical challenge, which was of the messiest, grossest kind. Favorites included having to reach up into a giant nose filled with slime to find a flag, and the Sundae Slide which was a slide covered in chocolate that landed contestants in a pool of ice cream. The slime even became a fixture during Nickelodeon awards shows, and it became a badge of honor to have been “slimed” on tv.
This adult game show was a twist on a favorite 70s game show, The Dating Game. Taking advantage of the rise of video dating, Love Connection featured a contestant/guest who had previously viewed videotapes of potential “candidates.” The live studio audience picked a date for the guest based on video excerpts from three of the candidates. After a commercial break (“We’ll be back in two and two.”) the guest revealed who went on the date. Their date was discussed, and if both people agreed it was a good date, they were reunited on stage; if it wasn’t, the date’s participation ended. The host then revealed who the audience chose, giving the guest another chance at a “Love Connection.” Cheesy and addictive, this one changed the way people looked at dating.
Another game show that enjoyed initial success through the 70s, its initial run ended in 1981. However, it was brought back to life in 1983, running until 1989. A variation of tic tac toe (not to be confused with Tic Tac Dough, another 80s game show), there were two contestants, representing either X or O. Celebrities were the game board, seated in a 3 x 3 cube (think the opening of The Brady Bunch). Contestants took turns choosing celebrities who would answer a question given by the host. The contestant then had to either agree or disagree with the celebrity’s answer. A correct agreement resulted in the placement of their letter on the board. While the gameplay itself was innovative, people tuned in for the “zingers” that celebrities often gave before their real answer. The king of the zinger was Paul Lynde, the perpetual center square for many years, whose snarky delivery was way before its time. Sometimes off-color, always timely, the zingers were the heart of the show, and the real reason people tuned in.
Game shows have come and gone over the years, but it’s a testament to the creative minds of the 80s that some of these favorites are being given new life in the new millennium.