Game Days Past


For some reason, the old game show “Sale of the Century” from the 1980’s crossed my mind the other day.  I enjoyed this show tremendously as a kid, so I looked on youtube to see if I could find any episodes because I don’t really remember what it was all about.  They didn’t have any full episodes, but I did see enough bits and pieces to enjoy the nostalgia.  And I came across this clip of Simon Cowell’s first tv appearance as a contestant on the British version of this show:

Watching vintage game shows on youtube got my husband thinking about the movie Quiz Show, which is about the game show scandal of the late 1950’s.  It was a time when quiz shows were very popular, and one of the most popular shows of the time called “Twenty-One” was exposed for being rigged – in other words, the producers would tell the contestants the correct answers, and when to answer correctly or incorrectly to guarantee or fix the outcome of the show.  On youtube, we were able to find the actual episode of “Twenty-One” that was chronicled in the movie and where the scandal broke.  Click here to see it – it’s in 3 parts, so you can find parts 2 and 3 off to the side where it says ‘related videos’.  We also watched a “Time and Again” documentary about the scandal, which included interviews with the contestants involved and was very interesting – click here to see part 1 of 5 of that show; again, the remaining parts can be linked from the right side of youtube.  Surprisingly, the movie “Quiz Show” is very true to the real story of the scandal.  When watching the episode of “Twenty-One” that started it all, my husband noted that it was very close to how the movie portrayed it.  It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the movie, so I will have to see it again because I didn’t remember whether it was close or not.

After watching the interesting “Twenty-One” videos, we moved onto the game show “Press Your Luck” from the 1980’s.  It’s the one where people get spins on a big game board, and they yell, “No Whammys, no whammys, STOP!”  A whammy was like a ‘lose-your-turn’.  When a contestant spun one, a cartoon character (the whammy) would come out and do something different on the tv screen, like a dance or something silly, but it meant no money and the end of the contestant’s turn.  If you were like me and a kid watching the show when it was on, then you were waiting for people to get the whammys so you could see the little cartoons.  For this reason, I would NOT have liked the episodes that aired with a contestant named Michael Larson, an unemployed ice cream truck driver who memorized the pattern of the board, and spun a whopping 47 times!  He won the following prizes:

  • $104,950 in cash
  • 1 sailboat worth $1015
  • 1 trip to Kauai worth $1636
  • 1 trip to the Bahamas worth $2636
  • This amount of cash was unheard of for this show, and the host kept making dumb jokes about how the contestant could now buy the Bahamas or CBS.  After the show, they gave Michael Larson a hard time about collecting his winnings, but in the end, it was found that his memorizing the board’s patterns was not cheating.  They reconfigured the game show board, of course, but sadly, Michael Larson’s story did not have a happy ending.  He had some struggles over the years, and ended up dying of throat cancer in 1999.  His life during and after the “Press Your Luck” appearances makes for a very interesting story though; perhaps they should make a movie about that – read it here.  They pulled those episodes of “Press Your Luck” in syndication, but they have shown them in multiple specials that aired on tv, most notably the game show network.  They even invited Larson’s brother to compete against the newly configured Press Your Luck whammy board to see if he could beat it, and he could not.  Below are Larson’s appearances on “Press Your Luck”.  Note the reactions of his fellow contestants as well as those of the host.  A few interesting notes:   While waiting to be on the show, Larson met Ed Long, a Baptist preacher booked for his fourth taping. They struck up a conversation. When it was Ed’s turn to go on, Michael said to him, “I hope we don’t have to face each other on the show.” His wish wouldn’t come true, as Ed had won his previous game with $11,516.  Watch for Ed on the clip.  Also note the host of the show,  Peter Tomarken, who was killed in a plane crash in 2006.  He was a private pilot who volunteered for an organization that flew low-income patients for medical needs.  His airplane had engine trouble, and he and his wife were killed when their plane crashed into the Santa Monica Bay.

    7 thoughts on “Game Days Past”

    1. Very interesting that rigging was not illegal at the time… I would have flet very guilty if I were involved. I remember watching Joker’s Wild (hosted by 21’s Jack Berry and produced by the guy who produced 21). I also remember Sale of the Century.

    2. Ah, game shows. I remember the Michael Larson controversy. There was no rule against memorizing patterns, so he was really in the clear. In Las Vegas that wouldn’t fly of course. That would be akin to counting cards, and we all know that anything that gives a player even a perceived advantage is against the rules and grounds for confiscation of your winnings.

      I remember a game show that had a scenery and I guess emphasis on wrapped presents/gifts. For the life of me I can’t remember what it was called. I also remember Joker’s Wild and another show around the same time and often played right before or after, Tic-Tac-Dough. Both those shows had kid versions, did you know that? Joker’s Wild became Joker, Joker, Joker while Tic-Tac-Dough- I can’t remember )and I can’t find a single mention of it on the internet either!) but I think it had the word “dragon” in it. I believe both were played for points instead of money, as well as kid-geared prizes, though they could also win scholarship money.

      By the way, here’s a site where you can hear some gameshow theme music (in bad real audio format, but hey):

    3. If you’re talking about Press Your Luck, it wasn’t rigged, it just wasn’t random. Personally, I think it’s the game show producers’ fault for saying it was random when in fact it was patterned. Michael Larson only exploited this fact for his own gain, and I don’t think he should feel guilty or have to give up his money. Just my opinion… I can see where one might feel guilty, however, he did go through lots of work to get where he did, and like I said, I see it as the game show people’s fault more than his. If you’re talking about Twenty-One, yes it was illegal, and everyone involved had to give depositions before Congress and such… not really sure about the details of everything – I’m going to watch the movie again.

    4. I didn’t realize they had kids versions of those shows, but I’m not surprised… as far as kids game shows, I really liked “I’m Telling!” The show that pitted siblings against each other, often there was a kid celebrity on it. Fun House was cool too, and of course, the ever-classic Double Dare.
      Wrapped presents / gifts = Let’s Make a Deal perhaps? They would offer a mystery prize in exchange for something, along with the classic, “or would you like what’s behind door #1 instead?” But they would have large wrapped gifts also contestants could exchange…

    5. There was a kid’s version of Jeopardy too. I remember at some point in the game they would dump something on the contestants ala You Can’t Do That on Television. The best kid’s shows of course are those made for the kids, like Double Dare.

      I know Let’s Make a Deal well, and unfortunately that is not the one I’m thinking of, but thanks.

    6. I think the Jeopardy kiddie version was called Jep and lasted about a season on saturday mornings. Of course, most shows nowadays feature kid weeks (Wheel, Jeopardy, those are the only two I can think of). Both Tic-Tac-Dough and Joker’s Wild were produced by the same person who produced the original Twenty-One.

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