Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Beat the Clock

Channel surfing recently around stations in the 1200-1500 range I came across BUZZR. This is a network that airs old game shows. Gene Rayburn lives! You can watch THE MATCH GAME fifteen times a day. But late at night they show OLD game shows. Really OLD. Really really OLD. Black and white from the ‘50s. From time to time I go on nostalgia jags and catch a few episodes of WHAT’S MY LINE?, TO TELL THE TRUTH, and I’VE GOT A SECRET – mostly because they have the original commercials in tact. We see scientific proof that Anacin cures headaches as it stops the anatomically correct cartoon hammer seen pounding in your brain. I’m sold.

Okay, I also had a crush on Betsy Palmer. 

But then BUZZR dug even deeper. I saw an episode of BEAT THE CLOCK. From 1953. Holy shit! Are their videotapes of Shakespeare plays when they were first performed? 1953.

For those not familiar, this was a game show where contestants had to perform goofy stunts in 45 seconds or 55 seconds, whatever – they had to “beat the clock.” What struck me however was how cheesy some of these stunts were. Especially considering this was a CBS prime time program seen nationwide.

One of the stunts from the episode I caught was two Dixie Cups on their sides on a card table. A husband and wife were on either side of the table and by tapping on the underside of the table they had to get the two cups to shift to a standing position. The Dixie Cups alone must’ve cost three cents! As the couple was trying to perform this stunt I was thinking a) I can’t believe this was on network television, and b) I was riveted. Who needs million dollar production values or current game shows with elaborate high tech sets and sound effects when you can see Dixie Cups being jiggled?

Another stunt was a guy had to put on a pair of pants while holding three balloons. Can you just see the network saying to the producer he’s gone way over on his balloon budget?

Networks lately have been revamping old game shows and “improving” them. The new TO TELL THE TRUTH is unwatchable. The new MATCH GAME is only fun because of Alec Baldwin. And there have been numerous reboots of BEAT THE CLOCK. But none can match the innocence and cheesy charm of the originals.

People paid a lot of money for television sets back in 1953. Not every household had one. They were major investments. I wonder if anybody said, “Hey, I shelled out three months salary so I could see Dixie Cups on a card table?” My guess is no. My guess is they were just thrilled to be able to see it.. And that is what’s lost today – the “Oh Wow” factor. Consumers now just expect miracle digital advances. So it’s no longer fun to play “Beat the Clock” because no clock today can keep up.

By the way – TRIVIA NOTE: Did you know that James Dean was a stunt tester on BEAT THE CLOCK?  Yep.  The trouble was he was so agile that real contestants could never complete the tasks in the time he took.


Terrence Moss said...

I love buzzr.

Jon said...

I'm glad to be able to watch Buzzr most of the time, though it's a digital channel through my antenna, so the picture isn't always good. I think Buzzr honors classic game shows the way GSN used to, before it ran Family Feud 10 times a day, similar to how Me-TV honors classic tv shows the way TV Land did before it decided to be just 1 more channels to cater to the elusive millennial audience.

estiv said...

Random things I've noticed watching BUZZR:

The "reinvented" games are always worse than the original. PASSWORD PLUS: Yuck. Way too complicated. I guess Goodson and Todman wanted to innovate while still maintaining brand identity.

Similarly, the new games from the seventies aren't as good. I've watched CARD SHARKS several times and still don't really understand what's going on.

Bill Cullen had a lo-o-o-ong career.

It's weirdly sweet and moving to see people get excited about what are now tiny amounts of money. "You're going home with...thirty-seven dollars!"

johnachziger said...

I've Got A Secret was the best game show ever. Not just Betsy, but Bill Cullen, Bess Meyerson, and especially Henry Morgan made up the best panel of wit, intelligence, charm and done-right fun! I've watched every episode that's available on Youtube.

