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TV Networks Bring Back Game Shows 'Battle Of The Network Stars,' 'The Gong Show'


There are things I know I should be paying attention to. And then...


JOE TESSITORE: As Bronson Pinchot and Nolan Gould will take it home...

CORNISH: ...There's this.


TESSITORE: Swimming relay on the line.

CORNISH: I'm at my desk, looking at a clip of "Battle Of The Network Stars" on ABC, which I pretty much remember being on in the '70s and '80s. Clearly it's been brought back to life.


CARI CHAMPION: It was a very tight finish. How were you able to pull it off?

BRONSON PINCHOT: I didn't care anymore about living (laughter).

CORNISH: The thing is, there are a bunch more of these game shows that have been revamped this summer. There is "Match Game," "$100,000 Pyramid" and even "The Gong Show." I don't know why they're back, but you know who will - Linda Holmes and Glen Weldon. They're on our Pop Culture Happy Hour team. So I'm going to walk up to historic studio 44 and find out from them what's going on with these retro game shows.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: (Laughter) Yeah, I don't know. I feel like the, like...



HOLMES: Audie Cornish.

WELDON: Hey, how are you?

HOLMES: Welcome.

WELDON: Thanks for coming.

HOLMES: It's always good to see you.

CORNISH: I have so many questions for you all. All right, so maybe you guys can help explain to me what I just witnessed because it looked like Kim Fields or, like, Tootie from "The Facts Of life" and Bronson Pinchot (laughter)...

HOLMES: From "Perfect Strangers."

CORNISH: ...From "Perfect Strangers" - like, some '80s and '90s TV staples were, like, in a swimming competition against young stars who I actually don't know very well.

HOLMES: The kid from "Modern Family" used to be the little kid, and now he's the awkward, tall teenager.

CORNISH: Sure, sure. But they had kayaks in a pool. And it was a competition show I didn't understand.

HOLMES: Oh, yeah, yeah.

CORNISH: So "Battle Of The Network Stars" used to be battle between networks.

HOLMES: Right, right. It used...

CORNISH: What was I watching?

HOLMES: It used to be CBS versus ABC versus NBC. But now that there's a million networks and they won't loan each other talent, they just do it as a general - most of them are retro people. So they'll do, like, TV kids versus TV sitcom stars. And mostly it's the old-timers on it.

CORNISH: Is that the default now? Like, with these other game shows, is there a lot of B, C and - I'll say it - D celebrities who are on these shows as contestants?

HOLMES: Oh, yeah.

WELDON: Yeah, a natural end for "Battle Of The Network Stars." Certainly you miss the old-school. You miss Howard Cosell, the sinewy, panther-like grace of Mr. Telly Savalas. You miss that.


WELDON: In its place, you get these C-list celebrities, new and old. But competition exposes character. So you could watch one of these C-list celebrities go onto "Fallon" and tell a canned anecdote, or you could see them try and fail to dunk Mr. Joey Lawrence.

HOLMES: Yeah, or you could see Joey Lawrence miss 25 consecutive shots in basketball. And it's, like, he's angry but only ironically, but he's also really angry.

CORNISH: But he's also really...


CORNISH: Yeah. You guys are making my goof-off-at-the-desk time sound really profound, and I really appreciate that (laughter).

HOLMES: Yeah. Glen can always explain to you how you can redeem your desk time by finding how it reveals character.

CORNISH: But what about all the young people who have no idea that Bronson Pinchot was on "Perfect Strangers," you know, like, in the early '90s or whatever? Like, what do the networks get out of putting out these people?

HOLMES: I don't think that young, cool people...


HOLMES: ...Are the target audience of the revival of "Battle Of The Network Stars."

CORNISH: Burn, burn.

HOLMES: I think that old, bored people like me are the target audience of "Battle Of The Network Stars." And I feel successfully targeted.

WELDON: And you know, it's people who are watching television in the summer. Who's that - families who are gathering around the television because it's - they're tired, and they're hot. And they've been vacationing with their family all day. And they want something that's a known quantity.

HOLMES: And also, it's social, right? These are things that you watch in groups or, at the very least, with the phony group that is Twitter because watching, let's say, "Battle Of The Network Stars" alone is kind of the drinking alone of television.


HOLMES: It might be a bad sign. So you want to be sharing your impressions of, did you catch that Lisa Whelchel doing the kayak...


HOLMES: ...Because it's really fun.

WELDON: And something like the return of "The Gong Show" - it's never meant to be good. It's meant to be spectacle. And spectacle must be shared.

CORNISH: All right. So before I have to go back downstairs to the newsroom, are there two shows each of you could recommend?

HOLMES: I think we both are appreciators of "Battle Of The Network Stars."

WELDON: Absolutely.

HOLMES: So that would be one for sure.

WELDON: And definitely "Match Game," which is now hosted by Alec Baldwin. It used to be hosted by Gene Rayburn back in the day, back in the '70s. It was all very shag carpeting and boozy, where celebrities try to match their answers to regular schmoes. That has a certain basic appeal because the idea behind the show is that they are relaxed, and they're not on in a way that they would be if they were on a talk show.


CORNISH: OK, two solid picks.


CORNISH: (Laughter) Linda Holmes of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, thanks so much.

HOLMES: Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: Glen Weldon, thank you.

WELDON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEN BICHEL'S "MATCH GAME THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.
Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.