What's the grooviest cable channel? The answer is: the Game Show Network!
My favorite network used to be MTV. Maybe I’m getting old—or maybe MTV is—but lately I find myself obsessed with the Game Show Network. And I’m not the only one. Launched in 1994, GSN has become one of the fastest-growing cable channels, reaching nearly 15 million subscribers. While the net produces some original series (like kiddie versions of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune), what attracts me are the reruns. Why would anyone waste time watching old game shows? Here are five reasons:
1. THE MATCH GAME IS BACK! Recently added to GSN’s lineup due to overwhelming viewer demand (it airs weeknights at 6:30 and 9 p.m. and 1 a.m.), Gene Rayburn’s double entendre-athon is every bit as amusing today as it was during its 1973-82 heyday. With his lovably leering demeanor, Rayburn has been cited by Howard Stern as an important influence. (The emcee’s most famous Freudian slip occured when he intended to compliment a contestant’s dimples and instead said she had beautiful “nipples.”) And was there ever a more delightfully odd couple than habitual panelists Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly?
2. GAME SHOWS MAKE GREAT TIME CAPSULES. Nowhere is that more apparent than on Three’s a Crowd (Saturdays at 8 and 11:30 p.m.), a 1979-80 Chuck Barris production that provides an enlightening peek at workplace mores in the pre-Clarence Thomas era. Crowd asks the question: “Who knows a man better—his wife or his secretary?” In one episode, two assistants said their bosses tried to “make whoopie” with them, which came as no surprise to the men’s wives. As host of The Gong Show, Barris also told one loser, “I thought your act was great, but then again, I thought Elizabeth Ray was a good typist” (for those readers under 30, Elizabeth Ray was the Monica Lewinsky of the ’70s).
3. YOU GET TO SEE STARS BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS. Often the contestants are almost as recognizable as their celebrity counterparts. Kirstie Alley won $10,000 partnered with Lucille Ball on Password Plus. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steve Martin, Sally Field, Tom Selleck, and Farrah Fawcett tried to score on The Dating Game. And Jenny McCarthy was a team captain on a ”Playmates vs. Hunks” edition of Richard Dawson’s Family Feud in 1994.
4. SUNDAY NIGHTS ARE ALL BLACK-AND-WHITE. From 5:30 p.m. to midnight, GSN goes retro with such shows as I’ve Got a Secret, Beat the Clock, and What’s My Line? A sophisticatedly witty contrast to the schlock-kitsch ’70s programs, Line boasted panelists such as Woody Allen, Johnny Carson, and Orson Welles guessing the identities of mystery guests including Warren Beatty, Marlon Brando, Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, and future Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan.
5. TWO WORDS: NIPSEY RUSSELL. The man can do it all. He was a cohost (of Juvenile Jury), a celebrity guest (on everything from To Tell the Truth to Match Game), a poet (“I don’t need anything to put me in the mood/I just need to get the girl in the nude”), and an actor (he played the Tin Man opposite Michael Jackson and Diana Ross in The Wiz). Yet aside from a cameo in Chris Rock’s “Champagne” video, we rarely see this intoxicating entertainer anymore—except on GSN. A poem in his honor: We don’t need no booze to make us tipsy/We just switch on GSN and get a load of Nipsey.