Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Vanishing Game Show Host

It strikes me as somewhat ironic that, despite the current revival in the popularity of the game show genre, the game show host remains a dieing breed.
Of course, these new shows all have hosts, but they dilletantes; people who've made their names as actors, comedians, or even iconoclastic stage magicians, and will return to their main career after their game show fades in the ratings and withers and dies. The breed of entertainers that I refer to by the label "game show hosts" are something different altogether. They are people who were primarily known for, and whose entire life in the public eye was spent, hosting game shows, and who fronted many such shows of over the course of their careers. With the upcoming retirement of The Price Is Right's Bob Barker, about the only old school game show host left is Alex Trebek. Before becoming world renowned as host of Jeopardy!, Trebek emceed The Wizard of Odds, High Rollers and Classic Concentration, among others.
The venerable Chuck Woolery may still be doing Lingo on Game Show Network. At first I didn't put Pat Sajak in this category for, even though he is known to the world primarily as host of Wheel of Fortune and has presided over that show for a quarter of a century now, Wheel is the only game he's ever hosted. However, that really only means that Sajak was lucky enough to land his signature big hit right out of the box, rather than toiling for years in the game show minor leagues, and really doesn't make him any less a seasoned game show host than Trebek or Woolery.
The quintessential game show host was the late, great Bill Cullen. In a career that spanned four decades in both radio and television, Cullen served as host or celebrity panelist on dozens of game shows, including the original The Price Is Right, To Tell The Truth, The Joker's Wild, The $25,000 Pyramid, Blockbusters, Hot Potato, and far too many more for me to list in the time I have left on this computer at the public library.
Like all the great hosts, of which he was the greatest, Cullen was genial and funny, but not too funny, recognizing that the contestants and the game itself were the real stars of the show and he was there to make sure things ran smoothly. Conversely, it seems that the real appeal of many of the current crop of prime time game shows, most notably Bill Shatner's Show Me The Money (which appears to have been canceled, as it did not air last night despite being listed in TV Guide and I can find no mention of it on ABC's site), is the pre-existing fame of their hosts. The one current host who most fits the classic model epitomized by Cullen is 1 vs 100's Bob Saget.
My aunt Ann grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as did Cullen, and she once claimed to have attended school with him. Given the number of celebrities Cullen worked with over his lifetime, it would probably take only one or two more "degrees" to get to Kevin Bacon.

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