The 20 Best Game Shows of the 1980s
Sure, they may be cheesy, and terrible jokes may make you cringe, but they’re fun for all the family and a nice break from daily life.
Besides, it’s good to challenge your brain once in a while, and who doesn’t love to point out what they’d do differently if in the contestants shoes.
TV game shows as we know and love them descended from radio programmes in the same vein, with the very first TV game show broadcast in 1938. Game shows quickly became a staple of TV during the 50s, however many of the games turned out to be rigged, and they fell in popularity.
Fortunately for us, game shows made a comeback in the 70s, or we wouldn’t have had any of the 80s classics that made our childhood so awesome.
I mean, who doesn’t remember laughing at the couples failing at the Newlywed Game? Or yelling at the screen when players were too slow on Supermarket Sweep?
From The Price is Right, to Wheel of Fortune, here’s our list of the best game shows of the 80s. We guarantee you’ll be watching retro clips on YouTube by the time you reach the end!
20. The Newlywed Game
The Newlywed Game pitted newly married couples against one another to see who knows the other better.
Over two rounds series of revealing question rounds would expose how much spouses really know about their other half, with the maximum score being 70 points (10 points for the first questions, 25 for the final).
Unlike most game shows, the grand prize was never a lump of cash, but usually a household appliance the couple had requested prior to playing.
19. The Gong Show
An amateur talent contest, The Gong Show was a competition between performers of questionable talent. A panel of three celebrity judges, with regulars including Rip Taylor, Phyllis Diller, and Rex Reed, could stop acts they considered particularly awful by hitting a gong. Host Chuck Barris would then ask the panel why they “gonged” the contestant.
Although many taking part took the rejection with good grace, some acted like total buttheads.
If an act made it through their performance without being gonged, judges would rate them from 1 to 10. Those with the highest score at the end of the series’ run received a check for $512.32, which was considered the minimum for a day’s work as a performer (or at least according to the Screen Actors Guild) at the time.
Password was pretty self-explanatory. For this game show, two teams, each made up of a celebrity player and a contestant, would attempt to guess a password for cash.
The password was given to one player on each team, as well as the audience, and was shown on-screen to viewers watching at home.
Teams would alternate turns at guessing, as the player who knew the answer gave a one-word clue to their teammate each turn. If the partner failed to work out the answer in the five second time limit, or if an illegal clue was given, it would pass over to the other team. The game carried on until one of the teams guessed correctly, or failing that, until ten clues had been given. Celebs who took part during the 80s run included Betty White and Lucille Ball.
17. Love Connection
In this dating show hosted by Chuck Woolery, singles attempted to match with a suitable partner of the opposite gender. Based on a viewing of three video tape profiles, a guest would go on a date with one of the contestants.
Once the date was over, the three contestants and the guest would go on TV.
The audience would then watch the tapes, and vote on who they felt was best suited to the guest. The guest would then reveal who they actually dated. If the date between the two had been successful, they would be united on-stage, if not then the date would be cast aside. Awkward…
16. Double Dare
Children’s game show Double Dare was a classic, and was actually Nickelodeon’s first game show.
To play the game, two teams would win cash and prizes by answering trivia questions, as well as taking parts in messy stunts and physical challenges.
Double Dare was a huge success for Nickelodeon, helping to make the kid’s channel a major TV player. At the time, Double Dare was the most-watched original daily programme on TV.
15. Win, Lose or Draw
In Win, Lose or Draw, two teams (men versus women) comprised of two celebrities and one contestant, took turns in guessing a phrase, thing or title that one team member drew on a sketch pad. The teammate creating the drawing could not speak about the subject, nor use letters, numbers, or symbols. If one of these illegal items was used, the prize money would automatically be split between the two playing teams.
Fun fact: the set design with two sofas was based on creator Burt Reynolds‘ actual living room at the time.
14. Name That Tune
In Name That Tune, contestants were pitted against each other to test their knowledge of music.
There’s been many version since the show’s conception in the 50s, but in the 70s/80s incarnation, two contestants picked from the studio audience would compete in three music-themed rounds to win prizes.
Whoever was ahead at the end of the third round would be declared the winner, and would have the opportunity to compete in the “Golden Medley Round” for more prizes.
13. Card Sharks
In Card Sharks, two players battled it out for control over a row of over-sized cards.
The contestants had to answer questions by host Bob Eubanks (Or Jim Perry, depending on which part of the decade you were watching), before guessing if the next card was higher or lower than the previous one.
The name is a play on the phrase “cardsharp,” which is used to describe someone who is good at cards.
