By Dave Holmes@daveholmes
Where to Stream:
Match Game Hollywood Squares Hour
We are in what I can only describe as a bull market for strange unscripted TV, with a fresh new season of The Masked Singer, a Bachelor whose beautiful face just got sliced up, and whatever LEGO Masters is going to end up being. But for my money, the best and weirdest game show on television comes from 36 years ago and airs five nights a week: 1983-84’s one-season shambles The Match Game Hollywood Squares Hour, currently anchoring the prime-time lineup on Buzzr. Every moment is deeply confusing, uncomfortable, and hard on the eyes. I think I’m in love.
As the name suggests, The Match Game Hollywood Squares Hour— MGHSH hereafter— is a mashup of two reliably popular daytime game shows: the first 20ish minutes are Match Game, then the show becomes Hollywood Squares for 20 or so more, after which it switches back to Match Game for the climactic Super Match segment. Original Match Game host Gene Rayburn takes the wheel for the Match Game bits, then three more celebrities run out to make the tic-tac-toe board, Gene trades seats with Jon “Bowzer” Bauman who hosts the Squares, and then Gene and Jon trade back for the end. Don’t worry; it’s much more complicated than it sounds.
It all takes place on what, at the time, must have been a state-of-the-art set. Behind the hosts, a massive, mustard-and-moss 8-bit screen spells out the show’s name, the names of the panelists, and designs that run the gamut from “square,” to “fireworks or maybe jellyfish,” to “rectangle.” There is so much space to fill, yet the pixels are so massive that only so many words will fit at a time. Poor Gene Wood (and sometimes Johnny Olsen) is forced to read along with the screen as it goes: “The Match Game…Hollywood Squares…HOUR,” building slowly to the final word and leaving you mostly with the knowledge that you’ll be stuck here for twice as long as the normal game show.
When I say the celebrities “run out” onto the set, I mean it: each one is forced to do an energetic jog-and-pose entrance, which is fine for the younger and peppier participants: your Tom Villard from We Got It Made, your Lydia Cornell from Too Close For Comfort, your Sybil Danning. But the show’s most frequent panelist (appearing on nine of the show’s thirty-eight weeks) was Nedra Volz, riding a late-career wave as elderly housekeeper Adelaide on Diff’Rent Strokes. Here’s what happens when you make a 75-year-old do wind sprints.
You do not force a Volz to keep pace with a Travalena. It’s poor form.
Then again— and for legal reasons I must tell you this is speculation on my part— there may be a reason for the heightened energy levels of the younger MGHSH panelists. The classic 1970s Match Game had the collegial, flirty, occasionally belligerent vibe that only booze can bring to the table; you cannot tell me Brett Somers and Richard Dawson were not deep into the Harvey’s Bristol Cream every minute of each shoot day. But by the 1980s, a fresh intoxicant had taken hold with a new generation, and about half of the celebrities on MGHSH are visibly sweaty, slightly manic, not particularly interested in listening to any voice other than their own. Again, I don’t know any of this for sure— I cannot, for it is unknowable— I am just saying it is fun to watch each participant closely and play your own side game: Alcohol or Cocaine?
Panelists also include a young Arsenio Hall– whose first name everyone pronounces “Arseenio” and he never corrects them– and a Jay Leno with nary a gray hair on his head. A mere seven years later, Arsenio would famously promise to “kick Jay’s ass” on the cover of Entertainment Weekly as their late-night talk shows went head-to-head. Nowadays, they’re both off television, plenty more people want to kick Jay’s ass, and Entertainment Weekly is a monthly. Life is long.
Speaking of simmering resentment, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Gene Rayburn absolutely cannot stand Jon Bauman. Gene avoids eye contact, refuses to laugh at Bauman’s jokes, and generally behaves like he’d rather be anywhere else on Planet Earth. Things never boil over on camera, but the overall effect is like being at a dinner party at the house of a couple who are each waiting for the other to suggest divorce.
It’s also possible that Gene Rayburn didn’t like anyone. He passed in ’99, but Jon Bauman is alive, kicking, and aware of the Buzzr revival. Last year, he took to Twitter to share this important fact.
Understand that this was the only completely honest version of Hwd Squares ever where no Squares were sitting there with the punch lines of the jokes in front of them.See AlsoWAL Bibliography 2000Coronavirus (Covid-19) TestingKotler & Keller Marketing Management, 15th Global Ed. (2016 ... - ID:5cfac98803621
— Jon “Bowzer” Bauman (@JonBowzerBauman) February 2, 2019
Incredible, but true! Strained and halting repartee like what you see here was not goosed up by a writing staff.
That’s all off-the-cuff, people! That’s showbiz. The cake never quite rises no matter who they put in there, and the flop-sweaty effort is tastier in its way than anything Fannie Flagg and Charles Nelson Reilly served up in better-produced versions of these shows.
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Every episode is riveting. Maybe you’ll catch the one where the panelists are the cast of Leave It To Beaver and Gallagher. Maybe you’ll see the episode where Jm J. Bullock (absolutely chewing his own face off) replaces Marty Cohen’s name plate with a Star of David (I swear I saw it!). Maybe there’s one I haven’t seen yet where Gene just finally takes a swing at Bowzer. It is a fascinating failure, a relic from a time at once more innocent and way more coked-up. Catch it at 10pm and 1am Eastern (7 and 10 Pacific) every weeknight on Buzzr.
And then hit me up on Twitter, because it’s all I want to talk about.
Where to stream Match Game Hollywood Squares Hour