The Hollywood Squares was an American television comedy and game show in which two contestants play tic-tac-toe to win money (cash) and prizes. The "board" for the game is actually a 3 × 3 vertical stack of open-faced cubes, each occupied by an entertainer (or "star") seated at a desk and facing the contestants. The stars are asked questions and the contestants judge the veracity of their answers in order to win the game.
Although The Hollywood Squares was a legitimate game show, the game largely acted as the background for the show's comedy. The show was "scripted" in the sense that the panel of celebrities knew the questions in advance and were provided with answers and suggestions for bluffs and jokes (Zingers). Typically, a star's first answer to a question was a humorous one. This was then followed by the true answer or bluff. It had to be stressed that this did not mean the actual gameplay was scripted or predetermined, as the onus was still on the contestant to determine whether or not the provided answer to a question was the correct one.
Two contestants, a woman playing Os (noughts) as "Miss Circle" and the man playing Xs (crosses) "Mister X", took turns picking a star and following the traditional tic-tac-toe strategies for which square to select. The star was asked a question and gave an answer. The contestant had the choice of agreeing with the celebrity or disagreeing if they thought the star was bluffing. If the contestant was right, he or she got the square; if the contestant was wrong, the other contestant got the square, unless that would cause the opponent to get three in a row. In that case, the opponent had to win the square on his or her own. A player also won by getting five of his or her symbols "X" or "O" on the game board (thus preventing "cat's games" or draws); this was called a "five-square win."
Stars weren't required to give a correct answer even if they knew the answer to the question.
On rare occasions, a star would not know the correct answer to a question or be unable to come up with a decent bluff. In such instances, the contestant would be offered the question. If the contestant answered correctly, he or she got the square; if not, their opponent got the square unless it would give the other contestant three in a row or a "five-square win." Usually the contestant passed, in which case they incurred no penalty, and the same star was asked another question.
Peter Marshall's explanation of the rules:
The object for the players is to get three stars in a row, either across, up-and-down or diagonally; it is up to them to figure out if a star is giving a correct answer or making one up; that's how they get the squares.
Announcer Kenny Williams introduced Marshall as "the Master of The Hollywood Squares;" some fans have referred to the show's hosts as "Square-Masters" since then.
Over the years that Hollywood Squares has aired, the host/contestant area has appeared the same. Mr. X's podium was on the left, Ms. O's podium was on the right and the host's podium was right between both contestant podiums. The Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour featured a miniature tic-tac-toe board on co-host Jon Bauman's podium. Each time an X or an O won a square, the mini board would light up the won square with an X or an O. On John Davidson's version of the show, John's podium showed a Tic-Tac-Toe board with five X's and four O's, along with the Hollywood Squares logo. On Bergeron's version, the contestants usually sat at their respective desks, but this changed at the start of the 2002-2003 season, when the show altered the format and completely revamped the set. For that version's final two seasons, contestants stood behind their podiums.
CBS shot a second pilot hosted by Sandy Baron, but chose not to pick up the program with either host. A year later, NBC acquired the rights to the show and chose Peter Marshall as host, a job he held for fifteen years until 1981. During most of its daytime run, NBC broadcast Squares at 11:30 a.m. Eastern/10:30 a.m. Central time, where it dominated the ratings until 1976, when it moved to the first of a succession of different time slots.
The show also ran at night, first on NBC from January 12 to September 13, 1968, as a mid-season replacement for the short-lived sitcom Accidental Family, then as a nighttime syndicated entry running from November 1, 1971 to September 11, 1981. The latter version ran once a week at first, then twice a week and finally expanded to a five-day-per-week strip in its final season.
Paul Lynde, in addition to his recurring role as "Uncle Arthur (Winsome)" on Bewitched, had his greatest fame as the coveted "center square" throughout most of the original show's run. On October 14, 1968, after two years on the show, Lynde became the regular center square. Lynde was the only panelist on the show to win two daytime Emmy Awards, in 1974 and 1978 . Other regulars and semi-regulars over the years included Nanette Fabray, Kaye Ballard, John Davidson, Wally Cox, Cliff Arquette ("Charley Weaver"), Morey Amsterdam, Florence Henderson, Marty Allen, Wayland Flowers, George Gobel, Vincent Price, Rose Marie, Charo, Sandy Duncan, Carol Wayne, Jonathan Winters, Karen Valentine, Roddy McDowall and Joan Rivers. Lynde left the series after taping the August 20-24, 1979, week of shows, but returned when the series relocated to Las Vegas in the 1980-1981 season.
