the days where no one would buy it, to the current era,
"Hollywood Squares" has undergone many evolutions, the latest
of which some pundits called a "desperation makeover." In this
Extra, we take a look back at what was said before and gauge
the validity of those statements now that the show has run its
We all remember what happened
in the penultimate weekend of taping on "Hollywood Squares".
The two contestants - Karen DeThomas and Aaron Spears - played
the final game to ever be completed by two civilian players.
The next game would never be completed past the first round.
That next week, with Staff
Appreciation Week, the stage felt the overwhelming support
from the audience and everyone who made "Hollywood Squares" a
And then the stage fell
silent. Never again would we hear such phrases and "Circle
gets the Square!" or the always loved "Bullfunky!". Faced with
declining ratings and the result of a pending deal between
KingWorld and CBS for the upcoming news series, "The Insider",
"Hollywood Squares" was cancelled earlier this year.
The history of the game can be
traced into three eras, heralded by three different hosts
(Peter Marshall, John Davidson, and Tom Bergeron) and three
different eras. The common bond tying those eras has always
been the main game of tic-tac-toe, which, though static, has
undergone several aesthetic changes for any number of reasons.
Laying the Groundwork
To trace the chart of changes that the show has made, there
has to be a foundation. For Hollywood Squares, it was the mid
1960s. After the failures of "People Will Talk" and "The
Celebrity Game", Merrill Heatter of Heatter-Quigley
Productions (which packaged the two shows) was captivated with
the idea of a game similar to the right-or-wrong format of
"Celebrity Game" but with a slightly different angle. His idea
of putting celebrities in a giant tic-tac-toe board brought
him and partner Bob Quigley into the office of then CBS chief
Fred Silverman. During his tenure at CBS, the network saw much
successes, including "Sonny and Cher" and the "New Price is
Right," both in the 1970s. Silverman commissioned the pilot in
1966 with nine celebrities and longtime Miss America emcee
Bert Parks as host. "Silverman had a slot to fill and a choice
to make between Squares and [Bill Cullen's] 'The Face is
Familiar.' He chose Face," says Dixon Hayes, webmaster of the
Classic Hollywood Squares website.
Selling Squares was not going
to be easy. "When the option expired Heatter and Quigley
shopped the show to ABC and NBC and were turned down cold. But
NBC at least agreed to take a second look, and bought it,"
notes Hayes. One thing they didn't like was Parks as host.
Hayes notes in his analysis of the original pilot that Parks
was quite overdramatic, and in the comic atmosphere of
Squares, it was dramatically out of place. "It might have
worked on a more dramatic game show like 'Stop the Music' but
here, Parks just sounds obnoxious, like each contestant was on
the verge of being crowned Miss America."
The network began searching
for a new host. The search ended, of course, with Peter
Marshall, who, in comparison, was simple and more amicable.
"Marshall also simply said 'Right or wrong?' to prompt the
contestants, and even that was gone by 1970. His emphasis was
to keep the game moving, smoothly." The first change was in
place, with not an average viewer wise to it. But, the change
would prove in NBC's favor, as both daytime and nighttime
editions score high marks since its inception in 1966. The
daytime edition, which ran until 1980 on NBC, would keep its
daytime slot of 10:30 for the first ten years of its run.
Despite the successes, there
were still problems with the stars limiting the game with
their ongoing antics. Jefferson Graham, writer of "Come On
Down! The Game Show Book," said that Heatter noticed the show
moved too slowly, because the celebrities just wouldn't shut
up. Heatter enacted a gag order, limiting a game to a minimum
of 22 questions. With later versions, the 22-question minimum
turned out to be a non-issue, as play just sped up in the
later times of the 30-minute sessions.
Hollywood High Rise and
By 1970, Hollywood Squares had
reached the top of their game, with the game becoming number
one in daytime games, several bits of merchandise (two records
of Zingers, four home games, and a tic-tac-toe patterned
pendant). Its stars were also stars of the show. Some
panelists on the primetime version migrated to the daytime
version, and in 1975, the show was temporarily expanded to an
Ten years following the
premiere, the show was plagued with several factors against
it. First of all, ratings were dropping, prompting NBC to move
it to opposite growing "Price is Right", a move which would
prompt yet another change, this time to afternoons. Second,
the show's main attraction, center Square Paul Lynde, left in
a dispute around this time. In 1980, getting beaten by ABC
affiliates with local shows, NBC finally pulled the plug on
Squares in June 1980, although the nightly syndicated shows
would move to Las Vegas for another year before low station
clearances forced the show to go into stasis until 1983, where
it was part of an arranged marriage between it and Match Game
in 1983. Several rule flaws and a lack of participation on the
show's part led to an early demise.
