ALL IN THE GAME
No Match....The Rest of the Story
The loss of You Don't Say! 30 years ago last month was only half the story. Afternoons after school in those days weren't complete until 4:25.
When Tom Kennedy and his zanies finished up at 4, not staying for Gene Rayburn and The Match Game was like having a peanut butter sandwich without the jelly.
The Altman boys two doors down in Waycross, Ga., didn't enjoy Match as much as You Don't Say! but they always watched. As I related last week, with television reception a poor premium in our small south Georgia town, going to someone's house with a 200-mile range antenna was like getting a new bike for Christmas.
I first became a Gene Rayburn fan when he did Dough Re Mi in the late '50s and early '60s (a show which should have been revived during the game show renaissance of the mid-1970s). In the language of south Georgia boys of the '60s, we would have said, "That joker's crazy." Gene didn't read "Dumb Dora" questions and didn't have Brett Somers in the original version of The Match Game but Gene, himself, carried the show with his irreverence and mischievous little boy humor. Had he been young enough, Gene would have made a great Eddie Haskell.
When you see the occasional kinescope of an NBC Match Game, you realize why it had to be reworked into the classic game we all fondly embraced on CBS in the '70s. The pacing was slow. No bass guitar backdrop music. Almost quiet while the contestants and celebrities were marking their answers.
Yet, Gene had a way of breaking everybody up. A classic moment was in 1967 when the show had added a daily "telephone match" segment between a studio audience member and a telephoned player at home. Gene greeted the telephone player, who promptly answered, "Yeah. How are you, Raymond?"
The question, for $2,500, was "(BLANK) Soup." When Gene asked the home viewer for an answer, she thought about seven seconds and answered, "Welllllllllll, I'll say Campbell's Vegg-TAY-bull Soup." The audience was already roaring at the woman's unique description of the word "vegetable." Gene, deadpanning the entire way, looked into the camera and said, "I'm surprised she didn't say Pepperidge Farm Whole Meat Chicken." Gene turned to a rather hapless fellow in the audience who looked like a bald fraternity guy in Animal House. The thoughtfully perceptive answer from the audience was BEAN Soup. Said Gene: "You must have been slurping too much of her Vegg-TAY-bull Soup." At the end of the show, Gene said: "Until tomorrow.....Gene Raymond for The Match Game....GOODBYE!"
Gene also had his classic lines for rather out-of-pocket contestants or celebrities during the Audience Match bonus game. A bad answer would earn Gene's patented question: "Do you REALLY think 100 little old ladies from Upper Montclair, New Jersey, would say THAT?" At the end of the show, when he told the contestants they would receive a home version of The Match Game, Gene would add: "It'll come to you in a plain brown wrapper with no return address."
On the first Match Game, the object was for a team of one celebrity and two contestants to match each other to a simple sentence question with a blank or a "name something" request. If no match was made by either team, Gene would often repeat the question a second time to try to see if a player or celeb would change an answer to make a match. The all-time record for a question was on a day when Y.A. Tittle and Joe Garagiola were the celebrities. The question: "John and his twin had identical (BLANK)." After three misses, the whistle blew and time ran out on the first uncompleted game in the show's history, a $175-$175 tie.
The next day, Gene began and the audience erupted when he started with the same question from the previous day. He went to the first contestant for an answer and asked, "Now, what did you have yesterday?" Reminded the player: "I wasn't here yesterday." No one matched on either team, yet again. Finally, on the fifth repetition of the question, a match was finally achieved, drawing a standing ovation from the audience (which was present for the previous show).
Until the last year of the show, you could always count on two more constants: the show's theme music----the 1962 Billy Vaughn/Bert Kaempfert hit, "Swingin' Safari," the first song from the pop charts to be used as a game show theme since "Hoop Dee Doo" on Two for the Money; and Johnny Olsen. My parents were once in New York and attended a Match Game taping (yes, I still have the ticket stubs). Two hours later, they saw Johnny on the street. My mother said, "You're Johnny Olsen." Patting his chest and stomach, Johnny looked at my mother and said, "Well, I think I am!"
When the last match was made, I didn't stick around after the premiere of its replacement, Letters to Laugh-In, a lame attempt to extend the nighttime Laugh-In franchise to an ill-conceived game. Gary Owens is a great personality but Gene owned 4:00-4:25 for me and his absence was like going to the drugstore and finding out the pharmacist has sold out.
The world did go on. My high school football team had its first winning season in five years that fall. The Mets won the World Series. I discovered unrequited love for the first time----my gorgeous high school journalism teacher. My father began to teach me to drive. But something was just not the same at 4 in the afternoon. I don't think I've ever forgiven NBC for what its daytime programmers did in 1969. Losing You Don't Say! was the biggest blow but snatching The Match Game from my afternoons was like delivering a migraine headache and a stomach ache at the same time. Reruns of Gomer Pyle, USMC on the CBS station never did fill the gap.
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