|For years, many of us labored under the assumption we would never again turn on our TVs
and see Peter Marshall hosting the Hollywood Squares with Paul Lynde in the center, Charley Weaver lower left, Rose Marie, etc. That is, unless we caught an old grainy kinescope on an occasional nostalgia special or Entertainment Tonight. When Peter Marshall appeared on ET in early 2002 (in an interview taped the previous summer) he repeated a belief many of us held: that the original Hollywood Squares was gone forever, the victim of a mass master tape destruction.
Boy were we wrong.
On April 15th, 2002, we found out at least one exists from as far back as March 1968. That's because the Game Show Network aired it, right down to the NBC peacock intro, as the first in its package of classic Hollywood Squares reruns.
So where did it come from?
Back in the 1960s, Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley sold their company to Filmways, which in turn later became Orion Television. When Orion went bankrupt, MGM bought the rights to its library. That would include whatever episodes of such H-Q games shows as Squares, High Rollers and Gambit still exist. And therein lies the rub.
It was widely assumed (and still may be true) that all or most of the originals were destroyed back in the 1970s, by either NBC, Heatter-Quigley or both, most likely because storage of the old and very large tape reels had become cost-prohibitive. (Game show fans and other students of broadcasting refer to this, mostly symbolically, as "the bonfire.") One source says NBC never destroyed other producers' programs without the producers' complicity. In any event, it was thought the original Squares was a goner, existing only in the odd episode that may turn up in a VHS stash, a broadcasting museum or on the trading circuit.
Then something surprising happened.
In his book, the master himself, Peter Marshall, explained that in 2001, a representative of Dan Curtis Productions, Jim Pierson, went looking for the few still-lost color videotapes of the 1960s gothic ABC soap, Dark Shadows. (A few eps in the Sci-Fi Channel's package only exist on black-and-white kinescope and one actually had to be re-created with stills.) That's when he found "shelves and shelves" of two-inch quad masters, of what Marshall places at more than 3,000 Hollywood Squares shows dating from 1968 to the late 1970s (though some put the number much lower, around 600 or so). Marshall put the number at 3,500; the E! True Hollywood Story repeated this and even backed it up with a shot of the tapes sitting on shelves. But what's important is that we found out that episodes do exist, in mass quantities, and dating farther back than we dreamed.
The production company representative contacted David Schwartz, who was helping him produce that second Game Show Themes CD, who in turn contacted his colleagues at GSN. There was word the Game Show Network was interested, then word they weren't. There had been a change at the top of GSN and talk of moving away from classic game shows into more original programming and interactive opportunities. But then that executive team was sacked and a new one resumed talks.
Turns out, MGM originally denied the shows existed, but then Jim Pierson actually showed them the tapes. When Filmways had the shows they converted them to another tape format; Orion had them next and ignored them; MGM then acquired them and paid for the storage without realizing what they were even paying for.
The result: GSN acquired a package of what some sources say are in the neighborhood of 150 episodes. GSN has run more than half of the 1968 NBC prime time shows and roughly a hundred of the syndicated shows. Once source says GSN actually has some 650 episodes in their possession but only had the rights to air 150 (viewers counted some 125 to 130 in the actual run), and that some were screened for PC content, and not run for that reason. The source also indicated the package includes some Storybook Squares shows; one from December 1977 aired as part of a Halloween-themed "Hollywood Scares" marathon in October 2002. It was the only NBC daytime episode to air on GSN.
So, GSN unveiled the newly rediscovered Squares reruns on April 15, 2002. First up: the aforementioned 1968 broadcast, then two 1970s shows and another from 1968. This all happened on a day when GSN also unveiled reruns of the game show Win, Lose or Draw and Whammy: the All New Press Your Luck, a remake of the interactive 80s classic. And it all comes at a time when suddenly, even the major networks couldn't get enough nostalgia into their programming. (This includes NBC, celebrating its 75th anniversary in May 2002 and even resurrecting Squares and other classic game shows in a special that was one of its most successful shows of the entire month.)
