In this series of articles, Jamie Dyer gives a British perspective on some vintage game shows from America. Many of these famous formats will have had UK interpretations, but the focus here is on the original US versions; most of which were never broadcast officially in the UK. This week, the spotlight turns to the classic word game Password.
Password premiered on CBS in 1961. It was hosted by Allen Ludden during its original run, which ended in 1967. The gameplay involved two teams, each with a celebrity and a contestant. One player gives a one-word clue, and their partner attempts to guess the secret word. The team that guesses the word with fewer clues wins points. The game continues with new words, and the team with the most points at the end wins the game. A quick-fire lightning round of several words followed for the winning conrestant.
The show aired in both daytime and nighttime versions before cancellation. It was revived by ABC in 1971, running until 1975. The format was then given a rework, and brought back as Password Plus, again with Ludden hosting.
I first discovered this show through a period of depression. I spent a lot of time watching TV then, especially the various classic American game shows that found their way to Amazon Prime via Buzzr. I had never heard of Password, as the UK versions had ceased years before I was born. Little did I know it would change my life forever.
It was actually Password Plus that I saw on Amazon, which blew me away. I loved the simple mechanics of the game, along with the puzzle element. It was clear this was a reinvented format though, as the whole vibe had an air of familiarity; Everybody seemed comfortable, and Ludden appeared like an elder statesman.
After being impressed by Password Plus, I went to YouTube to check out the original. My reaction; It didn’t have all the bells and whistles but it didn’t need it. This was a game of words, meanings and synonyms that didn’t require any flash. Seeing a plethora of talent from Jack Benny to Betty White, and more, alongside contestants, participating in this simple but fun show provided a lot of entertainment.
As I watched more of the show, host Allen Ludden became a TV friend to me. Through those grainy black-and-white images, he was speaking directly to me. I later discovered his backstory through an excellent biographical book, and it increased my respect and admiration for him. I have previously written at length about Allen’s career on Password.
The UK had a few versions of Password, all of which stuck rigidly to the original format. It hasn’t, however, had a prescience on our screen for around 40 years. After the success of the new US version, the show is to return to UK screens with Stephen Mangan set to host.
In this writer’s opinion, avoiding the loud nature of the modern US version should be their key priority. Clapping after every point is unnecessary, as is the need for words which lead to crude clues. The beauty of the original was its simplicity and the humour which is derived from miscommunication. It was quiet yet amusingly ecstatic when it needed to be. The US saw hosts after Ludden, but very few have reached the bar he set.