As a child of the '70s, I wasted many a morning watching daytime game shows.
To my knowledge, only a handful of these are still on the air during daylight hours but, back in the day, the airwaves were littered with game shows that were cheap to produce and fun to play along with, allowing kids like me to feel smarter than they actually were. Every time I could guess the puzzle on “Wheel of Fortune” before the contestant could, my self-esteem went up several notches.
My favorite of these was “Match Game,” which made my mother uneasy, as she was worried it might be unsuitable for underage viewing. It probably was, but I was interested only in playing along at home and seeing if I could come up with the right answers. To me, it was an intellectual exercise on par with getting the right survey responses on “Family Feud.” Most, if not all, of the double entendres went way over my head.
In retrospect, it’s obvious that was the overt strategy of the show, which rewarded contestants who could complete sentences and phrases in ways that match the answers of a six-person celebrity panel. In the old days, host Gene Rayburn would read a sentence, leaving out the crucial word, and older and more sophisticated minds than mine would undoubtedly wander to the dirtiest possible answer. But network standards were tighter back then, so the answers would usually come down on the right side of propriety.
“Match Game” is back, along with the funky '70s theme music and the brightly lit set, which looks too much like the Confederate flag for my taste. It’s got the old look and sounds, but what it doesn’t have are the old standards. Indeed, one could persuasively argue that "Match Game" has jettisoned even the illusion of standards this time around. Instead of rewarding contestants who can find a clever answer to clean up a bit of suggestive innuendo, today’s “Match Game” winners need only come up with the most vulgar and obvious answers to win big.
My main problem with this is not that it’s crude or offensive, although it is both of those things. The problem is, it’s kind of boring. When every answer is some variation of George Carlin’s infamous seven words you used to not be able to say on television, playing along doesn’t require much intelligence or skill. (It would have admittedly baffled me back in the '70s, as I thankfully wasn’t familiar with any of those words at the time.)
It’s not just the vulgarity that’s the problem. Whereas original host Gene Rayburn had a genial, grandfatherly appeal that added some dignity to the proceedings when things threatened to spiral out of control, modern host Alec Baldwin is all edges, and he’s eager to push the envelope until it breaks. It doesn’t help that all the celebrities on the panel are seen drinking throughout the show, and the plentiful alcohol does much to lower both inhibitions and wit. Perhaps that’s why everyone on screen looks like they’re having a better time than the audience at home.
Word is that the ratings have not been impressive, and I think the coarseness of the content might have something to do with it. A cleaner show would likely be a more successful show, as 21st-century mothers wouldn’t mind if their kids played along. As it stands, today’s “Match Game” isn’t much fun for anyone watching sober.