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Where Were You When... - March 16

You always hear about this once a generation. Where were you when…Kennedy got shot, Reagan got shot, the Challenger exploded, John Lennon got shot, the U.S. declared war on Iraq for the first time in the early 1990’s. For game show fans, the new one is where you when Peter Tomarken died.

What makes this special isn’t exactly who he is. I mean let’s put away the rose-colored spectacles for a second. Peter Tomarken, as much as he is one of my favorite hosts (and a severely underrated one at that), was on less than 10 game shows, and only one of which lasted more than one season. He’s been a host only once in the past 10 years, and while he has been doing documentaries and cameo appearances on television shows, his light wasn’t nearly as bright as it was 20 years ago.

But what a show that one show was that he did. The show, Press Your Luck, has run in syndication for over 10 years. The game show that idolized The Whammy has been a staple for kids growing up for the past 20 years. Even my friends who aren’t huge game show fans know exactly who that ‘Whammy Guy’ is.

What made Tomarken special was the way that he not only interacted with the contestants, but the way that he meshed himself with the game. Peter always knew how to make the game run and he was able to go through the rules during the course of the game in a seamless fashion. Post-PYL, Tomarken still showed his craft in both Wipeout and Paranoia, and I’ve always wondered how well we would do if he actually was able to get on a game show with a masterful concept behind it.

Yet, for all the praise that I have given him (and he has earned it), that’s not in my mind why us game show fans are taking this one hard. For many of us, the death of Peter Tomarken represents the end of innocence and the end of a stage. This now starts an era for us 20-30 somethings where the people that we grew up watching will start fading away like pictures from an old Polaroid. There have been deaths in the game show industry over the past year, but the main ones (Ralph Edwards, Nipsey Russell, etc.) were either of people who were only in the fringe or people who were around before we really started to watch television shows. Gene Rayburn was painful, but Match Game was more something that was picked up via Game Show Network – not really something that we grew up watching.

This one hurts. It hurts bad.

This one gets posted up right next to Rod Roddy. ironically enough Tomarken’s old partner in crime. But not even Roddy has that same effect because Roddy was never the ‘star’ of the show. Tomarken was the person who everyone looked up to and wanted to be. I know if I ever decided to get into that field of being a game show host…I wanted to emulate the style of Peter Tomarken.

On an almost daily basis, people ask me what is so special about the Game Show Congress. Without being too morbid, this would be an appropriate enough answer – you get to see and talk to your idols and people that you emulate before they disappear. I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to Dick Clark at GSC 3 – one of the last events that he was at before being felled by a stroke. How much longer will people like Tom Kennedy, Betty White, Bob Barker, Monty Hall, Wink Martindale and others be in good enough spirits to be gracious enough to attend these events? If you were wondering about going to something like GSC 5 and wondered why to go, this would be as good enough reason as any – if not for the simple reason that you can see these people and relive those events while you still have those people around to relive them with.

E-mail Gordon Pepper at

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