With the 21st century not old enough for an adult beverage, the verdict is still out for greatest invention. But the previous 100 years brought the automobile, cell phone and rap music.
All three still have an impact today. But the TV wins because it advertises all those things and gives them a platform to draw our interest. Although the television is losing viewers to computers and cell phones these days, most U.S. American homes still have an idiot box in the living room.
And that box brought us such entertainment as news, sports, dramas, comedies and much more. And one of the lasting forms of entertainment is the game show.
The very first television game show, Spelling Bee, was broadcast in 1938. Then three years later Truth or Consequences was the first game show to air on commercially licensed television.
Since then we’ve tuned in for decades to test our knowledge, skills and luck with such classics as “This is Your Life,” “Let’s Make a Deal,” “The Price is Right” and “Jeopardy.”
And a huge part of these shows is the host. The host is the narrator, tour guide, parental figure and friend of the program. You don’t realize it until the host has departed, but that one person can make the game show must-see TV.
Here are some of my honorable mentions who have done it so well over the years: Ben Stein, Bob Eubanks, Tom Bergeron, Art Fleming, Wayne Brady, Monty Hall, Chuck Woolery and Pat Finn.
10. Wink Martindale (Signature show: “Tic-Tac-Dough”)
The Jackson, Tenn., native got his big television break not too far down the road at WHBQ in Memphis as the host of Mars Patrol, a science-fiction themed children’s television program. After meeting icons like Elvis Presley, Martindale moved on to host shows related to music. Then he reached major success in the 1970s, when he took the emcee position on a new CBS game show, “Gambit.” He spent four years hosting the original “Gambit.”
Then the smooth, silky voice of Martindale became well known as he was hosting “Tic-Tac-Dough.” He had a seven-year run before moving on to other projects and game shows. Martindale has the voice for radio and television.
9. Gene Rayburn (Signature show: “The Match Game”)
It’s no surprise the man born Eugen Peter Jeljenic was an actor before getting his big break in the world of television game shows. When I first saw Rayburn hosting “The Match Game,” he delivered his lines with timing and the proper emotion. He was funny and knew when to be sensitive.
His timing with the celebrity panel was only second to him setting them up for a punch line. From 1962 to 1969, Rayburn hosted “Match Game.” In the original version, which aired from New York on NBC. Then the form of “Match Game” we know best today came to the airwaves from 1973 through 1977. That version of the show was No. 1 among game shows for three years with Rayburn working with stars like Richard Dawson, Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly and Betty White.
Rayburn was nominated for two Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Host or Hostess in a Game or Audience Participation Show.
8. Richard Dawson (Signature show: “Family Feud”)
Speaking of Richard Dawson, he was pretty good at hosting a game show as well. His birth name was Colin Lionel Emm. The British-American built a strong reputation as a comedic actor. For several years he served as comedy relief on game shows before getting his own gig of “Family Feud” in 1976.
Known for kissing the ladies and edgy humor when it came to responses, Dawson set the standard for all the “Family Feud” hosts to come. Dawson won a Daytime Emmy Award for his skills on the show.
Dawson’s best unofficial hosting job was “The Running Man.” Dawson parodied his TV persona in the 1987 movie in the role of Damon Killian. Dawson was a great villain and that wit came in handy taking on Arnold Schwarzenegger.
7. Dick Clark (Signature show: “The $100,000 Pyramid”)
My generation’s Ryan Seacrest, Dick Clark hosted nearly everything meaningful from 1952 to his passing in 2012.
Hardly aging, Clark has a way of making folks at home feel comfortable and welcomed. He got along with celebrities and major stars like he knew them personally.
He started off as a disc jockey at a radio station outside of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Soul sound carried Clark from WFIL to American Bandstand in 1956. Soon Clark was in homes across America.
I grew up knowing Clark as the host of “Pyramid.” That’s how I learn how to use context clues and synonyms. Then every New Year’s Eve the dude that hosted the game show would help me count down to another 365.
6. Ray Combs (Signature show: “Family Feud”)
When I was a child, I thought “Family Feud” debuted with Ray Combs. From 1988 to the mid-1990s he was the face of the classic game show. He was fantastic at the job. He has the approach of a stand-up comic with an ability to display emotions to create laughter.
In my research I found out Combs was an actor/stand-up comic. He was so good at hosting “Family Feud” that he made a few cameos in sitcoms as Ray Combs the host of “Family Feud.”
Combs life came to a tragic end in 1996. I know he would be higher on this list if he had more years on his résumé. But he was like a comet – he flashed with brilliance of sarcasm, super quick wit and innocent charm.
5. David Ruprecht (Signature show: “Supermarket Sweep”)
I didn’t know the Lifetime Network existed. But my Mom made sure I knew before too long. Before I turned 10 years old, part of my daily routine was grabbing the remote to flip the TV to Lifetime for “Supermarket Sweep.” Right by my Mom’s side, we played each game for five years with David Ruprecht talking directly to us.
He just had that style. You felt like you had a friend stop by the house with a board game. He just wanted you guys to have fun while he delivered the questions.
