There's something about game shows that continue to entertain and captivate television audiences. They're the first form of reality TV and so much fun to play at home where there is no pressure or a studio audience.
No matter how goofy the premise or wacky the contestants, game shows remain a TV staple and something we can count on as viewers. "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" debuted 20 years ago August 16, so in honor of that anniversary, here's a ranking of the top 25 game shows of all time.
It's the popular game show in which contestants, or "challengers," are questioned by a panel of celebrities (Johnny Carson, Betty White back in the day), to see which one is actually telling the truth about their identity or occupation — though, only the real person is obligated to tell the truth. Beginning in the mid-1950s, "To Tell the Truth" ran regularly until the late 1970s and has since popped up in various forms.
Originally aired in the 1960s, this show enjoyed a revival on the Lifetime network in the early-to-mid-1990s. Always a fun show with an unique premise, team contestants answer product/consumer-based questions to earn time to go shopping in the grocery store-staged studio for specified products against the clock.
MTV's first crack at non-musical programming ran from 1987 to '90 and featured three contestants answering questions about pop culture. The late Ken Ober hosted, and funny man Colin Quinn served as the show's announcer. Kari Wuhrer helped out for two seasons, and the viewers were also introduced to a young comedian/writer named Adam Sandler as "Stick Pin."
The longest-running U.S. network game show to appear in prime time, "What's My Line?" earned Emmy and Golden Globe Awards throughout the years. Viewers loved the notion of celebrity panelists questioning contestants to determine their occupations. There was also the "mystery guest," which added to the intrigue and popularity of the program.
The prize money — and name — has changed over the years. But the idea is the same: a contestant paired with a celebrity trying to guess words or phrases based on descriptions or clues given by the other. Dick Clark hosted the original, known as The "$10,000 Pyramid." Donny Osmond also took a crack at hosting, and Michael Strahan is in charge of the current version.
Beginning in 1969, "Sale of the Century" saw three hosts during its lengthy run, including baseball great Joe Garagiola. Contestants earn money by answering trivia-style questions and have a chance to grab an "instant bargain" along the way to the final round. Who can forget the "Fame Game" (which could lead to more cash)? The winners also have a chance to take a quick prize or bank the money, play on and see if they can win more cash to buy more prizes.
"Name That Tune" actually premiered on the radio in the early 1950s and enjoyed television success later that decade and through the 1970s and parts of the '80s. Contestants, picked from the studio audience, had to give the name of a song — in as fewest notes possible — as played by a live band or orchestra while aiming for cash and prizes.
Bachelors and bachelorettes, guided by the show's most notable host, Jim Lange, began questioning three potential prospects for dates back in 1965. Though "The Dating Game" wasn't as playfully raunchy as some of the other love-themed game shows over the years, it was worth a few laughs — especially if the questions were creative. The show featured some before-they-were-famous stars like Suzanne Somers and Tom Selleck.
Another long-running favorite that began its run in the 1960s, "Password" pitted teams of one regular guest and a celebrity against each other. One partner was given the "Password" and delivered one-word clues for the other to guess. The show was hardly over-the-top funny but was easy to grasp and fun for the viewer to play at home.
"The game where knowledge is king and lady luck is queen." The card-themed game show, created and originally hosted by Jack Barry, featured players pulling a slot-machine arm to see what categories they could choose to answer questions from and accumulate cash. The joker, meanwhile, served as a wild card — and was quite menacing looking. In recent years, Snoop Dogg hosted a revival version, which makes complete sense.
Staples of the genre, Jim Perry and Bob Eubanks were just two of the hosts during the game's heyday. Two competitors worked off a deck of 52 seemingly life-sized cards and answered questions to gain control of the cards — playing a high-low format — and ultimately win as much money as possible. The game was hardly innovative, but it was quality entertainment while lying on the couch when home sick from school.
Arguably the most popular family-friendly game show ever, "Double Dare," not to be confused by a different game show of the same name from the 1970s, was a smash for Nickelodeon since debuting in 1986 — and even made a comeback in 2018. Hosted by Marc Summers, the show was popular for its wacky physical challenges that often involved some liquid concoctions.
For more than a decade, "Love Connection" was one of the most popular game shows of the 1980s and early '90s. Guided by legendary host Chuck Woolery ("We'll be back in 2 and 2."), a guest went on a date with one of three contestants of his/her choosing based on video profiles. The studio audience members also voted for their selection to date after the fact. Both parties shared details of the date, and the stories of the dates, good and comically bad at times, were what drove the show as well as Woolery's ability to dead-pan.
