Classic Game Shows

Human beings are naturally competitive and as humans, we also love watching competition unfold. In addition to sports, game shows are the mecca of competition in media. They’ve been around since the inception of television and continue to thrive today. All sorts of subjects, themes, and activities are explored in which contestants use their knowledge to gain a lead over the competition and endure different stages for a chance at the grand prize usually consisting of a huge cash reward or tropical vacation.

Few game shows that have become synonymous with pop culture such as Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, The Price Is Right, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?, and most recently with Deal or No Deal. Since you’ve seen or know about those, let’s focus on the ones I remember watching in my youth. In the past, I briefly spoke about Nickelodeon game shows such as Nick Arcade and Legends of the Hidden Temple, but there’s game shows on every single network! Let’s check it out:

Fun House (1988-1991)

Fun House was one of my favorite television shows growing up. It was the ultimate children’s game show next to Double Dare. Tons of messy craziness that was great for the entire family. Two teams of kids dressed in red or yellow uniforms would partake in answering questions then perform different challenges and races. The reigning team earns the opportunity to run around the giant Fun House obstacle course itself determined to win big in prizes. The entire set where Fun House was filmed was rather large and very colorful and that definitely help keep children’s interest throughout the program.

As a kid, I thought host, J.D. Roth, was one of the coolest cats around.

I’m Telling! (1987-1988)
I'm Telling Pic 1

I watched this every afternoon following school and after watching The Pirates of Dark Water. While I was a mere two years old when the last episode aired, I’m Telling was actually broadcast on the Family Channel (later ABC Family) in the mid 1990s. Similar to the dating game, three pairs of siblings (sister and brother) compete against each other spilling knowledge on their respective family member while they’re not present. The other sibling is then brought back onto the show and asked the same questions. If their answers match then they get a point. The remaining duo must then compete in a physical task where they run around stage decorated with an assortment of prizes trying to find the ones the other sibling would most want. If 10 prizes were matched between them, the family would everything.

One notable competitor on this show was late actor, Paul Walker, who was barely a teenager when he taped the episode.

Supermarket Sweep (1990-1995)

Supermarket Sweep is without a doubt one of the greatest game shows of all time. What type of person doesn’t want to run wild through a supermarket?

David Ruprecht hosted this grocery-themed competition that was taped inside of a makeshift supermarket. Three teams of two competed against each other in not just brains but brawn as well. The version I caught was actually the second iteration of the show. This edition aired on the Lifetime network in the 1990s while the previous version aired on in the 1960s.

In addition to answering questions, teams had to run through the aisles of the market to retrieve certain items all leading to the best part of the show, the Big Sweep. In the Big Sweep, a member of each team ran up and down the supermarket grabbing anything they can get their hands on with the winner being who grossed the highest total from their products. Now this part is really where you use your intelligence because you need to know which products cost the most. A lot of teams were smart grabbing expensive items such as turkeys and medicine for big money where others just dropped whatever was on the shelves into their carts.

Remote Control (1987-1990)

Remote Control was certainly one of the most unconventional game shows ever produced. For one, it was one of the few that actually had a back story which was explained in the show’s opening theme. Host Ken Ober was a television fanatic who dreamed of being a game show host but instead of moving out and finding a job, he converted his parents’ basement into a television studio. The game pitted three contestants against each other in a set that resembled – what else – someone’s basement. The players all sat in big comfy, recliner chairs and answered questions on pop culture. Since the show was broadcast on MTV, several musicians would show up to participate including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Weird” Al Yankovic, and LL Cool J. Comedians like Adam Sandler and Denis Leary would also show up periodically to conduct skits and sometimes even introducing questions. Contestants were eliminated as the game progressed in hilarious fashion. It was always great to see someone’s seat being elevated off the set in their recliner or their chair rolling backwards into a hole in the wall. Very creative. The person managing to make it to the final round had to identify several songs or music videos in a certain amount of time. I would really love to relive Remote Control now since I’m more knowledgeable now about music than I was as a baby.

