When the mood strikes, there’s little that’s more amusing than watching some weird, old game shows. They were crucial in the early days of television, and things were very different back then. These days, the line between game shows and “reality” television is very much blurred, as evidenced by Jackass star Steve-O’s current crazy show “Killer Karaoke,” where people have to sing songs while being attacked by dogs and snakes and other such tribulations. Stuff like that is edgy on purpose, but there is a long history of building a competition around anything and seeing if it sticks, and that makes for some accidental oddness. In other cases, it’s just letting drunk celebrities screw around a lot and constantly fling double entendres, which makes for its own sort of strangeness. Then there are just some things you can’t believe ever happened at all. So let’s take a look at some weird, old game shows – and in the interest of fairness, we’re going to leave out all those brain-breaking Japanese torture contests this time around.
1. “Queen for a Day”
This is one of the earliest ones, having originated as a radio show in 1945, and came to TV in 1956 for an 8-year run. Why is it weird? Because it’s kind of morbid. Essentially, a bevy of contestants had to compete for prizes, and the winner was the one with the worst life. True, it’s kind of a nice karmic thing to award washing machines to people with crap luck, but it’s also essentially nationally-televised rubbernecking.
2. “You Bet Your Life”
This one is odd because there was barely a game involved at all. There was the occasional quizzing of contestants and some secret word skullduggery, but it was really just an excuse for the legendary Groucho Marx to amusingly chat people up – and you really don’t need much more than that for some solid entertainment. (In a similar vein, “Who Do You Trust?” gave a young Johnny Carson the same sort of leeway, as he spent more time interviewing the competing couples than he did actually playing the game.) Game shows often featured celebrities pre-fame, and here you can see Groucho bouncing off of sci-fi author Ray Bradbury.
3. “Front Page Challenge”
Did you ever in your life think that you’d ever see Malcolm X on a game show? Neither did I, but this classic Canadian program managed the feat only a few months before his tragic assassination. To be fair, this was a much newsier sort of show, with notable journalists asking questions of a newsmaker they couldn’t see to try and identify what current events they were involved in. After the game portion, it became essentially an episode of “Meet The Press.”
4. “Let’s Make a Deal”
Here’s a show that began quite normally with host Monty Hall daring contestants to trade away things they already won for the chance at something better or some kind of “zonk.” However, it got weird because the audience glommed onto the notion that said contestants were selected on Monty’s whim, and thus started dressing up in crazier and crazier costumes in the hopes of getting chosen. You’ll see that madness on display in this clip. Note the guy in the stork outfit.
5. “The Match Game”
Just because it’s not obscure doesn’t mean it ain’t weird. One of the most popular game shows of its day started out stiff, but once the ‘70s hit, it was just an excuse for a pack of random pseudo-celebrities to get bawdy and drunk. They had to be drunk, right? Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, Richard Dawson, Nipsey Russell, Rip Taylor, Dick Martin, Betty White, Marcia Wallace, Fannie Flagg and lecherous host Gene Rayburn and his super-skinny microphone had an often-raucous time filling in the blanks with wacky double entendres about old men who *blank* ten times a day, or how Johnny put butter on his *blank.* That is, when they bothered to actually play the game.