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Wednesday, March 27, 2024

March 27, 2024: What is Game Show Studying?: Dating Games

[On March 30, 1964, the legendary game show Jeopardy debuted. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy that classic and a handful of other game show histories! Add your thoughts, obviously in the form of a question, in comments!]

On a more straightforward and a more subtle context for a pair of groundbreaking game shows.

After the late 1950s quiz show scandals about which I wrote in yesterday’s post, TV game shows didn’t go away, nor did the genre leave quiz shows entirely behind, as the 1964 inspiration for this week’s series reflects (and on which I’ll have more to say in Friday’s post). But TV game shows did evolve significantly in the 1960s, and one of those evolutions was toward shows focused on dating and romance. 1965 saw the creation of one hugely popular such show, Chuck Barris’ The Dating Game (hosted by Jim Lange); a year later another was created, Nick Nicholson and E. Roger Muir’s The Newlywed Game (hosted by Bob Eubanks); and from then on these two shows were consistently connected, both in original episodes and in syndication (and even more fully in their 1990s joint revival, when the pair was known as “The Dating-Newlywed Hour”).

Pairing these two game shows offers a fascinating window into a period when social mores around romance were likewise evolving, as illustrated by The Dating Game’s relatively casual approach to the idea of an individual (and usually a single woman, although sometimes the genders of contestant and candidates were reversed) choosing potential romantic partners from a trio of anonymous single suitors. The Newlywed Game could thus be read as a more traditional counterpart, one focused on heterosexual couples who were already partnered up in that more conventional way (although the preponderance of Newlywed Game questions centered on what Eubanks called “making whoopee” was at least a bit controversial on 1960s TV). Since both shows remained on the air for many years, and then again were revived together in the 1990s, it would likewise be fascinating to consider how their individual and complementary depictions of romance themselves evolved as the shows went on (giving that one away as a Media Studies dissertation topic).

One of the complaints that’s been consistently directed at 21st century dating game shows (and with cause) is that the contestants are there not to find romance or love, but to become famous. The rise of the internet and social media and other such avenues to fame has no doubt changed the landscape of dating games, like all game shows (and all cultural forms period). But it’s also worth noting that these 1960s dating games likewise featured a number of both soon-to-be-famous and already-famous figures: The Dating Game in particular saw, to name just a handful, Farrah Fawcett, Tom Selleck, Andy Kaufman, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and a very young Michael Freaking Jackson; The Newlywed Game did mostly feature non-famous couples in its earliest iterations, but would go on to include celebrity couples such as George Takei and his husband Brad Altman. Which is to say, it’s always been a fair question how much of these dating game shows has to do with dating and how much with games of very different, and very culturally telling varieties.

Next game show histories tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Other game shows you’d highlight?

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