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Thank You, Merv - August 21

It is a sad day in the world of entertainment and game shows. Merv Griffin, the man who created two of the greatest game shows of all time, "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" died over the weekend at the age of 82. He had been battling prostate cancer.

The footprint that Mr. Griffin left on the industry is a giant one. I will get to how, in my opinion, he was one of the people who saved the game show genre. But look at what he did to the television industry!

He invented the celebrity talk show! In 1962, "The Merv Griffin Show" debuted. He did a 90 minute talk show where people from the world of show business and politics would come on his couch and not just plug, but talk. They would converse. And it was fascinating. On Sunday night, Larry King reran an interview from 2006 promoting his DVD of "The Merv Griffin Show". I saw an hour of clips from his shows and remembered what a talk show was supposed to be like. Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O' Donnell have both said many times that "The Merv Griffin Show" was the show they tried to emulate when doing their respective shows. In fact, Ellen has said she will dedicate this season to her idol.

Flash forward to 1964. The game show industry was in deep trouble. Charles Van Doren, Jack Barry and "Twenty-One" caused a scandal that nearly killed the game show. On a plane flight to Chicago. Merv Griffin was on a plane flight to Chicago. He wanted to put on a game show and said to his wife at the time, "Why don't we give the contestants the answer?" And his wife said, "That was the problem!" And Merv said, "But they have to figure out the question!" Hence, "What's the Question?" and then Jeopardy was born. How simple, no? And a little game like "Hangman" would turn into a now 32 year obsession (in daytime and syndication) called "Wheel of Fortune".

Speaking of syndication...he was the man who really pioneered the syndicated game show. If you remember, in the late 1970's and early 1980's..most of the game shows were in daytime! (Yes, daytime...when kids would play sick from school to watch shows!). But Merv Griffin believed that Wheel of Fortune would be great in syndication as what we know as a 5 day a week strip show. And lo and behold in September of 1983...he did just that. And one year later, Jeopardy appeared. It took a while for it to take hold...I mean what geniuses were putting Jeopardy on at 2AM the first year in NYC?

But know...the Jeopardy/Wheel goliath is pretty much unstoppable. And how many people could have the clout to get a game show in syndication without as much as a pilot? Merv did, and we will see the results as Merv Griffin's Crosswords debuts in 3 weeks.

The word legend gets thrown around way too easily in this business. But with the death this week of Merv Griffin, the industry has lost a giant. In my opinion, the education of a lot of kids was supplemented by the letters of "Wheel" and the education of "Jeopardy!". I was one of the fortunate ones to play on both shows. I won over $38,200 on both shows. The experience being there was priceless.

Merv, thank you for being the man who were. The world is, and I am, in a better place for what you have done.

You agree or disagree? Fire me off a letter at jb.regis@verizon.net.

 

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