The Hollywood Squares

Last Update: November 21, 2002 -- various updates throughout.

Don’t miss your chance to get Peter Marshall’s book, Backstage With the Original Hollywood Square. It’s a great, fun read, with loads of photos, including 16 pages in color, and a CD of Squares zingers -- at $24.95, it’s really a bargain (trust me, I make books for a living!). Ask for it at your local bookstore, or order an autographed copy at Peter’s web site, Boysinger.com.

Latest Peter Marshall news: Peter will be appearing as the center square on Tom Bergeron’s version of Squares the week of December 9 as part of a Game Show Greats week. Other game show greats also appearing: Wink Martindale, Chuck Woolery, Bob Eubanks, Jim Lange, Brett Somers, and Charles Nelson Reilly; Rod Roddy will announce, and Carol Merrill will model prizes. Don’t miss the December 12 episode, where Peter hosts the show!

Also: E! is doing a two-hour special on Squares and has interviewed Peter for the show, air dates to come. And please note Peter’s cruise date has moved from August 16 to August 9, go to Swain World Cruises for more information.

As always, thanks to Backstage With the Original Hollywood Square coauthor Adrienne Armstrong for the updates!

Airing: Network: 11:30-12 noon Monday-Friday throughout the year, NBC. Syndicated: Weekly in first-run syndication throughout the year, twice a week in many markets.

Personnel: Peter Marshall, host; Kenny Williams, announcer. Regular panelists: Paul Lynde, George Gobel. Semiregular panelists (appeared between 20 and 50 percent of the year in the network version): Vincent Price, Karen Valentine, Charo, Sandy Duncan, Roddy McDowall, Joan Rivers. Frequent panelists (appeared at least six weeks): Marty Allen, Arte Johnson, Harvey Korman, Rich Little, McLean Stevenson, Florence Henderson, David Brenner, Robert Fuller, Jimmy Walker. A Merrill Heatter-Bob Quigley Production. Taped in Los Angeles.

Description: Tic-tac-toe with a bunch of wise-cracking celebs.

Game Play: Two players competed in a game of tic-tac-toe, with one celebrity represented in each of the nine squares of the board. The first contestant would choose a celebrity, who would give an answer to a question posed by Marshall. The contestant then had to determine if the star was giving the correct answer or was bluffing. If the contestant was correct in their judgment, they got the square; if not, it was awarded to their opponent (unless awarding that square gave them the game). Three in a row across, up and down or diagonally won the game and $200. Contestants played a best two-out-of-three match, with the winner going on to face a new opponent for a maximum of five matches. In the syndicated edition, each game was worth $250, with an extra $50 for every square awarded in the last uncompleted game. The winner of that single episode won a car as well.

The first full game of each daily game was the "Secret Square" game, where one celebrity was chosen as the Secret Square. If chosen, much horn fanfare would result, and the celebrity had to choose from a multiple choice question. If the contestant got the answer right, they won the Secret Square jackpot up to that point; if not, no one won the Secret Square that day and the game continued. A prize was added to the jackpot for every day the Secret Square wasn’t won or picked. Five-time champions retired undefeated with their $2000 winnings, a new car, and any additional Secret Square booty. In the syndicated edition, the first two (sometimes three) games were Secret Square games.

End Game: None in 1975.

Background: It took years for The Hollywood Squares to take shape. The initial idea came out of 1963’s failed Dennis James game People Will Talk. After its cancellation, Heatter-Quigley used the final few weeks of the run to introduce a new game with 15 celebrities, who gave yes or no answers to questions. In 1964, H-Q turned that into The Celebrity Game, with host Carl Reiner (better known for his work with Sid Caesar and producing The Dick Van Dyke Show). That version attracted a number of big-name stars (George Hamilton, Lee Marvin, Groucho Marx, Lauren Bacall, Robert Mitchum, Ronald Reagan, and Mel Brooks), but scant ratings in three prime-time runs on CBS. In 1965, H-Q had prepared a pilot for Squares with Bert Parks as host. CBS had the choice of Squares or Bob Stewart’s The Face Is Familiar, and with Fred Silverman choosing, they went with the latter option (of course, it’s hard to fault CBS, who had seen Squares’ precursor fail three times). NBC grabbed Hollywood Squares for its daytime lineup, with Peter Marshall, formerly of the comedy team Noonan and Marshall, as host.

