Thursday, February 20, 2003
Mike Wallace, Hugh Downs: Game Show Hosts
By ROGER M. GRACE
ABC News anchor John Daly and his NBC counterpart, John Cameron Swayze, subjects of last week’s scribblings, were not the only news personalities of the 1950s and ’60s to be associated with game shows.
Hugh Downs is a journalist held in high esteem by the public. He is remembered for his 21-year stint on the ABC news magazine, “20/20,” from 1978-99. He and Barbara Walters were teamed as co-hosts on that show for the last 14 years of Downs’ tour of duty.
From 1962-71, Downs hosted NBC’s news-oriented “Today” show, taking over from NBC correspondent John Chancellor. This was an elevation from his role as Jack Paar’s announcer/sidekick on the “Tonight Show” (from 1957-62).
Above, left, is Downs, as co-host of "20/20." To the right, he is pictured as emcee of "Concentration."
It’s hard to imagine the cool and collected Downs, this scholarly and accomplished journalist and author, as a game show host. But, indeed, he did host such a program on NBC, in the daytime, from 1958-68. The show was “Concentration.”
Two contestants (one the returning champion) faced a board divided into 30 squares. A player would pick two squares by numbers. If both squares had the same prize behind it, the contestant would get the prize—provisionally. If the squares had different prizes behind then, once a player picked the square with a prize that did match, that player would get the prize—again, provisionally. When two squares matched, they would rotate, revealing a part of a type of puzzle called a “rebus.” (For example, a picture of a woman washing clothes and a weight marked “2000 lbs.” would stand for “Washington”—that is, washing and ton. A well known non-pictorial rebus is “YY UR YY UB YY UR YY 4me.” It means “Too wise you are, too wise you be, too wise you are, too wise for me.”) The first contestant to figure out the rebus got to keep the prizes; the other contested was dispossessed of those he or she had collected.
Yes, people actually watched that show. I saw it a few times, but I had an excuse. I was a juvenile.
“Concentration” was aired in 1961 in the nighttime as a summer replacement, with Downs as host.
By the way, his birthday, like Jack Benny’s, is Valentine’s Day.
Mike Wallace has been a fixture on CBS’s “60 Minutes” since 1968. Those under 45 are not apt to associate him with any other program. Well, just maybe some of the older members of the under-45 bunch will recall Mommy watching him as anchor on the hour-long CBS Morning News from 1963-66.
Wallace previously made his mark in journalism as an aggressive, chain-smoking interrogator on a one-on-one show which started in New York as “Night-Beat.” The show graduated to the ABC network, and soon became known as the “The Mike Wallace Interview,” airing from 1957-58.
He appeared for an hour each weeknight on “PM East, PM West,” a short-lived syndicated show aired from 1961-62 which featured Wallace in New York, followed by a half-hour segment from San Francisco with Terrence O’Flaherty. Wallace also hosted the original version of “Biography,” syndicated in 1961-64.
This respected newsman, too, was a game show host. He was quizmaster on “The Big Surprise” from 1956-57. That show was intended as NBC’s answer to CBS’s enormously popular “$64,000 Question.” When it boosted the maximum prize, it became known as “The $100,000 Big Surprise.”
Above, left, is a recent photo of Wallace, a "60 Minutes" correspondent since 1968. At right, he appears in 1956 on the pilot for "To Tell the Truth," originally dubbed "Nothing but the Truth."
Wallace—an announcer and actor in his pre-newsman days—also emceed various lesser known game shows. One was “Majority Rules,” aired on ABC, originating in Chicago. Back then—in 1950—the host was billed as “Myron Wallace,” his true name.
He had become “Mike” by the time CBS hired him as moderator of its 1951 summer-replacement quiz/audience participation show, “Guess Again.” That game show was twice as successful one hosted by Jackie Gleason 10 years later called “You’re in the Picture.” Gleason’s show was aired once, and n’er again; Wallace’s show lasted two weeks.
“There’s One in Every Family” was on the air on CBS from 1952-53, with Wallace as host. The CBS panel show “I’ll Buy That” was broadcast from 1953-54, again with Wallace officiating.
Taking over from radio news commentator Walter Kiernan, Wallace presided over ABC’s “Who’s the Boss” from July-August of 1954. The contestants were all secretaries to celebrities, and the panel’s task was to ascertain the identity of the contestant’s boss.
vein was “Who Pays,” an NBC panel show moderated by Wallace from
July-September, 1959. The panel had to figure out what celebrity employed each
set of two contestants. This was a role re-reversal for Wallace; the tormentor
of interviewees the year before had reverted to the role of the genial host of
a light-hearted game show.
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