Welcome to Game Show Week on 80s Baby! Growing up in the 80s and early 90s I was exposed to a lot of daytime television. Since I avoided soap operas whenever possible, this meant game shows. Before we kick things off, enjoy this video from Brooklyn comedian Zane Golia:
Now let’s talk Hollywood Squares.
I know now that every generation gets its own Hollywood Squares, but when I was a kid it felt novel to me. These people are famous, and they’re playing a game with regular people! And it’s basically tic-tac-toe with celebrities sometimes lying to you. And for the most part I’m taking your word for it that these people are celebrities, because I don’t know them from anything except for this show. Have I mentioned I’m 6?
My version of Hollywood Squares aired from 1986-1989. Apparently it was called The New Hollywood Squares, but whatever. It was hosted by John Davidson, who I have no memory of and who I’m sure was perfectly fine, and announcing was done by Shadoe Stevens, who, whoah, his name is Shadoe. But also it’s not spelled like shadow. This guy with a radio announcer voice is full of surprises.
I imagine that everybody has seen Hollywood Squares at some point, but just in case, here is a basic overview of the game. There are two contestants. They pick a square, which contains a celebrity. The host reads a question, the celebrity provides a joke answer, then the celebrity provides a real answer. The contestant must decide whether the celebrity is correct or not. If you get three in any direction you win. For the final round, you pick a key and try to match it with a car, and if it starts the car you win the car.
There was no part of Hollywood Squares that required any actual skill. Obviously it would help if you had some idea what the answer to the question was, but it was possible to win it all solely based on lucky guesses and the ability to pick three squares in a sequence. That’s it. And I loved this show, probably because I was a stupid child and it aired during prime “We are home from school and mom’s either sleeping after her shift or the babysitter is here and cartoons aren’t on yet” time (this was also Win Lose or Draw time, which I’ll get into another day).
As I said, I only knew many of the celebrities who appeared on Hollywood Squares from the actual show, so I’m going to go through some of my favorites.
Jim J. Bullock
More than any other celebrity who appeared on this show, I only knew Bullock from Hollywood Squares, and I don’t think I remember seeing him in anything else after being introduced to him, mostly because I didn’t realize until recently that he was Prince Valium in Spaceballs. No I didn’t watch Too Close for Comfort! Lay off me. I’m having some trouble finding visual evidence of this on the Internet, but I am positive that on the show they used to spell his first name Jm, which I assume was a contractual demand from Shadoe Stevens to draw attention from the spelling of his name.
Now this was a celebrity whose work I was familiar with! Seeing Alf as a panelist was great, because I was a small child, and still very into the concept of puppets appearing on shows that were not their show, a concept I have just now decided to start calling Kermiting. Alf Kermitted six times on Hollywood Squares, but it feels like more. Alf was great! He wanted to eat cats and his girlfriend was named Rhonda, like the Beach Boys song! Also apparently Jim J. Bullock was a recurring character on Alf but I’m thinking I must have Jim J. Bullock face blindness if he isn’t framed in a square.
Richard Simmons served two major purposes in the 1980s: he comforted overweight housewives, and he cracked up children. I thought that Richard Simmons was HILARIOUS. He repeated what I presume were well trod jokes, he recited rhymes, and he said things that weren’t dirty but clearly hinted at the dirty word he almost said. Nothing got a kid rolling like mild innuendo. Also I knew him from all the commercials for his workout video, and he always wore the orange tank top/shorts combo. Richard Simmons was seriously one of the biggest stars in the world in my 6 year old eyes.
As a stand up comedian I am in awe of Phyllis Diller’s career, but at the time I didn’t know anything about her history. I didn’t know that she was a pioneering stand up comedian, didn’t know her from Carson or how influential she was. All I knew was she wasn’t mean like Joan Rivers, she wore goofy clothes and had crazy hair, and she had the best throaty laugh. She was like Cruella De Ville but nice.
Much like Richard Simmons, in the 1980s Robin Leach existed to be on daytime television and daytime television existed for Robin Leach. When I watched Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous I didn’t wholly grasp that he was just the host, and I assumed that Robin must have also been super wealthy. Now I understand that he was essentially a 1980s version of Billy Bush, and that like most of the people highlighted here and who appeared on Hollywood Squares weren’t actually powerful entertainment figures. There was a reason that these people were available to do a syndicated game show, and actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis weren’t making appearances. This was a self-contained universe of “daytime” celebrity, and on his show Robin would venture out to profile actual celebrities. This was a world populated by reference comedy punchlines. But this was the world I watched every afternoon, and these people seemed very important to me.
That’s it for Monday’s Game Show Week entry. Stop back on Wednesday to see what we have in store for you!
What was your favorite 1980s gameshow? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.