Squares took awhile to hit its stride, despite the presence of regulars such as Charley Weaver, Wally Cox, Rose Marie, and Morey Amsterdam. Merrill Heatter recalled for author Jefferson Graham: "I was in New York one day on a business trip and tuned in to the show in my hotel room, and I couldn’t believe how boring the show was… The show seemed endless to me. I counted the questions. There were eleven in a half-hour. I watched the next day, and it was the same thing. Slow. I had never thought of it in terms of how many questions we were doing in a half-hour, only the humor and the fooling around with the stars. When I got back to California two days later, I made a simple announcement. I said from now on we’re getting twenty-two questions on in every half-hour, no matter how much editing we have to do afterwards. I really want to get thirty questions in, but I’ll settle on twenty-two to start with. The stars were hogging the camera. It didn’t matter whether there was a yes or no answer, a true or false, they were on for a minute and a half."

It must have worked – by the 1970-71 season, Squares was the number one daytime game show, and remained on top for three seasons. Cox’s death in late 1972 ended his run as a regular, as did Weaver’s death in 1974. George Gobel became a regular in 1972.

Square Won: Hollywood Squares continued to be NBC’s highest-rated game in the 1974-75 season, ranking third overall behind Match Game ’75 and The Price Is Right.

Squarely Put: "The areas of questioning designed for each celebrity and possible bluff answers are discussed with each celebrity in advance. In the course of their briefing, actual questions and answers may be given or discerned by the celebrities."

What the heck…? I’ll tell you what that means: that little statement, flashed in the end credits of Hollywood Squares, was H-Q’s way of admitting, however obliquely, that many of the stars weren’t that clever on their own; that their quips and actual answers were written for them in advance. It wasn’t rigging, however – the celebrity may have known the answer in advance, but the contestant ultimately had to agree or disagree. (And sometimes not even then: if a star were clearly struggling to come up with an answer to a question, Marshall would break in with "It appears [fill in celeb’s name here] doesn’t have a bluff for this question," and then offers the contestant a chance to answer it directly. Some would, most wouldn’t.) So the celebrity’s participation is minimal, they’re just there to be funny. (The exception to this rule was the Secret Square question, when the star was not supposed to bluff or goof around.)

Some celebrities would refuse the one-liners, such as Abby Dalton, a regular from October 1966 to November 1970. "They tried to give me things, but it just didn’t work out for me. My attitude is I’ll rise and fall on my own," she told Jeff Graham. On the other hand, Paul Lynde could ad-lib if necessary, but he preferred having his lines in advance. "People think because you’re funny, you ad-lib. I’m a script man. If they didn’t give me some clues, we’d all sit there and say ‘Gee, I just don’t know,’ and you can see how entertaining that would be."

Hollywood Zingers:

Quips like these resulted in at least two books and one LP full of zingers from The Hollywood Squares in the 1970s. (One would think the only place celebrities were naughty was Match Game, from retrospective descriptions.)

Hollywood Shuffle: With the ratings decreasing slightly, probably due to NBC’s overall decline and the show’s aging, NBC shifted Squares to 10:30 p.m. in October 1976 to do battle with The Price Is Right. That battle was conceded two years later when Squares was shifted again to 1 p.m. (4 p.m. in some markets), and then back to 12:30 in 1979, following the cancellation of a revived Jeopardy! Some daytime programmers never learn, I guess. In any case, Squares’ time was running down, despite a you-can’t-lose end game added in 1976 (after winning a match, the contestant picked any of the nine celebrities, whose envelope on their desk described a bonus prize). Paul Lynde’s departure in 1979 didn’t help matters. Squares was dropped from NBC’s lineup in June 1980, along with the second version of High Rollers and Chain Reaction, to make room for David Letterman’s 90-minute daytime extravaganza.

Las Vegas Squares: Heatter-Quigley promptly started a five-a-week syndicated run of Squares, hosted again by Marshall, but taping in Las Vegas (why, I couldn’t tell you). This precluded a return to NBC, who probably regretted dropping Squares from the first time they saw Letterman’s ratings. (Las Vegas Gambit, another H-Q property, was the partial replacement for Letterman instead.) For any number of reasons (I suspect Heatter-Quigley didn’t have enough advance warning to get solid clearances from individual stations for five-a-week syndication), Squares just didn’t take off as a syndicated property, and left the air altogether in 1981.

The Marshall Plan: Marshall used his Squares fame as a springboard to further his career, including the films Annie, Americathon, A Guide for the Married Woman (available on tape, but really, really not worth seeing), 79 Park Avenue, and 1968’s Maryjane, described by Leonard Maltin as a ‘60s version of Reefer Madness. (He also cowrote the movie with Dick Gautier and two other gentlemen. It’s not available on videotape.) He also hosted the short-lived Peter Marshall Variety Show in 1976, a weekly 90-minute Westinghouse program that was placed against Saturday Night Live in many markets. Post-Squares, he hosted Fantasy (NBC, 1982-83), All-Star Blitz (ABC, 1985), and Yahtzee (syndicated, 1988) and toured in the musical version of La Cage aux Folles. One bad career choice: an endorsement of the "Peter Marshall Celebrity Piggy" game, with a not-great photo on the box.