"Big bucks, no Whammys!" That's what contestants were looking for when pressing the button to stop the flashing board on this 1980s hit. Hosted by the late Peter Tomarken, players answered questions to earn "spins" and play for cash and prizes. Just don't hit that "Whammy," the most terrifying, but lovable, game-show villain ever, who will take a contestant's cash or spins.
When the U.S. version of this hit game show debuted on Aug. 16, 1999, it took the country by storm and became appointment viewing. With Regis Philbin as its original host, the show captivated fans with its intense quest to win $1 million through a progression of questions. From lifelines, to phone-a-friend to Regis' unique humor, millions around the globe were picking up their phones and later heading to the internet to try for their chances at being contestants.
This is game-show royalty at its best. The show began on radio then transitioned to TV while maintaining its popularity. With Groucho Marx as its host, how could the quiz show not be a hit? Marx's witty, sometimes uncomfortable and usually drawn out, banter with the contests was as much part of the show's charm as the questions and getting contestants to speak the "secret word."
It's tic-tac-toe with celebrities sitting in squares — the center square being the most prestigious — and contestants have to guess whether the celebs are telling the truth or lying. Peter Marshall, John Davidson and Tom Bergeron are a few of the prominent names to host. Among the regulars throwing "zingers" back and forth, while contestants tried to see whom to believe, were Rich Little, Buddy Hackett, Joan Rivers and Paul Lynde (usually in the center square), who won two Emmys for his time on the show. Whoopi Goldberg inhabited the center square in the late 1990s revival.
The show was less about what the actual winners took home and more about how they got to that point. Those who prevailed at this talent contest were deserving because there was usually more good than bad. Those acts deemed extremely poor — off-tune singers, unfunny comics — were shooed off stage via a hit to the big gong. The show also featured staged side acts and celebrity judges.
Today's younger audience knows funny man Wayne Brady as host, but Monty Hall will always be the premier deal-maker. The premise is rather simple: Players make deals with the host for money and prizes, often better than what they have or worse. But the show became popular for the studio audience members clad in bizarre and usually comical outfits to increase their chances at getting selected to play.
Nothing better than newly married couples beating each other over of the head with poster-sized paper when they get the answers wrong. Perhaps they really don't know each other as well as they thought? That was usually the highlight — along with the frequent use of the word "whoopy" — of one of the funniest game shows ever. The great Bob Eubanks and his wry facial expressions only added to the fun, though legend has it that the show actually led to divorce for some couples who did not fare well in the game.
Alec Baldwin does a decent job as host of the latest revival of this classic, but it's really all about Gene Rayburn. From his skinny microphone to the use of the word "blank," Rayburn was the perfect ringmaster of this circus — plus, the star-studded panel of guests trying to help contestants fill in the blank with the same words. For years, actress Brett Somers and actor/comedian Charles Nelson Reilly were staples on that celebrity panel and masters of the double-entendre and innuendos.
The "Feud" never seems to go away. Viewers just can't get enough of families going head-to-head to find the correct answers to surveyed questions before those three strikes appear on the screen. "Fast Money" might also be the best final round in game show history. While there have been many prominent hosts over the years, it's still hard to top the first, Richard Dawson. He never shied away from a kiss or a joke. The celebrity episodes were can't-miss.
What started as a network version, on NBC and hosted by Chuck Woolery, "Wheel" has become a juggernaut in syndication thanks to host Pat Sajak and letter-turning (or nowadays, touching) Vanna White. While the puzzles and prizes have changed or been updated over the years, the premise is still the same: Spin the wheel, pick a letter — don't go bankrupt — and solve the puzzle. We really liked it back in the day when contestants actually went shopping for their prizes.
Arguably the most popular game show of all time, "Jeopardy!," since debuting in the early 1960s, has won more than 30 Daytime Emmy Awards. The universal hit gives contestants a chance to win money by correctly giving the answer over the quiz format in the form of a question. Longtime host Alex Trebek, who is battling pancreatic cancer, has been the face of the "Jeopardy!" franchise since 1984.
Drew Carey has done a serviceable job as the show's current host, but "The Price Is Right" made Bob Barker a legend, with his skinny microphone and welcoming hugs. The funny contestants, sporting goofy clothing at times, Johnny Olson, Rod Roddy and the great games (Cliff Hangers, Price Tags, Hole in One, Three Strikes and, of course, Plinko) have all made it an iconic piece of television.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.