Game show days a dizzying maze

Column by Nick Clooney

There has been an odd boomlet of interest in recent weeks in an ancient project from one of my previous incarnations. A television game show. We dealt with this once before, but, apparently, once is not enough.

''My mother tells me you were the host of a game show back in the 1960s. Is that true? What was it called? Were you more like Barker or Trebek?'' - Paul Insko, Springfield, Ohio.

''Some channel on cable ... had a game show with people running around and the host yelling and he looked a lot like a younger version of you. Was it?'' - A.N. Coopers, Cincinnati.

''(Your game show) was my number one favorite growing up.... Where are they? They have to be somewhere. I do have an audio tape, (but are there) pictures or posters I could buy?'' - Gary Seiter, Flushing, New York.

Yes, I was the host of a game show on ABC-TV. It was called ''The Money Maze.'' It seems at least two lifetimes ago, but it really began in 1974 and ended in 1975.

There were many circumstances that led to my being offered the job, but all of it stemmed from the volatile nature of television in Cincinnati at that time.

Broadcasting here was in flux. Ruth Lyons, queen of the Midwestern electronic roost, had retired in 1967. The talk-variety format in this area seemed up for grabs. There were many of us ready to attempt the grabbing. Certainly, the most successful and best-known of those still in the arena were Paul Dixon and Bob Braun. Both did Herculean work keeping the format alive in Cincinnati when it had died everywhere else.

Many others here jumped into the fray. Dennis Wholey at Channel 12, Len Mink had a music show in prime time on Channel 9, Marian Spelman and Bill Nimmo hosted ''Be Our Guest,'' John Wade on Channel 9, Vivienne Della Chiesa with the ''Afternoon'' show on Channel 5, and there were others. I was in that mix, too, with shows on a couple of stations.

In 1973, two very nice men from New York had an idea for a show they called ''Oo-La-La'' and they asked me to host it. Dutifully, Nina, the talk show producer Jim Welch and I went to New York to do a pilot. We had a nice day or two in Gotham, then an exciting week awaiting the verdict. The pilot was turned down and we went back to the real world. At least, as real as TV ever allows life to be.

The next summer, in 1974, I was invited to host another pilot. The program's owner was Daphne Productions, Dick Cavett, president. The man who dressed up the idea was the show's producer, Don Lipps.

It was quite an idea. A huge maze was constructed covering an entire studio at ABC-TV in New York. There would be a little question and answer game between two couples. The winning couple would ''go to the maze.'' That was when, it was hoped, the fun would begin.

One person, usually the wife, would stand in a sort of crow's nest overlooking the life-size maze. The spouse would then run through the maze, directed by the mate on high. They were trying to reach five stanchions and push a button to make each light up. There were four ''zeros'' and a ''one.'' If all were lighted, the couple won $10,000 in cash. Later, the amount went to $20,000, as I recall.

The show ''tested'' well and was expected to be a hit, so it was given a difficult time period - 4 p.m. Local stations were just beginning to fight to take that time away from their networks so they could put on their own lucrative local or syndicated shows. Networks were fighting back with shows they thought the local stations couldn't afford to pre-empt.

The networks were wrong. More than half the local stations did not broadcast ''Money Maze.'' In spite of that, the program did well on the stations that did carry it and ABC renewed it for three 13-week ''cycles.''

Not everyone approved. A New York critic moaned, ''I have now seen the beginning of the end of Western civilization. Grown people running around like rats in a maze, just to collect money. Don't watch "Money Maze' without a stiff drink in your hand.''

The program premiered Christmas week 1974. Network people told us the ratings were marginal, but acceptable. However, the maze was too big. It required two days to put up and a full day to take down. With one day for taping, that tied up the studio for a week. Still, truth be told, had the ratings been through the roof, they would have found room for the program. They didn't.

That was my foray into game shows. I was - and am - grateful for the chance, but once was enough. The next summer I was offered another and turned it down.

Games are fun. Life is better.

Freelance columnist Nick Clooney writes for The Post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Publication date: 07-22-98

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