Come on Down: Celebrating the Top 10 Game Show Hosts
Game shows burst onto TV screens after the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a landmark ruling in 1954 that declared quiz shows were not a form of gambling. The popularity of game shows often boils down to what the “game” is about. A lot of times, though, it’s the host who can make or break a show.
There have been lots of solid game-show hosts over the years, but only a few have been truly memorable. With longtime host of Wheel of Fortune Pat Sajak retiring, we thought it would be fun to take a walk down memory lane and revisit some of Hollywood’s Top 10 best game show hosts from the last century.
“Come on down!” Those three words, beckoning a lucky few in the studio audience to play this game show that debuted in 1972, are an invitation to participate in daytime TV’s wildest party: Contestants guess the price of various products, and whoever’s “bid” is closest without going over gets to go onstage to play wacky games like “Hole in One” or “Plinko” for a chance to win more prizes. It all leads up to the dramatic Showcase Showdown, which inevitably features [booming announcer’s voice] “a new car!” Bob Barker hosted the CBS series for 35 years. Drew Carey has been hosting since 2007.
Time magazine labeled him the “iron man of TV game shows.” That’s because Bill Cullen hosted more than 25 game shows over the course of his career. His most memorable gig was hosting the original version of The Price Is Right on NBC and, later, on ABC. He had been considered for the hosting job when the show was revived by CBS in 1972, but the physical demands were too great. Unknown to most viewers was the fact that Cullen suffered from polio, which significantly limited his mobility. His condition was usually hidden from TV audiences by always having him remain seated or behind a podium whenever he was on camera.
Famed host Alex Trebek was at the helm of Jeopardy! for 37 seasons, ever since the super-popular TV fixture was revived in 1984 until his death in 2020. Ken Jennings, who famously ran a 74-show winning streak on Jeopardy before becoming a cohost of the show, is currently hosting himself, as Mayim Bialik has left in solidarity with the writer’s strike.
No need to see what the survey says: We know this game show has been a fan favorite since it debuted in 1976! In each episode, two families of five face off to see who can nail the most popular responses to survey topics posed to groups of 100 different people, such as “Name a reason for kneeling.”
The famed costar of Hogan’s Heroes and popular panelist of Match Game Richard Dawson found a brilliant and comical new calling as the original host of Family Feud (1976–1985 and 1994–95). His most notable achievement? Making sure he kissed every female contestant on the lips. He also met his second wife when she was a contestant on the show.
Current host Steve Harvey has brought back some of its original popularity, hosting since 2010.
His name became synonymous with Match Game, which ran on NBC during the 1960s and was revived by CBS during the 1970s. Throughout it all, Gene Rayburn was always happy to let viewers enjoy seeing his … “blank.”
He rarely appeared on camera because Chuck Barris was a game-show producer rather than a host; Barris created both The Newlywed Game and The Dating Game. That changed with The Gong Show, which he created and ended up hosting when the original host was dumped just before production began. It was a great move.
Female game-show hosts aren’t that common, but this one does stand out. The icy Anne Robinson was famous in Britain as “The Queen of Mean.” And when her British game show, The Weakest Link, which she hosted from 2000-2017, was transformed into a short-lived American version on NBC, Robinson came along with it. And so did her catchphrase: “You are the weakest link. Goodbye.” Actress Jane Lynch currently hosts the revival series.
The Newlywed Game (on ABC from 1966 to 1974, with multiple syndicated revivals was the flipside of The Dating Game (the two shows often aired back-to-back). Four newly married couples revealed how much (or little) they knew about their spouses with amused host Bob Eubanks asking the questions. The wives would sit solo and answer four questions before the husbands would come back to answer the same questions in hopes of matching. Hilarious different answers, bickering and Eubanks’ repeated phrase “What’s the strangest place you’ve ever had the urge to make whoopee?” made the show memorable.
Monty Hall hosted the original run of Let’s Make a Deal (1963-86 on NBC, then ABC, then in syndication) in which he randomly chose contestants from the studio audience — most of whom were outrageously costumed to get attention. The players then had to make a deal with Hall. He might give them $100; they could keep it and stop playing or swap for an unknown prize. Continued trading could lead to a new car or a dud, aka a zonk. Wayne Brady hosts the current CBS version.
Before The Bachelor, love was found on game shows, and The Dating Game — which ran on ABC from 1965 to 1973, with multiple syndicated revivals — would have a single person question three members of the opposite sex, who were hidden from view by a partition. The prize? Whomever he or she picked would go on a date, courtesy of the show. With unflappable host Jim Lange at the helm, before-they-were-famous contestants included Sally Field, Tom Selleck and Steve Martin! And don’t forget the signature blowing of a kiss at the end of each episode. Mwuah!