Here's a Friday question that you probably can't answer, but maybe...
We've been binge-watching Frasier (me for the first time) and are now in the 10th season. We noticed during the 9th season, in the background of many episodes when they're at the Cafe, there's a woman in the background who I thought at first was Crystal Bernard (but she's somewhat heavier). She was in many episodes, then disappeared during the 10th season. Until about half-way through, when she suddenly turned up again in the episode we saw last night. Not sure if she's in any more yet.
My question is...who was she? A producer's wife, maybe? I've tried googling to no avail.

Anyway, thanks.

Michael said...

A couple of things.

First, we love those old game shows, and What's My Line was so lovably pompous, though Arlene Francis could have done anything on TV and been wonderful to watch.

Second, growing up, I used to watch the syndicated To Tell the Truth. Times had changed, and no one sat there smoking, but by my count from I've Got A Secret, Garry Moore (who was terrific) must have averaged six packs a day.

Finally, if I am right, the James Dean story is reminiscent of Madelyn Pugh, who co-wrote I Love Lucy. As I remember the story, she did most of the crazy stuff Lucille Ball did before they did it on the air.

Roger Owen Green said...

I was born in 1953, so I watched (slightly later) versions of Beat the Clock with Bud Collyer. Even then, it didn't stand up to I've Got A Secret, What's My Line and other CBS game shows of the time.

Barry Traylor said...

I just discovered this past weekend this channel and although I hate to admit this I remember watching BEAT THE CLOCK in 1953. My mom and I loved watching that show back then.

Mike McCann said...

There is such brilliance and beauty in the "mystery challenger" segment on the classic WHAT'S MY LINE. Unlike today, when at best C-plus Listers show up on game shows, you'd get Groucho Marx, Lucy and Desi, Jack Benny and the other legends of their time and all time.

And be sure to pay special attention to the WML episodes with Fred Allen on the panel. There has never been a better match of sharp-edged wit within a question-and-answer game format.

Covarr said...

I absolutely love the new MATCH GAME at times, depending on what guests they have, but a lot of the fun of the original was the way they skirted around the censors, and that's just completely missing now. Not to mention, the panelists don't build up as much rapport because there are no "guaranteed" panelists who will be in virtually every episode. Yeah, Caroline Rhea shows up a lot, but nothing like having Charles Nelson Reilly and Brett Somers sit next to each other day after day ribbing each other constantly.

And nothing beats Bill Daily completely misunderstanding the question and giving an answer that makes no sense at all.

Anonymous said...

What's My Line is not simply an entertaining game show.
It is a history lesson and a time capsule.
The guests they had on, especially but not only the mystery guests, told you so much about the way america was in the 1950's and 1960's.
To say nothing of the fascinating interplay between John Daly and the panel.
Watch the WML the week after Fred Allen suddenly died. The first five minutes are great television.
Nothing like that on TV today -anywhere.

John Hammes said...

Should television or movies find reason for a dream/fantasy sequence involving the original "What's My Line?" panel, Jennifer Lawrence would make for a convincing Dorothy Kilgallen. Granted, 1950's fashion was not the most flattering for Kilgallen, nor would be for Lawrence. Still, there are similarities - both forward for their respective times, both forward with speaking their minds, both forward with allowing audiences little (if any) middle ground) on popularity. People either liked them, or they did not. Though, that popularity issue can pretty much be any one of us.

"What's My Line?", generations later, is still a joy to watch. A viewer can still watch and more or less relate with these people (formalities aside), they are clearly having the time of their lives.

YEKIMI said...

I sort of like the new Match Game but who they consider "celebrities" is beyond me. Sure, I know some of them but others I have never heard of and had me running to Google or IMBD to see who in the hell they are. I gather that they "tape" in NYC which probably limits their choice of whom to get. Some of them are having fun but others appear to be bored out of their minds and are just there for the paycheck. Don't know if they do like the 70s version of Match Game and go out and have a few drinks when they break for lunch but, if they do, they need to be drinking something a lot stronger. Also don't get me started on the contestants.....some of them appear to be so stupid that they need instructions on how to breathe. And lastly, bring back Dick DeBartolo to write the questions! Now that MAD Magazine has fled to the West Coast and only took one person with them he should be available.

