Thursday, March 1, 2007

Fun and games (shows): Get ready to match the stars!

As DVD companies continue to release a huge number of sets dedicated to TV shows each month (with some shows still hitting the racks for the first time), it's unusual that so few sets devoted to game shows have been released.
Game shows are cheap to produce and therefore generally very profitable. ABC will be the first to admit it stupidly killed its golden goose with its oversaturating of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," one of the best game shows in TV history -- and one of the most pervasive at the height of its success. Yet, as of now, there is no DVD of "Millionaire" highlights, though show still airs in reruns and in syndication.
That also holds true for the long-running shows "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!", though both have long been available as computer games. Although fans of "Jeopardy!" can buy a documentary on DVD called "Jeopardy! - An Inside Look at America's Favorite Quiz Show," it's not the game show itself.
Maybe the best of the few game show DVDs available until recently was TV Guide: Classic Quiz Shows (3 Pack)(Genius Products) which featured 15 game shows from the distant past, including "Beat the Clock" with Bud Collyer, "Break the Bank" with Bert Parks, "Shenanigans" with Stubby Kaye," "Do You Trust Your Wife" with Edgar Bergen, and its succcessor, "Do You Trust Your Wife?" with a young Johnny Carson, and "Twenty One" with Jack Barry. The "Twenty One" segment is the historic TV showdown between Herbert Stempel and Charles Van Doren that figured prominently in the '50s game show scandals.(The "Do You Trust Your Wife" segment is also available on Timeless TV's "Johnny Carson Show" set.)
Another is "The Golden Years of Classic Game Shows," a single disc with "I've Got a Secret," "The 64,000 Challenge," "What Are the Odds" and "A Dollar a Second."
But now comes "The Best of Match Game: DVD Edition, (Fremantle Media)" a four-disc set with 30 complete shows from the popular game show. Of course, unlike all the other titles mentioned above, "The Match Game" was a game show where the rules really didn't matter. The fun did. So everyone from host Gene Rayburn on down to the cameraman got caught up in the festivities.
The shows on the set include the series pilot from 1973 with celebrities Anita Gillette, Jack Klugman, Michael Landon, Vicki Lawrence and Jo Ann Pflug. That first show didn't include Match Game regulars Charles Nelson Reilly, Richard Dawson or Brett Somers, you'll notice. Other celebrities seen in the shows include Eva Gabor, Elaine Joyce, McLean Stephenson, Nancy Kulp ("The Beverly Hillbillies"), Fannie Flagg, Betty White, Jaye P. Morgan, William Shatner, Joyce Bulifant, Patti Deutsch, Ed Asner, Dick Martin, Jamie Lee Curtis, Marcia Wallace, Bob Barker, Della Reese, Jack Carter, Shelley Winters, Bill Daily, Debralee Scott ("Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman") and Rita Moreno.
Somers, who was Klugman's wife at the time, was the object of several of Klugman's jokes during his early appearances on the show and it was these jokes that led the show to invite Somers to make her first "Match Game" appearance, she says in one of the special features included in the set. On that first show, she didn't sit in what later became her usual spot next to Reilly, but in what was called the "ditzy seat" (for the ditzy celebrities) in the front row. In at least one appearance on the show, she and her then ex-husband Klugman appearance as panelists together. The show, unfortunately, isn't included in this set. That they managed to keep it civil was a tribute to both of them.
"The Match Game" wasn't always as crazy as you remember it. When it first premiered in black-and-white in 1962, it was actually a staid affair with only two celebrities (Peter Lind Hayes and Peggy Cass, for you trivia buffs) and four regular contestants. That first show is included here as one of the special features. It makes for quite a comparison with what came later.
The other special features are enjoyable, but could have been better. Brett Somers is the only regular from the show who appears in the special features, and many of her comments are laced around segments from shows appearing on the same disc. It's really a shame the set's compilers weren't able to use the recent wonderful GSN documentary, "The Real Match Game Story: Behind the Blanks," which included interviews with Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly and the now rarely seen Richard Dawson, plus an archival interview with Gene Rayburn made before his death in 1999. There set, however, also includes a tribute to Gene Rayburn and photos.
(Another "Match Game" DVD: "The Best of Match Game: The Dumb Dora Edition," is to be released March 13.)