Name That Tune

Last Update: June 3, 2002 -- thanks to Steve March Tormé for writing with corrections and updates.

Airing: Network: 10-10:30 a.m. Thursday and Friday, January 2-3, NBC. Syndicated: weekly in first-run syndication throughout the year.

Personnel: Dennis James, host (NBC version); Tom Kennedy, host (syndicated version); John Harlan, announcer; Bob Alberti and Tommy Oliver, music directors. A Ralph Edwards Production. Taped in Los Angeles.

Description: See title for details. The most popular music identification game ever.

Game Play: Two contestants competed, a returning champion and a challenger in the daytime edition. Round One was a simple best three-out-of-five competition in naming tunes, where the two players would run to ring a ship’s bell when they knew the tune the orchestra was playing. (This was a holdover from the 1950s version, and eventually was replaced with a lockout buzzer.) The show occasionally used "The Money Tree" instead, where one contestant started pulling dollar bills from a tree-like device while the other contestant tried to name a tune, with the contestant who had the least money pulled from their tree win the round.

Round Two was "Melody Roulette," in which the host spun a wheel determining the dollar value of the tune before it was played. Round Three was "Bid a Note," where contestants could hear a maximum of seven notes before naming the tune, and bid each other downward to determine who needed the fewest notes to name the tune.

The first and second rounds were worth ten points apiece, and the third round was worth twenty. If the contestants tied after the first two rounds (two tunes apiece, with neither one knowing one tune), they each received five points. The winner of each round also won a prize. The contestant with the most points at the end won the game. If they were still tied, one final tune was played and the first to identify it correctly was the winner.

End Game: In the "Golden Medley," the champion had 30 seconds to identify seven tunes. They won prizes for every tune they did name, to a maximum of $2,000 in the daytime version, more in the evening version. Contestants could pass on any tune, and a wrong identification ended the game.

Background: Originally produced by Harry Salter, Name That Tune ran from 1953 to 1959 on NBC and CBS in prime time. The first hosts were Red Benson and Bill Cullen, but George DeWitt became most identified with the show. CBS dropped the series in the wake of the quiz scandals, even though Tune wasn’t implicated as much as Twenty-One or The $64,000 Question. (Several people associated with the show claimed the original version was "controlled," however – draw your own conclusions.) A low-budget 1970 syndicated version with Richard Hayes as master of ceremonies ran in only a very few markets.

By 1974, Ralph Edwards had bought the rights to the show and planned to bring it back on a weekly basis with Tom Kennedy as host. At the same time, NBC decided to drop its four-year-old chat and variety show Dinah’s Place in favor of a new game show. Name That Tune got the call, but since Kennedy was already tied down with ABC’s Split Second, Dennis James, who was hosting The Price Is Right in syndication, was named master of ceremonies. James was one of television’s pioneers, appearing on the medium since its infancy.

Tuning Out: What NBC didn’t reckon with was the fans of Dinah Shore, who protested loud and long about her show’s cancellation. Partially mitigating this was a new 90-minute variety show, Dinah!, running on the CBS owned and operated stations and in first-run syndication, but it put Tune at a major disadvantage it was never able to climb out of. Dennis James was less than comfortable doing the show for two reasons: 1) he claimed to be tone-deaf, and 2) NBC’s daytime head Lin Bolen dictated his wardrobe and haircut, and the 57-year-old James just wasn’t cut out to be one of Bolen’s young studs. "I would look at it on tape and say oh geez, that’s awful. It was not one of my happiest experiences," James said later.

In any case, while the nighttime Tune did just fine, the daytime Tune was buried by The Joker’s Wild. By the time 1975 came around, it had already been canceled, and its last broadcast was January 3. (Oddly enough, James was also hosting The Price Is Right on CBS that day, replacing an injured Bob Barker.) James would continue with the syndicated TPIR until 1976, then did commercials, produced films for industrial clients, and appeared on the Variety and Easter Seals telethons. He died June 3, 1997, at the age of 79.