It was years later I would see Ruprecht’s face pop up on shows like “Three’s Company,” “Webster” and even “Married with Children.” But that signature voice and charisma belonged on the stage built into a supermarket.
He made it fun watching regular people answer questions about the goings-on of a basic grocery store. Then the race between the three teams with shopping carts grabbing all the items they can was magic. Ruprecht reaching the final round question to start the trilogy was one of the highlights of my childhood. It was David was right there listening to my Mom and me trying to answer as a team.
4. Steve Harvey (Signature show: “Family Feud”)
“Family Feud” is a great game show. It has produced three of my top 10. The best to host the program with two families of five trying to answer survey questions is Steve Harvey.
One of the Kings of Comedy, Harvey took over the role as host in 2010. He brought his edgy style that gained him worldwide recognition to “Family Feud.” He has toned it down some, but Harvey isn’t afraid to roast contestants who shout out a dumb answer.
He will take an adult moment and make it racy. And Harvey will interject race, religion and politics in a timely and purely funny way. He’s the first host of the show I’ve seen tell a black family, “That’s a good answer – in the hood.”
Harvey has so many signature moments on YouTube from his time as host of “Family Feud.” He has done so well at the post, some folks forgot he has “The Steve Harvey Show,” currently hosts a nationwide radio and talk show and has many stand-up albums. Way to go, Steve.
3. Pat Sajak (Signature show: “Wheel of Fortune”)
You know you’re an icon of your industry when you are a parody for adults, the elderly and even children. Pat Sajak is one of the few game show hosts to have this distinction. Pat Sajak was parodied in the 1980s during a Sesame Street sketch, with a Muppet named Pat Playjacks hosting “Squeal of Fortune.”
Also during that time, comedian Martin Short frequently portrayed on the sketch comedy television shows “SCTV” and “Saturday Night Live” a fictional character he called Ed Grimley, a hyperactive manchild who is obsessed with banal popular culture, Sajak in particular.
Pat was even mentioned during an episode of “Animaniacs.” Recently during the “That Brother’s My Father” episode of Comedy Central’s “Brickleberry,” Pat Sajak gets kidnapped and becomes a hostage to the wheel of fortune. Sajak and the wheel have made cameos on “Rugrats” and “The A-Team.”
Through it all Sajak and his partner Vanna White laugh all the way to the bank. They have made “Wheel of Fortune” iconic with White’s beauty and Sajak’s impeccable hosting skills.
2. Bob Barker (Signature show: “The Price is Right”)
This man is purely a game show host. It was game show hosting that allowed Robert William Barker to come into Hollywood, our homes and our hearts. Still today when people hear “The Price Is Right” they think of Bob Barker … and having your pets spayed or neutered. From 1972 to 2007, Barker help make “The Price Is Right” the longest-running daytime game show in North American television history.
Before coming to that CBS stage in the ’70s, Barker hosted “Truth or Consequences” from 1956 to 1974. Barker wasn’t a comic game show host. He was like that firm father who could make you laugh, but he’d rather get the instructions across in order for you to have the best results.
I’m sure Barker’s resolve was sharpened after he enlisted in the United States Navy during World War II. He worked part-time in radio while he attended college. In 1950, he moved to California, and later Barker began his game show career in 1956.
He is the prototype for a game show host. His white hair made him appear trustworthy. His stature was larger than life, but the homeliness in his voice made him huggable. The skinny microphone can’t be duplicated. All these things make Bob Barker not only a game show icon, but an American icon.
1. Alex Trebek (Signature show: “Jeopardy”)
Sometimes it takes a reality check to make you put things in prospective. Earlier this month the longtime host of “Jeopardy” Alex Trebek announced he has Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
The 78-year-old has a gloomy prognosis, but he vowed to fight hard and survive. When he made his announcement at his familiar host podium, I could only cry. It was in that moment I realized the impact Alex Trebek has had on my life.
Each day when I watch “Jeopardy” and announcer Johnny Gilbert gives us the usual rundown, I prepare to say, “And my Dawg … Trekie.” Then Gilbert says “Alex Trebek.”
Since 1984, Trebek has been the man who made “Jeopardy.” My great-grandmother Minnie introduced me to this show around 1986. She was a genius answering the answers with questions. Then my grandmother would argue with Alex if she got one wrong.
Sitting on her lap about the age of 6, I got my first question correct. I was hooked. When I became a teenager, I started arguing with Trebek like I was on a “Saturday Night Live” skit.
That’s when I noticed how cool, calm and collected Trebek was. He was always in command of the show. He made contestants feel comfortable, and he helped make a few celebrities.
While being the best game show host ever, Trebek never allowed himself to be bigger than the show. It was always about “Jeopardy.”
I own several “Jeopardy” based games from board form to electronic. His face is there and his voice is not too far away for the e-versions. Trebek will always be a vital part of the best quiz show ever.
And he will always have a piece of my heart. You’re in my prayers, Trekie. I hope you get to honor your contract and pass the torch of “Jeopardy.” But you can’t get rid of the honor of being the best game show host of all time.
THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for Journal West 10 Media LLC. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.