Dave From Brunersburg said...

Semi-Fun factoid: "I've Got A Secret" was created, pitched to Goodson-Todman, and originally produced, by Allan Sherman (yeah, the Hello Muddah guy). So many fascinating glimpses of that period...One was a Christmas episode in the late 50s where the contestant was a computer programmer for IBM or Rand (can't remember), and her secret was that while she was being questioned by the panel, she was programming a computer to play Christmas music. The computer (tiny for those days) was about the size of a refrigerator, and the music sounded like one of those cheesy musical Christmas cards. A FitBit probably has more computing power.

Anonymous said...

TRIVIA NOTE II: Neil Simon and his brother Danny worked on BEAT THE CLOCK.

Betsy Palmer? Hmm, that's a surprise. Based on our mutual lust for Natalie Wood I would have thought you were like me and yearned for Phyllis Newman.


John said...

Question -- are you the kind of guy who appreciates being shown usage errors such as Their/There or are you the type who thinks people who point out such errors need to get a life?

Unknown said...

A sort of Bibliography:

There's a guy named Adam Nedeff who's become the Boswell of game shows.

Under the aegis of BearManor Media, Mr.Nedeff has put out a four-volume almanac called This Day In Game Show History.

Beyond that, he has also written full-dress biographies of Bill Cullen, Gene Rayburn, Allen Ludden, and Dennis James - all of whom led their lives very well indeed.

BearManor is a "specialist publisher"; their books tend to be kind of pricey (even the paperbacks), but if you're interested in these people, it's well worth it.

(Oh, and if you go to the BearManor website, set aside some time - you're going to need it.)

Mike Bloodworth said...

I also enjoy Buzzr. (13.2 over the air in Los Angeles) When I was a little kid my parents let me stay up to watch many of theses game shows. The funny thing is that at that time I had no idea who (whom?) most of these people were. Bennett Cerf is one example. Now I know he's an author, publisher, humorist, etc. But, back then, pardon the cliche, I didn't know him from Adam. Henry Morgan and Gary Moore had well established careers before game shows, but this is how I was introduced to most of these celebrities. In fact, when I would subsequently see them on T.V. I'd say, "Hey, it's that game show guy." Yet another example of why I feel so old; because I AM OLD.

Anonymous said...

If you watch What's My Line, you'll notice that Dorothy Kilgallen got a disproportionate number of the mystery guests.
Bennett Cerf maintained she cheated and knew many in advance.

E. Yarber said...

There's an epic "lost" episode of The Honeymooners where Kramden and Norton appear on Beat the Clock, handling the balloons and dixie cups live before an audience. Bud Collyer appeared as Bud Collyer.

tb said...

I always loved it when Rod Serling was on Password, he was so clever

Andy Rose said...

I love game shows, but even I find a lot of those old G-T panel shows a little too slow. The original Password, in particular, is a big snooze. But some young relatives of mine adore old episodes of What's My Line? that are posted on YouTube, so what do I know? My niece wrote her "figure in American history" school paper on Dorothy Kilgallen, and had to convince her teacher that she was a real person.

Technically speaking, a 1953 episode of Beat the Clock would have been a kinescope, recorded with a film camera pointed at a TV monitor. Videotape didn't become commercially available until 1956.

Gary said...

Count me among those who love the old What's My Line episodes, which are readily available on YouTube. The panel members are intelligent and witty. With zero gimmicks and the barest of sets, it easily holds your attention for the full half-hour.

And it amazes me how "New York" the show was. They're constantly talking about the current Broadway shows, which were probably seen by less than 1% of the television audience.

Finally there is just a hint of snobbiness. Beginning with the episodes of the late 1950's whenever the subject of rock & roll comes up, you can feel the total disdain among the panel. Okay so they were smart, but not necessarily foresighted...

Jack Terwilliger said...

BEAT THE CLOCK fan from the Narz Era. Had the home version.

thirteen said...

