Perhaps I’m a little too old-school in my game show tastes, but I’m waiting for the day one of the models on Deal or No Deal opens up her briefcase only for a giant dildo to fall out onto the stage. This, of course, will never happen, but I think it illustrates the fact that many of television’s highest rated game shows now lack the flair and gay sensibility of many of their 1970s counterparts.
In short, I keep wishing for something outlandish to happen, even though the outlandish I’m craving long ago moved away from game shows and found itself a new home over at faux news reports such as the Colbert Report or The Daily Show.
While it’s great to see people win a million dollars, I still prefer the shows with louder than life gay icons like Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde (if you’re too young to remember, check them out on YouTube.com). Sure, the contestants didn’t have to make excruciating choices about risking a lot of money for the chance to win even more money, but the banter on shows like Match Game and Hollywood Squares thrilled me with its cheekiness and, even when I didn’t understand the double-entendres, I could tell by the audience’s laughter and the celebrities’ reactions that I was participating in something funny and grownup.
Watching ’70s game shows was like finally being able to sit at the big dinner table after years of relegation to the smaller kid’s one.
In retrospect, I think Charles and Paul — and Fannie Flag, author of the seminal lesbian book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café were the first gay people I saw on television on a regular basis. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know they were gay or that I didn’t understand or hadn’t developed my own gay identity; something about those folks drew me to them. They were the first faint beeps on my fast developing gaydar.
Even as a young child or six or seven, I understood that these guys were different — though unlike so many of the effeminate men who got killed off as disposable villains in serial television dramas and in movies, these guys had staying power. Perhaps it was the way Reilly wore an ascot better than even Fred from Scooby-Doo cartoons, or maybe it was how I’d recognized Lynde from his neurotic turn as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched reruns, an equally queer-friendly show for its time. Or maybe it’s that Reilly’s banter with Brett Sumners had the same sort of humour that later made Will and Grace so successful.
I read recently that celebrity driven daytime game shows ultimately lost most of their viewers as women began to enter the workforce in much larger numbers. Many nighttime versions didn’t enjoy the same success — something I’d speculate happened as straight men didn’t want to watch them when they returned home from work.
Though it seems that queers have now earned the right to be out and proud as they broadcast their thoughts on the plight of straight-male fashion, we haven’t regained our ability to help them win lots of money. One need only to consider the backlash when rumours surfaced that Rosie O’Donnell wanted to replace Bob Barker on The Price is Right.
I don’t care how much Howie Mandel looks like that big homo Mr Clean. That’s not good enough. Someone needs to sprinkle a little fairy dust onto today’s game shows. Money is just part of the magic.