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What are Game Shows?

By Kate Monteith
Updated: Feb 16, 2024

Game shows provide entertaining diversions. The game show is as old as the beginnings of radio and television broadcasting, and many of us grew up watching TV game shows on occasion, just to imagine winning all those wonderful prizes. Whether it’s the old-time favorites like Queen for a Day and Password; or the more modern Deal or No Deal and Who Wants to be a Millionaire?; game shows are a guilty pleasure that many people indulge in now and then.

The idea of games in broadcasting began in early radio. The first game show, called Spelling Bee, debuted in 1938, and commercial advertisers flocked to support it. Several other games quickly followed, including the famous $64,000 Question, and the popularity of game shows was well-established. The pioneers of American television knew that TV audiences would faithfully tune in to see their favorite quiz shows, and in 1951, the televised version of What’s My Line was born.

Celebrity appearances are a popular way to attract a TV audience, and Hollywood Squares probably took the cake with at least nine celebrities featured every game. Another popular game show featuring celebrities was $10,000 Pyramid, where contestants were paired with stars who often had questionable game-playing talent. Several famous stars appeared on The Dating Game, including Michael Jackson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sally Field. From its television debut in 1965, The Dating Game paved the way for singles’ game shows such as MTV’s Love Connection, and the show The Bachelor.

Players may be individuals, as in the reality game show, Survivor; or players may form teams, such as in the show Family Feud, where family members compete against other family groups. TV game players may be chosen at random from the audience, as in the show The Price Is Right; or may be pre-selected for their ability to play the game, as in the TV show Jeopardy. Game shows can require players to solve a puzzle, as in Wheel of Fortune; recite factual knowledge, as in Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?; or win by sheer strength and determination, as in American Gladiators.

TV game shows provide the perfect advertising vehicle to promote commercial products within the shows themselves. The format of a game show always includes prizes, often donated by a willing commercial sponsor. Kitchen appliances, furniture, vacations, and cash money are among some of the favorite gifts that game show players may vie for. Even losers are usually offered a treasure trove of parting gifts, another way for the TV show producers to generate excitement amongst audience members and promote more commercial products.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By BAU79 — On Jul 11, 2012

What is the process for game show casting? I have always wanted to be on one but have never known how.

I am not picky about the show either. Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, I will play on any of them. How do I get a shot?

By whiteplane — On Jul 10, 2012

Why do they always pick such creepy guys to be game show hosts? I can barely watch the shows because it makes me want to cringe watching the hosts interact with the contestants. I figure the only way the contestants can stand it is that they might win a bunch of money.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Jul 10, 2012

My all time favorite game show now and forever is The Price Is Right. I like both versions, the old one with Bob Barker and the new one with Drew Carey.

For me, The Price Is Right is the quintessential game show. It has lights, music, tons of different games, outlandish prizes and a bunch of very enthusiastic people. If game shows are a diversion this is the ultimate one.

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