I loved the clock on Beat the Clock. I didn't care much about what was going on; I just wanted to watch the clock tick down to zero, with the lights around the dial going out in sequence. I guess I was three or four.

I had a thing for stopwatches, too.

I wound up writing and producing news for CBS. The stopwatch thing was probably why. It was always about the ticks.

LouOCNY said...

BUZZR was ok for a while, but it;s programming sucks, as it is stuck in a loop of some kind, and repeats it time after time.If you REALLY want to see some of these shows, check YouTube out, where complete catalogs exist. WML has the comlete 17 year run available - including some that were presumed 'lost;. No commercials usually, but you can burn through entire seasons if you want (remember WML was on EVERY week, almost)

What's really neat about WML, is watching all these urbane people flail away and NOT get the occupations of people with fairly rural or middle class jobs - they never got a milkman, for Petes sake.

With the Mystery Guests, they usually know who's in town, so the producers sometimes went to great lengths to fly in people, r other tricks, just to mess with their heads. For instance,Joey Bishop was the male guest panelist, and so he had 'given a ride to the airport to Buddy Hackett' (who had been the same the week before), only the producers brought him right back into town, to be that weeks MG!

I can watch 2, 3, sometimes 4 in a row without getting tired of it.

Also on the YT channel the biggest single watched episode, is one where they had Groucho on the panel, and let him loose - 25 minutes of almost exhausting laughter...not to be missed!

Buttermilk Sky said...

If you are really old (or a historian of pop culture trivia) you know that Dorothy Kilgallen (a newspaper gossip columnist by trade) did a morning radio show with her husband, "Breakfast With Dorothy and Dick." It was parodied in the movie RADIO DAYS.

Even farther back, Arlene Francis and her husband Martin Gabel were members of Orson Welles's Mercury Theater. And wasn't Bud Collyer Superman on the radio?

Anonymous said...

Something going on Ken? I'm can't remember the last time I found a typo in a Levine post, and now two for this one. In tact should be closed up, as in 'intact,' and their is used when 'there' was intended.

Peter said...

This is rather funny. I'm at a train station here in London and I thought I'd use the station WiFi to visit this blog while waiting for my train to depart. But it's blocked on the following grounds:

"This site was categorized in: Nudity, Pornography"

LOL! It must have been the blog post you did on watching the AVN Awards!

So I'm using my phone's data allowance.

Peter said...

I just looked up your AVN review and it's cracking me up again.

One starlet was asked “Who are you wearing” and she said Ron Jeremy. I had to hit "pause", run upstairs and take a 90 minute shower.

Kagney Linn Karter won Best New Starlet. Considering the lifespan of a porn career she could also win a Lifetime Achievement award at the same ceremony.

But my favorite moment of the night came during the “Best Actor” award. One of the presenters said this (word for word): “There’s a thing called acting chops, which is different from fucking. True acting is when a man can blow his entire load all over a woman’s face and still remember his lines.” Poetry. Sheer poetry.

I'm Outraged! said...

Michael said, 'Garry Moore (who was terrific) must have averaged six packs a day'.
Yep, cause of death, emphysema and throat cancer.

E. Yarber said...

Bud Collyer played Superman in over one thousand episodes of the radio serial, as well as voicing the character in both the 1940s Max Fleischer theatrical cartoon series and a 1960s Saturday Morning show. His Man of Steel even managed to get along with Batman.

Andy Rose said...

@Gary: Most network shows of the 50s with an audience originated from repurposed "legitimate" theaters in the Broadway district. In the 50s, What's My Line? usually originated from what is now called the Brooks Atkinson Theater on 47th Street. They were completely surrounded by Broadway culture, so it's not too surprising that a lot of that spilled into the show.

E. Yarber said...

Of course, while Bud Collyer's Superman was a total pal to Batman, there were some uncomfortable evenings in the Batcave involving Alfred, balloons, and dixie cups.

J Lee said...

