7 of the greatest game show gimmicks of all-time
Game shows have been a staple on our televisions for as long as there’s been, well, television. Occasionally though, a game show comes up with a hook or a gimmick that makes it stand out from the crowd. And even when these shows go off the air, these gimmicks remain embedded in our memories forever. Below are seven game show gimmicks that have achieved pop culture icon status.
Photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery, Flickr
7 The Aggro Crag – ‘Nickelodeon Guts’
In the 1990s, Nickelodeon was a breeding ground for some of the greatest kid-centric game show gimmicks of all-time. While one could make a case for Olmec from Legends of the Hidden Temple or the virtual reality of Nick Arcade, there was no gimmick bigger or cooler than the Aggro Crag (which later evolved into the Mega Crag and Super Aggro Crag).
This colossal plastic mountain served as the final physical obstacle for the game’s three contestants, and required them to navigate through avalanches, blasts of sparkly confetti and “lightning storms” all while pushing a series of actuators on their way to the top.
6 Come on Down – ‘Price is Right’
Price is Right wasn’t the first game show to pull contestants straight from the studio audience (Let’s Make a Deal). However, the gimmick of asking contestants to “Come on Down” quickly became the show’s catchphrase and helped give it that lovable campy charm the show has come to be known for.
Over the show’s near 40 years, three men can be attributed for shouting this legendary game show gimmick. Most of us identify the phrase with Rod Roddy (RIP), who took over for original announcer Johnny Olson in 1985. Since 2004, Rich Fields has done the duty.
5 The Briefcases – ‘Deal or No Deal’
Incorporating the gimmick of opening briefcases on stage was genius for one reason – it provided an excuse to have 26 gorgeous women stand on stage. When you think about it, Deal or No Deal is a pretty boring game. There’s no trivia, no competing contestants and no physical stunts. Replace the briefcases and pretty ladies with a simple computer board, and it’s safe to say this game would not have been nearly as addictive or popular as it was.
4 Obstacle Course – ‘Double Dare’
Picking through the “snot” of a giant nose in order to find a flag? Now that’s genius. Double Dare is the godfather of all Nickelodeon game shows, and it helped teach kids that it was okay to get out there and roll around in the mud (or green slime) every once in a while. The obstacle course required the contestants to maneuver through eight sloppy obstacles within 60 seconds. Make it all the way through, and the contestants usually won a trip to Space Camp. How Mark Summers – a complete neat freak and germaphobe – managed to host this show from week to week is beyond me, but I’m glad he did.
3 Whammies – ‘Press Your Luck’
The cartoon Whammies in Press Your Luck took the boring old trivia show and gave it a whole new life. The game asked contestants to answer trivia questions, and then “press their luck” by spinning the board to win cash and prizes. The only thing keeping the contestants from big winnings? Those greedy Whammies, who would steal all the contestant’s accumulated prizes at any moment. With over 80 different animations and a personality you loved to hate, these little buggers single-handedly gave Press Your Luck a big enough of a gimmick to air 757 different episodes.
2 Answering in the Form of a Question – ‘Jeopardy’
This is one of the simplest game show gimmicks of all-time, but it’s also one of the best. By taking the classic “question and answer” game format and turning it around, Merv Griffin and NBC immediately had a hit on their hands. As legend goes, the idea of having the contestants answer in the form of a question came from Merv’s wife, Juliann, during a flight to New York. Today, the idea of answering trivia in question form has become so common, that contestants on non-Jeopardy quiz shows sometimes slip and instinctively put their answers into an erroneous question form.
1 The Wheel – ‘Wheel of Fortune’
Is there any other game show prop more iconic then The Wheel? Wheel of Fortune, along with Jeopardy, is one of the most profitable and popular game shows of all-time. Much of this popularity can be attributed to the big wheel, which each contestant must spin in order to attribute a cash value to his or her letter guesses. Along with bonus spaces such as “Free Spin” and “Prize Spaces,” there’s also those nefarious “Bankrupt” and “Lose a Turn” slots that have proven the downfall of more than a few contestants.
For taking the simple game of Hangman and giving it a hook that was good enough for close to 30 years of entertainment (and counting), The Wheel earns the coveted title of greatest game show gimmick of all-time.