Match Game: The vintage game show with some real blank

Vintage 1970s Match Game TV game show

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The Match Game was a hugely popular game show with a simple concept: contestants would try to guess how celebrities had answered fill-in-the-blank questions.

The show ran for thousands of episodes in 5 different incarnations over four decades, though the most popular version ran from 1973 to 1979… and featured some awesome orange shag carpet.

The Real Match Game Story: Behind the Blank notes, “Match Game started out as a run-of-the-mill, fill-in-the-blank game show. The questions were simple and contestants had to fill in the blanks: ‘Every morning, John puts _____ on his cereal.’


“Faced with cancellation because of low ratings, producers and panelists decided to kick it up a notch and have fun until the end of the season. Host Rayburn rattled off questions packed with sexual double entendres, unusual for the 1970s.

“The racy questions made it to the air, the celebrities made it a point to ‘play dumb’ and the results were hilarious. The ratings shot through the roof and CBS un-canceled the series.

Match Game became the highest-rated game show in daytime from 1974 to 1976. Match Game redefined the modern game show. It went against convention, appealed to a younger, hipper audience, and ushered in a new era of television.”

Vintage Match Game TV show

Something new from Gene Rayburn: a game show (1973)

By TV Editor Howard Pearson – Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah) June 20, 1973

Gene Rayburn, who has performed on many types of programs on stage and television, will give televiewers just what we’ve needed — another game show.

His new Match Game, which will be telecast on CBS, will be presented on Channel 5 weekdays at 7:30 am, beginning next Tuesday.

Early Match Game show - Gene Rayburn

During an interview last week in Hollywood, Rayburn, who hosted an earlier version of this giveaway for seven years on NBC, said the new program will be different in some respects from the old.

“Only modest amounts of money were given away on the old. On this, a champion can win up to $5,000 on the jackpot round,” he explained.

“We will feature six celebrities on the new program, and the old one had only two. In the game itself, two contestants will play against each other in trying to match their answers with those of the panel of celebrities.

“After two rounds, the contestant who has accumulated the most points is declared champion, and is eligible to go on to play for the big jackpot.”

Vintage Match Game game show panel of celebrities

Rayburn admitted this did have elements of shows now on television and of the old program, but said he believed there was a spot for another game show. “Oh, yes, viewer habits change. Maybe we should do situation comedy,” continued the host who has been on stage in such shows as Broadway’s “Bye, Bye, Birdie.”

However, he said he believed there was still a lot of interest in game shows. “No, greed is not the main aspect of this show,” he declared. “I think viewers like to see head-to-head competition on an intellectual level.”

(That brought several laughs from Rayburn’s interviewers. )

It didn’t bother Rayburn. He has made a good living with “What’s My Line,” “To Tell the Truth,” the original “Match Game,” and as one of the originators of the “Tonight” series with Steve Allen. In fact, Rayburn currently also is host on a segment of NBC’s “Monitor.”

He was hired to ad-lib his part on “Monitor,” and “then I was handed a script, which was too stiff to read.”

During the interview, he was in a reminiscing mood. Asked how he started being a host and some of the requisites, he said: “Well no one starts out to be a game show host. I wandered into New York, and got a job on Robert Montgomery Presents.

“Earlier, I had been on radio with Dee Finch. We wanted to do something to get a pay raise. We told listeners we were going to introduce them to the worst song ever heard. We thought we would get a larger audience.

“We finally introduced the song on our program. It was sung by Teresa Brewer and was titled ‘Music, Music, Music.’

“It became a hit, but we didn’t get our raise. We decided to try again with another worst song. It was ‘Hopscotch Polka.’ It turned out to be hit, but we had to leave the station to get our raise.”

The Match Game at-home card game from the 1960s
The Match Game at-home card game from the 1960s

Turning to the requisites for being a game show host, he prefaced his observations with: “Some people say it’s easy. I say, ‘baloney.’ It takes ability. It is extremely difficult. When you are standing there doing it, you have to create a show on your feet. And you can’t change it.

“As to handling the show, a host must be sensitive to civilian (that’s what he calls regulars, as contrasted with celebrities) contestants. You must overcome their trauma. You must make contestants feel at ease.”

Rayburn also disclosed that it is easier to get women contestants than men.

Match Game 76 - 70s TV game show (3)

Since he has worked many night shows, Gene was asked what is the matter with Jack Paar. “He seems a little old fashioned. I don’t think he would have impressed audiences that way if he had stayed on,” Rayburn concluded. “But there is something about television that makes it necessary to stay.”

Gene won’t have to worry about things going awry for him. He owns a manufacturing plant in Cape Cod.


The celebrity players

Each episode featured a panel of six stars of stage or screen, which (at one time or another) included Richard Dawson, Charles Nelson Reilly, Brett Somers, Marcia Wallace, Betty White, Jimmy Walker, Gary Burghoff, Adrienne Barbeau, June Lockhart, Shelley Winters, Jack Cassidy, Loretta Swit, Nipsey Russell, Della Reese, Orson Bean, Ethel Merman, Michael Landon, Vicki Lawrence, Juliet Mills, Edward Asner, Arte Johnson, Robert Culp, ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot, Bob Barker, Jo Anne Worley, Kate Jackson, Marilu Henner, Donna Mills, Pat Morita, Eva Gabor, Leslie Nielsen, Donna Pescow, Robert Pine and William Shatner — among many others.

Richard Dawson, Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly and host Gene Rayburn

Richard Dawson - Brett Somers - Charles Nelson Reilly - Gene Rayburn

ALSO SEE: The Love Boat: Find out about the classic TV show, plus the intro & theme song (1977-1986)

Nipsey Russell appearing on Match Game (1970s)

Nipsey Russell on The Match Game TV game show - 1970s

YouTube video

Betty White playing on The Match Game show


MORE: Young Betty White: See 30 pictures of the actress at the start of her long career

More famous faces playing on The Match Game

Vintage celebrities included David Doyle, Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, Debralee Scott, Dick Martin, Patty


Avery Schreiber, Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, Jo Ann Pflug, Richard Dawson, Fanny Flagg


The Match Game ’76 set

Match Game 76 - 70s TV game show (1)

Match Game ’76 contestants and game play

Match Game 76 - 70s TV game show (4)

Match Game 76 - 70s TV game show (2)

NOW SEE THIS: The original Hollywood Squares game show & intro

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