In the summer of 2020, The Strong museum was approached by two veteran producers of game shows, Bob Boden and Howard Blumenthal. With their lengthy track records and their infectious enthusiasm for their profession, Bob and Howard raised a great question: Why wasn’t there a central repository for the history of game shows? And, since that was the case, wouldn’t The Strong like to become the place to preserve that particular piece of pop culture history? As proof that they knew what they were talking about (not that I had any doubts), Bob and Howard introduced me via Zoom to about ten of their friends and colleagues from the business, all with fantastic stories of their involvement with game shows over the years, providing me a sense of the wealth of information and accounts of personal experiences that were at risk of being lost without a concerted endeavor and a committed organization.
As the home to the National Toy Hall of Fame and the World Video Game Hall of Fame, The Strong was familiar with undertaking programs that recognized, celebrated, and preserved key pieces of play history. And there was no doubt that game shows were playful, not just for the eager contestants on the shows but also for the countless members of the viewing public who were shouting out answers, flinching at pitfalls, and generally participating vicariously but wholeheartedly from the comforts of their sofas and family rooms. Additionally, while front-of-camera talent like hosts have earned plenty of time in the spotlight, the success of every single game show relies on dozens of skilled professionals, each with specialized expertise, that make sure all the necessary pieces of the production puzzle come together time after time. Those individuals and their contributions deserve a place in the spotlight too and we concluded that The Strong was just the place to do it.
So it was with more than a little fanfare that The Strong joined with co-founders Bob Boden and Howard Blumenthal to announce the establishment of the National Archives of Game Show History at the start of June 2021. Its mission is to preserve the history of game shows in the United States with a special focus on the individuals involved in all facets of their creation, development, production, marketing, and distribution. Beginning with an exclusive story in Variety, the trade journal to the television and movie industries, the story about the archive and its objectives got picked up by news wire services and suddenly it was appearing everywhere, including an article in The New York Times.
With such positive and far-reaching media coverage, inquiries and offers started arriving in my email inbox. Plenty of people were eager to know when an exhibit on game shows would be opening at The Strong, but we’re a little way off from that phase of the project at this point. For the moment, we’re concentrating on the collecting stage of building an archive, looking for historical materials such as: program development documents and proposals; pilot and production scripts; materials related to hosts and contestants; scenic plans, renderings, and construction drawings; materials related to music and sound effects; directors’ notes, network notes, edit notes; publicity materials; and physical objects, which might include costume designs, props, or graphics.
Right now, The Strong is poised to begin producing new interviews featuring key participants in the game show industry. It’s important to capture the personal stories and perspectives that these pros can provide into the complexities behind what might otherwise seem effortless from the vantage of a home viewer. But the stories and contributions aren’t limited to just television professionals. I’ve also rapidly recognized that other key interest groups include contestants, members of studio audiences, and regular fans who wouldn’t think of missing their favorite shows from the comfort of their own TV set or other device. We welcome offers of collection donations from any and all of those people, some of whom have already stepped up to share their on-set photos, tickets from tapings, and home versions of game shows.
So it’s an exciting time and a great new undertaking. I can’t wait to see how the National Archives of Game Show History expands and evolves over the weeks and months ahead. And I’m eager to begin sharing this collection with the public. For a curator like me who grew up as a loyal fan of $25,000 Pyramid, I feel like I’ve hit the game show jackpot!
Article by Chris Bensch, Vice President for Collections at The Strong National Museum of Play.