Iconic Match Game updates laughs for a new generation

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THERE’S a distinct challenge facing Canada’s Comedy Network as it revives the iconic ’70s game show Match Game — older viewers who remember the original might think it’s a BLANK of a good idea, while younger TV-watchers will simply draw a blank when the show’s name is mentioned.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/10/2012 (3697 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THERE’S a distinct challenge facing Canada’s Comedy Network as it revives the iconic ’70s game show Match Game — older viewers who remember the original might think it’s a BLANK of a good idea, while younger TV-watchers will simply draw a blank when the show’s name is mentioned.

“I think 35 is kind of the cutoff,” says Canadian comic Darrin Rose, who hosts the new version of Match Game, which premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on Comedy.

“If you’re over 35, you have fond memories (of the show); if you’re under 35, you have no idea.

“But actually, I think Match Game is out there in the ether more than I thought it would be. A lot of people seem to have heard of it, at least.”

Clearly, Comedy is hoping for all-ages acceptance when it launches Match Game this week as a nightly series (airing Monday to Friday at 10 p.m.). The series, patterned after the CBS version of the long-running gameshow concept that was, during the mid-1970s, the most popular program on daytime TV, features a simple game in which contestants must try to provide fill-in-the-blank answers that match those given by a six-pack of celebrity panelists.

For example: “Mark said, ‘I have a really smart dog. As soon as Jersey Shore comes on, Fido ______s the TV set.’” Of course, the answers are cheeky. And of course, hilarity ensues.

During its U.S. network heyday ( Match Game actually ran for several years on NBC during the 1960s, but didn’t become a huge hit until CBS relaunched it as a much bawdier show in the ’70s), Gene Rayburn hosted and the stable of regular panelists included the likes of Richard Dawson, Charles Nelson Reilly, Brett Somers, Rip Taylor, Nipsey Russell, Betty White, Marcia Wallace and Fannie Flagg — many of whom were famous for little else besides their game-show appearances.

The new Canadian reboot of Match Game features veteran comedian Rose as host and fellow standups Seán Cullen and Debra DiGiovanni as regular panelists. The ample roster of guest blankfillers that surrounds them during the first season’s 60 episodes includes talent from both sides of the border — Canucks filling Match Game seats, such as Colin Mochrie, Caroline Rhea, Jeremy Hotz, Steve Patterson, Tom Green, Kevin McDonald, Leah Miller, Scott Thompson, Ryan Belleville and Elvira Kurt, and U.S. imports such as Yvette Nicole Brown ( Community), Greg Grunwald ( Heroes), Janeane Garofalo and D.L. Hughley.

“I feel like I have an advantage, because I know the game and I’ve seen it first hand, and was able to try to recapture what it was,” says Cullen, 47, a veteran of stage, TV and standup comedy. “You have to really let yourself go and really have fun, in a way that you really don’t see on television any more. You just never shoot anything that’s this silly and loose; I’m really excited to be part of it.”

Cullen said he watched Match Game regularly as a youngster back in the ’70s, and was always particularly impressed by the panelists who went over the top to get big audience laughs.

“I’m not at all like Charles Nelson Reilly, but I liked his playfulness, and I think that’s what I’m trying to get across,” he explains. “It’s a healthy kind of silliness. I mean, I’m not wearing yacht cap or anything (as Reilly often did), but I realize I’m a character in the show that’s cast as a bunch of people who play games together. So I think I identify with him most.”

Thirty-five years ago, when there were only three U.S. networks and no one had even dreamed of a game show that might make a millionaire of one of its contestants, just being on TV was a pretty big deal for Match Game’s contestants and the thought of winning a few hundred or — just imagine! — a few thousand dollars was enough to cause a fuss.

Comedy’s 21st-century revival of the show doesn’t offer much more in the way of cash payoffs, so the pressure is on the panelists to make this Match Game worth tuning in.

“It isn’t that much money, so it’s kind of halfway between a game show and a sitcom, and what you’re hoping is that people are going to keep tuning in to see their favourite panelists make the kinds of jokes that they make,” says Cullen. “That’s what all good television is — people making appointments with friends they want to spend time with.”

Adds Rose: “I think it’s fun for (the contestants) to be on TV and meet the people on the panel, and even though it doesn’t sound like a lot of money compared to some American game shows, $5,000 really is a lot of money to make in 22 minutes. If you’re a truck driver or assistant junior manager at a retail store, five grand is a good sum of cash. People get genuinely excited about winning money.”

As the show’s host, Rose has the unenviable task of trying to keep a bunch of spotlight-seeking comedians and actors — each of whom would be happy turning a 22-minute episode into a solo comedy show — focused on the task of helping the contestants win a modest but memorable amount of cash. “If you let them go, comedians will never stop talking, myself included,” he laughs. “So my job is essentially to tell my friends to shut up, so I can then make fun of them and get on with playing the game.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

@BradOswald

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Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

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