Marshall hosted a brief run of the Reel to Reel Movie Game on the new PAXnet network in 1998, which he apparently was not compensated for. This does not mean he was in a charitable mood; it means the production company went bust. The celebrities weren’t paid either, and the contestants did not receive the prices they were awarded on the shows. At this point, I have not heard any resolution to this problem.

Now married to his third wife, Peter is currently working on his first love, singing big band music. His autobiography, Backstage With the Original Hollywood Square (cowritten with Adrienne Armstrong, a production secretary on the original show), has just been released. He also has his own web page; a link is included below.

A Squares Deal: In 1983, Mark Goodson Productions created the hybrid Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour, with Mark Goodson producing the program and Jon Bauman ("Bowzer" from the rock group Sha Na Na) hosting the Squares segment. (The show was only capable of airing due to some deal-making between MGP, NBC, and Orion Television, which had acquired Squares’ rights from Filmways, who had purchased them from H-Q.) This version awarded $25 per square won in every game, with $100 for winning the first game, $200 for the second game, and so forth. There were no Secret Squares, and incorrect answers automatically awarded the square to the opponent all the time, even if it meant losing the game. (Thus a block wasn’t always the way to go.)

This new version had its problems. First was Bauman, who was hosting his first game show (unless The Pop ‘n’ Rocker Game counts) and trying to replace Marshall in people’s minds (hard to do, since NBC canceled the Marshall-hosted pseudo-game Fantasy to make room for MG-HS). Second, the 3 p.m. time slot was a tough one for games to succeed in against General Hospital and The Guiding Light (although it was sensible counterprogramming, and games such as Match Game and You Don’t Say! had scored in the late afternoons). Finally, Goodson refused to supply the stars with bluff answers, and stars could prattle on endlessly – exactly what Merrill Heatter (who wasn’t involved with this new version) had tried so desperately to avoid.

The Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour lasted nine months, until being replaced in 1984 by Santa Barbara. See Match Game ‘75/Match Game P.M. for more background information.

Hollywood Comeback: Orion Productions, which controlled the rights to Squares, revived the show in 1986, again without Merrill Heatter’s involvement (Bob Quigley had retired by this point). Hosted by John Davidson this time around, the show enjoyed a three-year run in five-a-week syndication. Regulars included Jm J. Bullock, Joan Rivers, and announcer Shadoe Stevens at various times. This version also allowed the stars plenty of time to goof around, even giving them props in their squares (Merrill Heatter: "It’s a circus"), but it was at least a decent revival. The first two games were worth $500 in this version and $1,000 for each win after that, with $100 per square earned in the last uncompleted game. A Secret Square win was a vacation. The end game was pinched from Split Second: with the help of a "good-luck celebrity" (whose job was basically to stand there), champions chose from five automobiles, and if the key they had started the car, they won it.

Hollywood's Talking: After briefly being threatened with a Planet Hollywood Squares run by Roseanne, King World Productions (distributor of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune) and Sony (producers of the same two shows) got together (after the requisite court battles) to produce a new version of Squares, which debuted in syndication (and on the CBS owned-and-operated stations) Monday, September 14, 1998. Tom Bergeron of Fox After Breakfast was selected as host, with Whoopi Goldberg co-producing and occupying the center square. Semi-regulars included Caroline Rhea, Gilbert Gottfried, Brad Garrett, and writer Bruce Vilanch. The main gamerules are exactly the same as the Peter Marshall edition (albeit with larger cash prizes). The end game has been shuffled around a few times; the current version has one celebrity and a contestant answering rapid-fire questions from Bergeron, and then being offered a chance at a double-or-nothing question, which could give the contestant a total win of $100,000. (My reaction: eh.)

The show will undergo a major overhaul this fall, its fifth season. With ratings sinking, Whoopi and King World could not reach agreement on a new contract, so she has departed, as has Vilanch and the Moffitt-Lee production company. Henry Winkler’s production company will take over this fall, with a more family-friendly slant (in other words, the jokes won’t be quite as lascivious), but Winkler is not slated to appear on the show. Tom Bergeron will be back, although he’s also one of the candidates to take over for Bryant Gumbel on CBS’s The Early Show -- if he gets the job, they will work around his new schedule. Caroline Rhea will also be gone; she has taken over Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show, which tapes in New York City.