Ken Ober sadly passed away in 2009 but his legacy on one of the coolest game shows of all time will live on forever.

webRIOT (1999-2000)

MTV’s webRIOT was another addicting game show for the network. This cyberspace-themed contest was hosted by Ahmet Zappa, the son of late musician, Frank Zappa, and made use of online interaction before such a thing was the norm. Fans could log onto webRIOT’s official website as it was airing on television, play along with the program and even chat with other players.

Music-exclusive questions were asked with four choices listed as an answer. The choices would gradually disappear and it was up to the player to try and answer correctly before all the choices disintegrate. The faster the player answered, the more points they potentially could gain.

Another quirk of the show was Zappa not even appearing live in the studio but via a video wall which he used to communicate with the contestants.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (1991-1995)

When I was grade school, I took an interest in geography and I have Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? to thank for that. Based on the popular computer game, Carmen Sandiego was a red-clad, international felon responsible for committing all sorts of thefts around the globe but always managed to flee the authorities. To assist her in her getaway, she employed an accomplice which would become the objective of each episode as the competitors were on a mission to put the hired help (which varied in every episode) behind bars. Each episode barred a new accomplice who possessed an awesome name such as the quiet, petite blonde, Patty Larceny, punk rocker, Sarah Nade, and master crook, Vic the Slick.

Host Greg Lee (who previous hosted Nickelodeon game show, Total Panic) would then gain the services of three teenagers, nicknamed “gumshoes”, who answer several geography and history based questions scoring points. Throughout the show, several skits, usually involving Greg and the show’s co-host, Lynne Thigpen aka the Chief (RIP) would take place dropping clues to the contestants for the next series of questions. After one was voted off, the two remaining players attempt to the put Carmen’s hired gun away by selecting several landmarks that were displayed on a wall, one containing the loot, one with the warrant, and one containing the actual criminal. Players would take turns calling out the famous locations while they would rotate to reveal the contents. Once the three pieces were selected in order, the winning players move onto the final round.

In the final round, the player must put Carmen Sandiego away for good by having only+ a minute to identify certain countries on huge map of a particular continent using a huge siren marker.

Another big highlight of the show was its awesome acapella group, dubbed Rockapella, who would sing and perform throughout the program. Carmen Sandiego aired on PBS which explains its educational content. No doubt children like me worldwide gained a knowledge of history by watching.

Street Smarts (2000-2005)

As a teen, I would often catch Street Smarts on late nights. I remember I would watch it every night during the summer before I started high school. Comedian Frank Nicotero would hit the streets asking random strangers everyday questions while two contestants in a studio determined whether they answered correctly or not with each correct guess earning them money.

A comedian asking people on the street questions? Does that sound familiar to you?

Why yes it does, Parks & Recreations actor/comedian, Billy Eichner hosts a similar show today on Fuse called Billy on the Street where he quizzes strangers in New York City for money.

Win Ben Stein’s Money (1997-2003)

After an iconic role in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and while doing commercials for Clear Eyes, politician and actor, Ben Stein, was at the forefront of one of the most popular game shows of its day. On Win Ben Stein’s Money, three players attempt to correctly answer questions asked by Stein in his recognizable voice in a quest to win his cold hard cash. Yes, pretty unorthodox object of a game show but entertaining as all hell.

The categories of questions ranged from a variety of topics and all contained some sort of plays on words from a famous phrase or title.


The show did another thing right, it introduced the world to Jimmy Kimmel who served as Stein’s sidekick and co-host before his stint on another popular Comedy Central program, The Man Show.

One of my favorite episodes was when wrestling superstar, Raven, who actually holds a very high IQ, competed. He actually did pretty well, too!


Written by Matthew Reine

is a New Yorker with a strong passion for film and television. Also the biggest Keanu Reeves fan you know.

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