12. Supermarket Sweep
Supermarket Sweep really was a game show like no other. The programme’s format combined an ordinary quiz show with a live, timed race through a supermarket. What’s not to love?! During the timed race, cameras followed the three teams through the (vacated) supermarket as they attempted to collect as many items as possible.
The team with the highest total cart value at the end were deemed the winners.
Last year Freemantle Media announced they’d acquired the rights to Supermarket Sweep, and are planning on bringing it back in a more modern format to “reflect 21st century shopping habits.”
Obviously, the TV show Tic-Tac-Dough was inspired by the paper and pencil game Tic-Tac-Toe. However, to put a X or an O on the board, contestants had to answer questions correctly first.
Each of the nine squares on the game board represented a category, with the center square the most important piece strategically for player to make their mark on.
The show has had many hosts, including two during the 80s. The first was Wink Martindale, who hosted from 1978 until 1985, when Jim Caldwell took over.
10. Let’s Make a Deal
In Let’s Make a Deal, host Monty Hall would offer deals to members of the audience.
The partakers would then have to way up the possibility of an offer for a valuable prize, or non-valuable items known on the show as “zonks.”
In the hopes of being selected to play, over time audience members began to dress in crazy costumes to improve their chances. Monty Hall also co-created the show as well as presented it, along with producer Stephen Hatos.
9. The Joker’s Wild
For The Joker’s Wild, contestants answered questions from several categories that were randomly chosen by a mechanism. The mechanism was designed to resemble a slot machine, which contained Jokers amongst the possible outcomes.
The show described itself as “the game where knowledge is king and lady luck is queen.”
It is also remembered as being the first successful gameshow that Jack Barry produced after his company’s part in the late 50s quiz show scandals.
8. Press Your Luck
In Press Your Luck, contestants collected “spins” by answering trivia questions. The spins were then used on an 18 space-board game to net money and prizes. By the end of the game, the player who had amassed the most prizes wins.
The show ran for only three years, from 1983 and 1986, but you can get your hands on a 2009 video game version to play at home.
7. Hollywood Squares
In Hollywood Squares contestants essentially played tic-tac-toe to win money. The game board was a 3×3 stack of open-faced cubes, each filled with a celebrity sitting behind a desk.
The featured stars are asked questions by the host, and players must judge whether the celebrities are telling the truth with their answers. For every correct guess, a contestant gains a square, with the aim of landing the right pattern to win the game.
6. Match Game
The Match Game was a panel show in which contestants tried to match celebrities’ answers to fill-in-the-blank questions.
Although the show has been running since the 60s, the most popular version of the programme was during the 80s, thanks to its “rowdy” and “bawdy” humour.
Most versions of the Match Game were hosted by Gene Rayburn, who sadly passed away in 1999.
In game show Pyramid, two contestants were each paired up with a famous person. Those taking part had to guess a series of words or phrases based on descriptions given to them by the other half of their team.
The title came from the show’s game board, which was shaped like a pyramid.
Contestants could choose from six categories, which got more difficult the higher up the board. The most famous host was Dick Clarke, who hosted Pyramid from 1973 to 1988.
4. Wheel of Fortune
Basically hangman with a wheel included, Wheel of Fortune is a game show in which contestants solve word puzzles to win prizes. The amount is the winner could spend on a prize was chosen by the spinning carnival wheel.
Each round has a category and a blank word puzzle, which is usually a common phrase or figure of speech. Still, it was surprising the amount of people who made stupid, can’t possibly be right, guesses.
Created by TV host and media mogul Merv Griffin and presented by Alex Trebek, Jeopardy! was a quiz show in which contestants were given answers and had to come up with the matching questions.
Unsurprisingly, good general knowledge was paramount to success in Jeopardy!, and the show still runs in syndication on daytime TV if you feel like testing your smarts (or just have nothing better to do).
2. Family Feud
Who didn’t dream of dragging mom and dad onto the Family Feud set at some point during their childhood?
Family Feud basically pitted two families against one another in a competition to name the most popular responses to survey questions.
Unbelievably, this classic show was cancelled twice – once in 1985 and once in 1993 – which shows that TV executives truly no nothing about what audiences want.
1. The Price is Right
The premise of the Price is Right was pretty simple, but that’s what made it so good. Basically, contestants had to guess the price of various merchandise to win cash or from a range of prizes, and were picked out from the studio audience as the announcer yelled the now iconic catchphrase “Come on down!”
Bob Barker was The Price is Right’s longest running host, and after 35 years it’s no wonder that he’s still pretty much synonymous with the beloved game show (Sorry Drew Carey).