The reruns enjoyed a good year and a half run. After that, the GSN reruns dwindled to weekends only, then the weekend-only showings themselves were dropped in September 2003. GSN cited dwindling ratings and difficulty reaching the younger demographics, even suggested many of the celebrities on the Marshall version would be totally unknown to younger viewers. Apparently the network has no plan to bring them back, thus ending an 18 month, well-deserved renaissance of a television classic. The Marshall Squares did come back to haunt GSN a couple of times: in mid-summer 2004, the GSN website's schedule grid listing for the Bergeron reruns linked to a description of the Marshall version. And in May 2005, when the Bergeron Squares were featured in a Saturday Night at the Classics marathon, a botched GSN promo led viewers to believe the Marshall version would be rerun. Both times your webmaster heard from excited but later disappointed fans who thought the show was coming back to the network.
In the summer of 2006 GSN ran a miniseries ticking down the Top 50 game shows of all time. The Hollywood Squares in all versions, came in at #11, and they reran an entire 1976 nighttime syndicated show. As far as I know it's the last time they've ever shown an entire show from the Marshall years.
As of this writing (April 2010) GSN seems to have divested its lineup of nearly all older game shows so any chance of The Hollywood Squares Marshall shows coming back in reruns have apparently gone from slim to none.
MGM/UA itself has since been bought out by Sony, so now Sony owns the Marshall Squares, and likely the Davidson version. Clips still pop up in Most Outrageous Game Show Moments specials.
In 2009, some 20 Squares episodes found a new life in a new rerun heaven: streaming online. MGM made them available and they can be seen on Hulu, shows dating from the 1968 prime time run to a 1978 show featuring Billy Crystal. The Hulu title page for The Hollywood Squares actually shows the logo and a picture of the set from the 1986-89 Davidson version, but so far the only shows in the lineup are Marshall originals. Isolated clips also often turn up on Youtube, including some rarities from the show's 1980-81 Vegas season.
P.S. I still have no idea if any other Heatter/Quigley shows like Gambit or the Alex Trebek-hosted High Rollers still exist, or were found in that same cache. I have never, ever heard any information that they were. You better believe I will post it on this site if I find out. Apparently the Celebrity Game does exist.
Here are excerpts from the official GSN news release from Spring 2002:
GAME SHOW NETWORK ACQUIRES ORIGINAL
"THE HOLLYWOOD SQUARES"AND "WIN LOSE OR DRAW"
Classic Game Show Programming Launches April 15
(CULVER CITY, CA March 27, 2002) Game Show Network, the 24-hour cable network devoted exclusively to game shows and interactive game play, has acquired the Emmy-Award winning classic The Hollywood Squares, as well as the popular party show Win, Lose or Draw. Both shows launch on Game Show Network beginning April 15: The Hollywood Squares will appear seven days a week at 8:30 p.m. ET/ 5:30 p.m. PT and Win, Lose or Draw Monday – Friday at 11:30 a.m. ET/8:30 a.m. PT.
"We're thrilled to feature two of the most popular celebrity game shows, and in the case of The Hollywood Squares, one of the longest-running shows in television history," says Bob Boden, senior vice president programming for Game Show Network. "With The Hollywood Squares and Win, Lose or Draw, we're continuing to introduce all-time American favorites to a whole new generation of game show fans..."
The Hollywood Squares premiered in 1971 in syndication and was a spin-off of the daytime NBC version. Attached is the original show press release that was issued by NBC on September 30, 1966. (note: I never did get that one...D.H.)
(end of release)
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|Clockwise from top to center square: Wally Cox, Nannette Fabray, Jan Murray, Van Johnson, Walter Matthau, Sally Field, Charley Weaver, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Buddy Hackett, in a clip from a 1968 NBC prime time episode. This is a "lost" episode that appeared on GSN on April 15, 2002. (Courtesy Mike Klauss)|