Entering the set of Match Game, the new version of the old U.S. game show that is now shooting in Montreal, is a surreal experience. The set looks like a cross between a spaceship and the original television program, lending it an otherworldly déjà vu. Co-executive producer Mike Kronish explains that with the series, which began airing this week on the Comedy Network, everything old is indeed new again.
"When we pitched this at a meeting with the Comedy Network, I really wasn't sure that they would go for it," Kronish says. "But they were like, 'That's a great idea! Let's go for it!' Things took off right from the initial meeting. This is the first game show shot in Montreal since The Mad Dash."
Kronish, a Montreal-based producer and director, says the network took to the idea of a show that would tap into audience nostalgia while also making use of the huge abundance of comedic talent in Canada. The guest lineup includes Tom Green, Scott Thompson, Elvira Kurt, Emily Hampshire and Kevin McDonald, along with Andy Kindler, Janeane Garofalo and Yvette Nicole Brown.
The Match Game first ran on network TV from 1962 to 1969, but was revived in syndication from 1973 to 1982. A gaggle of celebrities (including Brett Somers, Richard Dawson and Charles Nelson Reilly) would be presented with a simple sentence with one word blanked out. They would then have to supply a word or phrase that would fit into that sentence, with contestants hoping to guess along the same lines.
This led to a great deal of euphemisms and sexual innuendo – which was fine in the seventies, but in the era of cable TV and the Internet, now seems downright quaint. "The show is about subtext, it's all about things you're not supposed to say on TV," Kronish says. "I wasn't sure if a show like this would work today, when you can simply switch the channel to HBO and hear people swearing up a storm. I thought it might be an anachronism."
But Kronish says some things have not changed so radically. "George Carlin's list of things you can't say still stands," he says. "And in terms of the CRTC, there are things you can't say before 9 p.m. We're an 8 p.m. show. This is a show about coming up with a new euphemism for the word 'penis.' It's really about exploiting repression. If there were no repression, a show like this simply wouldn't work."
Tom Green takes a break to chat while a segment is filmed in which panelists fill in the blank in the following sentence: "Christian Bale worked so hard to prepare for his role in the new Batman movie, he even wore his BLANK to the grocery store." (Match Game purists need not worry – the cheese factor has been maintained.)
"I definitely watched the show as a kid," Green says. "I'm a fan of old-school TV, and there are clips of it on YouTube. Doing the show is similar to stand-up: You have to think of something ridiculous to say, but it's better if it's spontaneous and you don't overthink it. You've got to trust your instincts."
Kronish says most comedians understand where to draw the line in terms of saying something out of bounds on a game show broadcast during "family hours." "Some of the younger comedians aren't familiar with the original show, so when they show up, they have to learn as they go," he says.
"It was one of the contestants who actually made reference to 'golden showers,' so we had to figure out if we were going to cut that out or just bleep it out. We were laughing our heads off in the studio as we were making this, proof that the idea that there are certain things you are not supposed to say is what often provides stand-up comedians their best material."
The Mad Dash is prized
When writing about game shows in 2007, I noted that the prizes on The Mad Dash, the Canadian game show that ran from 1979 to 1981 and featured contestants running across a giant board game, "paled in comparison to American giveaways," often rewarding winners with "toasters and houseplants."
This prompted a letter from Sidney M. Cohen, the creator of the series. "The Mad Dash gave the largest prizes on Canadian daytime TV (in addition to a houseplant)," he wrote. "We gave prize packages worth up to $10,000 (tax-free – and not bad for the early '80s) and everybody who appeared on our show won something. Not always the case on the new 'all or nothing' shows of today."
Cohen argued further that his show "is fondly remembered by a whole generation as one of their favourite shows 'when they were growing up.' It was a small Canadian show that in its time pulled very high ratings across the country with no help from a U.S. broadcaster and no promotion from, at that time, a fractious CTV network. … Can't think of any other English-Canadian-created game show that can say that!"