Before talk shows and fake-court scenarios took over, the game show ruled the morning television roost. People would answer inane trivia questions, dress up like barnyard animals, humiliate their spouses, set themselves up for blind dates, and put their fate in the hands of celebrities like Richard Dawson and Jaye P. Morgan all for their 15 minutes of fame, and maybe a new range. Today the game show is primarily a cable phenomenon, although the success of such shows as "Win Ben Stein's Money" and "Rock & Roll Jeopardy," not to mention Sony's Game Show Network (which is currently the cable network most cited by my friends in current pop-culture conversations), has brought the old television warhorse back into the spotlight. The Encycolpedia of TV Game Shows is a catalogue of television's fabulous prize-givers, offering capsules of information on the most popular game shows and the most obscure.
And oh, how much fun it is to look at the premises of some of these shows, and how they perfectly captured the spirit of some generations. While shows like "Let's Make a Deal" prove the adage that people will act completely stupid to get on television, there are other specimens that should be preserved in some sort of societal time capsule. Take "Three's a Crowd," which is currently in reruns on the Game Show Network. A true relic of the swingin' late '70s (the show ran on television for only about five months), "Three's a Crowd" had a premise not unlike that of "The Newlywed Game": A couple would try to win prizes based on how much they really knew about each other.Thetwist, though, was in the addition of a third member to the team: the husband's secretary, who would frequently have thrown at her questions that during today's rerun-watching marathons make supposedly jaded mouths drop. (The wife and the secretary were working together, but do you honestly think the premise would fly today?) The capsule descriptions of some of the shows make you wish that there were five or six channels devoted to game shows; the absolute oddness of some of them just begs for a viewing...or two, or five. The thoroughness of The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows which, incidentally, includes an appendix listing game-show hosts who have had hit songs casts a new light on a genre of programming that continues to define television to this day. Maura Johnston Copyright, Disclaimer, and Community Standards Copyright 1997, 1998, 1999 barnesandnoble.com llc