I Got a Name: Kennedy’s evening version, on the other hand, was a hit, and Kennedy holds fond memories. "Name That Tune was the most exciting show I’ve ever done. We had a twelve-piece orchestra five feet behind us, and the audience was right out there. When you’re in between the two of them it’s just electric. I bet I lost a pound a show from the energy. You don’t realize it, but I’d take my shirt off after the show and it would be just soaked. It was true energy, it wasn’t phony. It was a great workout." Gee, if the world only knew hosting a game show had aerobic benefits…

Kennedy’s syndicated version would continue until 1981 – a huge run for a syndicated weekly game without a daytime version running concurrently. Tommy Oliver’s group displaced Alberti’s in 1975, followed by Stan Worth’s in 1976. Among the featured vocalists over the years were Steve March, Monica Burns, and Kathie Lee Johnson, who would later marry Frank Gifford, and, well, you know who she became. Dan Younger & The Sound System joined the show in 1978 to give it more of a disco/rock feel. The show became The $100,000 Name That Tune in 1976, where champions came back for a final competition with a first prize of $100,000 ($10,000 a year for ten years).

Tuning Out…Part Two: NBC gave Tune another try in January 1977. Kennedy did double duty on the NBC and syndicated editions, Tune was the second of three games he did under contract to the network The top prize on this Tune was $25,000. Stuck in the 12 noon slot (which had been occupied by five shows, including two runs of The Magnificent Marble Machine, in the previous 18 months), Tune died again in June.

Last Tune: Syndicator Sandy Frank bought the rights from Ralph Edwards and mounted his own version of Name That Tune in 1984, signing Jim Lange as host after he was unable to come to terms with Kennedy or Peter Marshall. With Tommy Oliver back leading the orchestra, this new $100,000 Name That Tune lasted one season (and is probably the least interesting of the more recent versions), but has been seen the most often due to frequent reruns on cable (on USA and The Family Channel).

Marching To a Different Tune: The things you learn. I was asked recently what happened to Steve March, who was a vocalist on the show during the last few syndicated seasons -- I would guess from 1979 to 1981. Anyway, a quick web search determined a few things: 1) he’s still working as a singer, but has switched over to jazz, 2) he’s well suited for that role since he’s the son of the great Mel Tormé, and 3) his parents divorced when he was four, and he took his stepfather’s last name -- who was none other than actor and game show host Hal March, host of The $64,000 Question and It’s Your Bet. You may order either of his CDs, Swingin’ at the Blue Moon Bar & Grill or The Night I Fell for You, through his web site Steve March Torme, or at Amazon.com. He now performs as Steve March Tormé. His third CD is due in September 2002.

Key Phrases:

The Home Game: Milton Bradley issued a couple of games with the vaguest relationship to the TV game in the late 1950s. For the most part, they were bingo games with George DeWitt’s face on the cover. In 1980 Castle Toys released an electronic Name That Tune game that promised lots of tunes and the ability to program more. It was a terrible disappointment, and I don’t recommend it. Currently Tiger has a hand-held model on the market.

Reruns: The Lange version isn’t running now, but it could come back any time – Sandy Frank has a way of making money through the flimsiest broadcast properties imaginable. I don’t think the James, Kennedy, or Hayes episodes are around anymore (Ralph Edwards, unfortunately, didn’t have the foresight to save tapes of the shows he produced), and of course the ‘50s Tunes are long gone, having aired live.

Revivals: Quincy Jones and Dick Clark were both rumored to be mulling over a Tune revival at one time or another, but nothing came of it. Name That Tune was a simple show to mount in the ‘50s because it had nothing but standards, but in the ‘70s and ‘80s the mix of rock and standards was often uneasy. VH1 did air a short-lived semi-revival, Name That Video in 2001, but it disappeared as quickly as it arrived.

Curt Alliaume, Executive Producer: Add a bunch of mini-games (including Melody Roulette, Bid-a-Note, the Money Tree, a decades-oriented tune-naming game, and others) with two people called from the studio audience to compete in each one. The three winners compete in a Golden Medley Showdown, with a top prize of $5,000 in cash and prizes per day. All tunes must be from the rock & roll era – no more trying to have a pair of twenty-eight-year-olds try to name a song from South Pacific. And my host is either Micky Dolenz or Jon Secada, depending on who’s available.

My Grade: B.

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Name That Tune is a copyrighted title of Ralph Edwards and/or Sandy Frank Productions. This page is in no way affiliated with or endorsed by Harry Salter Productions, Ralph Edwards/Stu Billett Productions, Sandy Frank Productions, their subsidiaries, affiliates, or successor organizations. No challenge to their ownership is implied. Photos originally appeared on eBay.