Gene Rayburn did get to join the panel on "What's My Line" once. Then CBS canceled the show after the next episode.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Johnny Olson must have had a tiny apartment in the back of a New York television theater in the sixties. He was the announcer (and studio audience warm-up man) on damn near every Goodson-Todman panel and game show back then. Plus he also worked "The Jackie Gleason Show" at the time. Amazing.

KMB said...

Buzzr is also available online as a stream, which might differ from the what the TV channel is showing, on Twitch.tv: https://www.twitch.tv/buzzr

Kosmo13 said...

Betsy Palmer was a great hugger. She knew how to make her fans feel appreciated.

Unknown said...

Bibliography, Part II:

BearManor Media (op cit.) also publishes Johnny Olson: A Voice In Time, a biography by Johnny's protege Randy West.

Note to Kevin FitzMaurice: No, Johnny Olson did not live in the back of a New York TV theater.
But read the book, and you'll see that you're not far off in terms of his omnipresence.
(...and it goes back farther back than the '60s...)

Jonny M said...

You know what this low-budget-but-you-can't-stop-watching-it sounds like, YouTube today. Moving Dixie Cups around? YouTube challenge that probably has 4 million views. Putting on pants while holding balloons? On a YouTube channel with more subscribers than CBS All Access. Seriously.

charlottesometimesnot said...

Oh, so THAT'S what old school Sesame Street was parodying! ;D


LouOCNY said...

Bibliography III - the Wrath of Daly:

In the not too distant future there will be a comprehensive book about What's My Line? The show's producer, Gil Fates, put one out many years ago, but it is near impossible to find.

One of the GREAT things about WML, is that it was live, so one of the GREAT stories is that on one show in the mid 60s, they had Louis Armstrong on as an 'extra' MG at the top of the show. The only codicil was that he was specifically prohibited from singing any portion of the song, "Hello Dolly!", as the special he was plugging had the exclusive rights for the TV premiere of the song - no problem, as WML NEVER had people performing. So, with the sponsor of the special in the booth, Louis got guessed very quick - how is he going to disguise THAT voice - so Arlene Francis starts begging him to sing "Hello Dolly!" - which he does, the whole damn thing in fact...and Fates, in the booth,standing right next to the sponsor, looking for a gun or a noose - nothing like live TV!

LouOCNY said...

They also did this one:
charlottesometimesnot said...
Oh, so THAT'S what old school Sesame Street was parodying! ;D

Plus this one:


And one of the writers on Sesame Street at the time was Christopher Cerf, son of Bennett!

charlottesometimesnot said...

"And one of the writers on Sesame Street at the time was Christopher Cerf, son of Bennett!"

How cool, LouOCNY! I did not know that!

Make THIS one even MORE of an inside joke :D

DetroitGuy said...

There’s an episode with Groucho Marx on the panel questioning a very attractive female wrestler. Some of the jokes are risqué now. One of the funniest segments ever.

DetroitGuy said...

I should have read all the posts before mentioning the Groucho episode. He was a comic genius.

Gary West said...

Not only did folks pay good money for TV sets - but - more than often, they'd break down.

Those hot tubes caused themselves to self-destruct - sometimes sooner than later. FYI - The one that went out the most? The horizontal amplifier. Probably because, it worked pretty hard.

Tubes back then were not cheap. The TV guy charged around $10.00 for the call, plus anywhere from $15.00 to $30.00 for a tube. Many times - a TV set needed a clean change-out - due to weaker tubes. So, the bill - sometimes around $100.00.

ScarletNumber said...

When Game Show Network first started, they showed Beat the Clock all the time. When you mentioned the reboots I didn't realize there were 3 actual reboots of the show, hosted by Jack Narz and Gene Wood in syndication, Monty Hall on CBS, and Gary Kroeger on PAX. I thought you were referring to the old Nickelodeon show Double Dare hosted by Marc Summers. That was pretty much a Beat the Clock ripoff.

Bev King said...

My parents, Richard and Elsie Decker, were contestants on a Beat the Clock show sometime between September and November of 1958. I would love to find the episode they were on. Any help would be appreciated.