Key Phrases:

  • "Or Paul Lynde… all in The Hollywood Squares. And here’s the master of The Hollywood Squares, Peter Marshall." The last portion of Kenny Williams’ opening, hyping the Secret Square and introducing the celebrities.
  • "The object for the players is to get three stars in a row, either across, up-and-down or diagonally. It is up to the player to determine whether a star is giving a correct answer or making one up; that's how they get the square. We play a two-out-of-three match and once a day we play the Secret Square game. We'll play that game as soon as we finish the one in progress." Peter Marshall’s blurry-fast description of the game, which by the end of the run was said faster than the tech guys could light up the board.

The Home Page: A veritable smorgasboard. Watkins-Strathmore (whoever they are) issued two editions in the late '60s. Ideal issued one with Peter Marshall on the box in 1974. Milton Bradley, jumping into the act late, issued a new version in 1980, and another one to coincide with the John Davidson revival in 1986. According to Matt Ottinger, the current version, courtesy of Parker Brothers, is actually the best of the bunch. There were also a couple of GameTek versions as well.

Hollywood Squares also had a couple of other neat products as well. Two books, Zingers from The Hollywood Squares and More Zingers from The Hollywood Squares were issued in 1974 and 1978, respectively, with lots of one-liners. A similarly-titled record album of jokes came out in 1974 as well. Moreover, you can see the original set on the back cover of The Tubes’ Remote Control LP from 1979. Good copies will also include an insert with the whole band in one square.

Reruns: They’re back, and they’re great! Reruns will air starting Monday, August 5 at 2:30 p.m. daily and 8 to 10 p.m. Tuesday nights (all times Eastern), plus 2:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m., and 3:30 a.m. on weekends, with the Bergeron edition possibly popping up as well. So far, we have seen syndicated episodes from throughout the 1970s, and nighttime network reruns from 1968 (Walter Matthau! Sally Field!). Lots of fun; do watch.

The Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour still exists, but is unlikely to ever rerun, due to the cross-ownership between Mark Goodson/All-American Productions and King World (which now owns the rights to Squares). The Davidson version still lurks around, and reran on the USA cable network from 1989 to 1993.

Survival: As I noted above, the current version’s ratings have dropped in the last year or so. The best way to keep the show around is to start watching; check your local listings for time and channel.

Curt Alliaume, Executive Producer: Aside from letting the shows straddle games and playing two-out-of-three matches like the daytime NBC version did (and dumping the current end game), there’s nothing I can do to improve this show. My wife, who is really not a fan of the genre, watches it frequently. Even when I’m not around.

My Grade: A-.

Read More About It:

  • Chris Lambert’s Game $how Page for the rules of the game.
  • The Official Hollywood Squares Site is up and running -- consult it for clips, bios, who’s on this week, and what channel it’s on in your area.
  • Dixon Hayes’ Classic Hollywood Squares Page is a terrific representation of the show. Photos and Real Audio files galore from the show’s biggest fan.
  • Matt Ottinger’s Game Show Home Game Home Page includes a separate page on Hollywood Squares home games, as well as information on Peter Marshall’s recording career. Matt’s Game Show Compendium was also vital in finding some of the links below, and he has even more.
  • Peter Marshall’s Boysinger.com is the master’s own way of letting the world know what he’s up to. He’s got a big-band album currently available on Varese Sarabande Records. Peter also is hosting a show on Music of Your Life (check local radio listings, or listen on line), will be touring with Rose Marie and Tom Poston in Old Faces of 2002, and will be crusing to Alaska in the summer of 2003, courtesy of Swain World Cruises. Adrienne Armstrong, who cowrote Backstage With the Original Hollywood Square with Peter, wrote in to note fans are invited to join Peter and his wife, Laurie, on the cruise -- there will be autograph sessions and "Shipboard Squares" games. Sounds like a fun time!
  • Guy Waguespack’s Squares Page has a bunch of snappy comebacks from the current show.
  • Jump the Shark has a Hollywood Squares page that proves they’re willing to put any comments on the page, unedited. I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other, but I’ve never read so many uninformed, uneducated, and wrong comments in my life. (The show jumped the shark when Nipsey Russell appeared in the center square???)
  • Tim Connolly’s Game Show Lair reviews all three versions of the show.
  • Joe Florenski’s Paul Lynde Page has a pile of background on the show’s center square.

Sound + Vision:

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The Hollywood Squares is a copyrighted title of King World Productions. This page is in no way affiliated with or endorsed by Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley Productions, Filmways Productions, MGM Television, King World Productions, Columbia/TriStar Television, One Ho Productions, Moffitt-Lee Productions, CBS, their subsidiaries, affiliates, or successor organizations. (Whew!) No challenge to their ownership is implied. The Hollywood Squares home game copyright 1974 by Ideal Toy Company. Photos originally appeared on eBay. Color full set photo courtesy of Matt Ottinger.