Critics barbs sting, but his fans love him
The Christian Science Monitor News Service New York, N.Y.
What attraction holds the world’s record for the longest waiting-time for tickets in show-business history?
It’s not “My Fair Lady” at its height, or even the World Series, but the TV game show, “Let’s Make a Deal.”
That’s right, some people wait up to three years to get a ticket to a show that critics have been attacking for years as “mindless” and “demeaning to contestants and audiences alike.”
“Let’s Make a Deal” is the most successful audience participation show in television history. It has lasted for more than 10 years on ABC, always at or near the top in daytime ratings, and now also is a top-rated syndicated prime-time show. One of the big reasons is Monty Hall, co-creator and host of the show. Understandably, he is defensive about critics’ comments.
“I know deep in my heart,” he said, “that the performance I do on television is a sincere professional effort. The man who is executing this performance is orchestrating all those people in crazy hats in a very articulate manner in a difficult arena. There is a lot more to Monty Hall. He happens to be a well-educated, serious man in his personal life.”
Hall often refers to himself in the third person — especially when he is talking of his accomplishments. The Canadian son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he fought his way up from poverty, getting a master’s degree in zoology before starting a climb through Canadian theater, radio and TV to his top position in daytime TV today. And he is proud of it all.
Liberace of the game shows
How does he feel when he is referred to as the “Liberace of the game shows?” Hall is indignant. “I know I am the Arthur Rubinstein of the game shows! Especially when performers like Jimmy Stewart, Jack Benny, and Phil Silvers call to compliment me on my performance.
“I don’t ask critics to like my show — just to be fair. It’s only entertainment — not the university of the air. Accept it for what it is — fun, excitement, participation. Greed is always something the other guy engages in. It just depends upon whose ox is being gored.”
One of the reasons for the long waiting line for tickets is that the contestants come from the audience. An hour before the show, 31 people are brought forward to sit in the front section, and it is from those 31 that Hall chooses the show’s participants.
“We never asked them to wear crazy clothes — it started spontaneously when people decided they could attract our attention better with costumes,” Hall said. “It became a costume ball.”
“Of course, we screen out the obvious actors and kooks, because there’s enough natural emotion that happens as a result of the excitement of the program. We want ordinary people who came to the show in costumes, which prove they are good enough sports to qualify as contestants.
“And we don’t have to worry about them responding — after that three-year wait for tickets, then standing outside waiting to be chosen as one of the 31, then the room where they sign waivers, then sitting on the floor waiting till the lights go on and I walk down to talk to them and point my finger and say ‘you’ — why, that person even forgets her own name in the excitement.”
Hall added, “I’ve just passed my 3,000th show, and nobody ever cried with disappointment. Never once did we have to edit the show because somebody uttered an expletive. Imagine people losing a car and getting a pig instead — you’d think that someone would have blurted out something. It’s a tribute to the innate decency and self-censorship of people that the worst thing they ever do is sit down with a thud.”
A natural human being
He returned to the subject of critics. “Nobody loves me but the public,” he said. “Wherever I go, my fans embrace me because I come into their homes as an honest man. They see me for what I am — a natural human being, executing my job with affection, warmth, humor, wit and talent. They accept me. They want to be entertained — and they are.
“I have a theory about the people who put down my show, especially critics. They think they elevate themselves by standing on top of a game show. They’d much rather be reviewing George C. Scott, thus accruing prestige to themselves within their own peer group.
“Well. I’d like to be doing other things. An intellectual talk show, for instance. That’s what I like best — I am not a game show fan myself. But, networks are in it for the money, and you can’t seem to make a success in the daytime with anything but game shows and soaps.
“I’d like to be known for having staged ‘Hamlet’ in the afternoon. But every time the networks try something uplifting in the daytime, it falls flat with both the audiences and the advertisers.”
Video clip from “Let’s Make a Deal”
Scenes from the game show