The Next Chapter
1986 brought in a new era for
the show. The Squares were back, as "The New Hollywood
Squares". Some of the stars from the earlier two runs, namely
Dom DeLuise and Joan Rivers among others. John Davidson, who
sat in the upper left later in the original run, was brought
back as host. Century Towers Productions produced the show
with Orion Television distributing. Aside from escalating
money values, this version had three notable changes. The
first was that this version went on the road for several
weeks, doing remote shots in New York and Florida. The second
was the lifting of the gag order that had been in place since
the 1970s. Third was the change of the end game in which a
player could win one of five cars. The original had a bonus
won outright by a player. While it did well in its day,
Merrill Heatter, who did not have anything to do with this
version, called it "a circus." It graciously bowed out in
The current version would
borrow a variant of the bonus game used here. Aside from cars,
players would either agree or disagree on statements about the
stars for a chance at winning trips and cash.
"I Love Hollywood"
KingWorld and Sony, the
distributor and producer of longtime staples "Jeopardy!" and
"Wheel of Fortune", decided to make a new version, teaming up
with Whoopi Goldberg's production company, One Ho Productions
and recruiting Tom Bergeron as host. Looking for a new venture
in TV, Whoopi was tapped as the Center Square.
That version launched in
September of 1998 and took off quickly afterwards, having
greater successes than the 1983 and 1986 in the second season.
The main game rules did not change for the first season, but
as the second season progressed, a final question for a bonus
and returning champions were added. However, the show started
to wane as year three went on, notably during the fourth year.
Changes were made to try and recapture the popular interest,
among them, a radically new bonus round totally unlike the
main game. Critically panned and not really well-received, it
was dropped in 2002, along with several other changes.
No more making Whoopi
However, In a case of history repeating itself, Whoopi, the
center attraction of the show, left in a contract dispute in
2002. The effect snowballed, as Bruce Vilanch, the show's head
writer, Caroline Rhea, whose own TV series fell flat in 2003,
and the production team of John Moffitt and Pat Tourk Lee also
left. Enter the production team of Henry Winkler and Michael
Levitt, who oversaw a major overhaul in set, end game, and
onscreen talent and execution.
During the two-year reign of
Winkler and LEavitt, viewers were treated to several theme
weeks, of which one stood out - the first Game Show Week. It
is a well-known fact that the original Squaremaster Peter
Marshall was never a fan of the recent incarnation, but at the
same time, he was a fan of the franchise, and wrote a book to
that effect - "Backstage with the Original Hollywood Square".
He admittedly went to the show just to publicize that book.
But it seems that the greatest
admiration for a joining together of the past and the present
came when Tom and Peter traded spaces. Again, the 22-question
limit was a non-issue. But for one shining moment, Peter was
in true form, even delivering a zinger about inflation in
giving his class spiel on how the game is played.
Other theme weeks spotlighted
crimefighters, couples, and blondes.
The Final Verdict
Chatter at the Annual Critics
Tour earlier this year delivered the show's final death blow.
According to a report on Chris Lambert's Original Game Show
Page, Squares had shown a second straight year of marked
ratings decline, and the CBS owned-and-operated stations that
form the core of the show's market have all but committed the
timeslot to Entertainment Tonight's upcoming spinoff series,
The Insider, for this fall.
The question posed at the
origin of this particular edition of the extra was of how
these changes would play in the show's best interest. Mike
Klauss, former webmaster of TV-Gameshows.com and current
analyst of the genre, told GSNN that "it was either
modernization of the show, a last ditch effort to save the
show, or a total revamping of the show." In the end, it was
just that, as producers tried to prolong what could easily be
seen as the inevitable cancellation. For the most part, they
succeeded for two years, even going so far as to take steps to
cut costs, reducing the take on games won and offering cheaper
prizes to start in the bonus round.
There were some methods to the
madness, but history portends a different take, as television
writer Tom Heald offered in his initial statement to GSNN.
"It's a sustainable show at the moment," Heald said. "It's
about the quality of the JM J. Bullock, Joan Rivers years. The
writing's pretty decent, a little bit less guest specific, as
in 'this is a Wally Cox' question. Whether H2 will be able to
play the piano, of course, depends on if it could before the
It seemed, at that focal
point, that the damage was already done.
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