Some stars would frequently be asked questions pertaining to a certain topic or category. For instance, Cliff Arquette (Charley Weaver), a history buff, would often get questions on American history and would almost always give a correct answer. Rich Little would almost always get questions about other celebrities, which gave him an opportunity to do an impression of that individual. Roddy McDowall would usually give correct answers about the plays of Shakespeare. Rose Marie often got questions on dating and relationships. Lynde would always get a loaded question just so he could come up with an initial hilarious response. Some, such as Robert Fuller (then on NBC's Emergency!) and Square-turned-Master John Davidson, were excellent bluffers. Sanford and Son co-star Demond Wilson frequently guested on the panel, and as a running gag, Marshall would ask an innocent question that "coincidentally" referred to Black stereotypes. Wilson always responded by walking off the show in mock anger.
The daytime series was played as a best 2-out-of-3 match between a returning champion and an opponent with each individual game worth $200 and a match worth $400; a five-match champion retired with $2,000 and a new car. During the final years of the NBC run (1977-1980), players who won five matches earned $10,000 and two new cars, a total of over $25,000. Early in the first season, from October 17, 1966 to February 10, 1967, each game awarded $100 with the winner of the match earning a $300 bonus for a total of $500. Beginning in 1976, an "endgame" of sorts was added to the show, with the champion simply selecting a star, each of whom held an envelope with a prize concealed within that features the top prize being $5,000.
Both the (twice-)weekly syndicated and NBC primetime versions featured the same two contestants playing for the entire half-hour with each completed game worth $300 (NBC primetime) or $250 (syndicated). If time ran out with a game still in progress (interrupted by what the host called the "tacky buzzer," a loud horn), each X or O on the board at that point was worth an additional $50 to the players, with each player guaranteed at least $100 in total winnings. The player with the most money at the end of the show won a bonus prize, which on the (twice-)weekly syndicated series was usually a new car. On the daily syndicated series, each game awarded its victor a prize and each winner advanced in a $100,000 tournament.
In the syndicated version, initially the first two games were Secret Square games; if no one claimed the prize in the first round, it would carry over to the second round. Beginning in 1973, the first three games would have a Secret Square, with prizes changing each game. On this version, a Secret Square package was usually worth between $2,000 and $7,000. The Secret Square was axed in 1980 when the syndicated show expanded to 5 days a week.
The daytime show aired its 3536th and last episode on June 20, 1980. Squares ran for one more year in syndication; this last year of shows was taped at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
NBC Daytime (Monday-Friday)
NBC Nighttime (Friday Night)
Marshall wrote about his experiences on the show in the 2002 book Backstage With The Original Hollywood Square (ISBN 1-55853-980-8). He would make high salary demands whenever his contract was up for renewal hoping to be fired as a consequence. Much to his surprise (or dismay), his demands were always met.
The rules of the game reverted to the original rules from the Marshall era; most notably in that games could not be won due to an opponent's error. For the first season, each game was worth $500 with a bonus of $100 per square if time ran out in the middle of a game in progress. Beginning in season two, the third and subsequent games were worth $1,000 with $200 given for each square claimed when time ran out. The second game on every show was a "Secret Square" game, mostly played for a trip.
Otherwise, the Davidson series was produced at the Hollywood Center Studios, except for a very short time the program was taped at the NBC Burbank Studios (the show's home base for all but the final syndicated year of the Marshall era). The show moved to Universal Studios Hollywood for its final season.
This version of Squares became noted for gimmickry a la I've Got A Secret, such as musical questions (wherein Davidson, a former recording artist, sang songs for the celebrity to finish), questions involving props in a panelist's square or presented as skits involving outside actors, "surprise" special guests and so on. One week, the entire group of Solid Gold Dancers managed to squeeze into a single square; other times, the lower left square would turn into a rectangle to accommodate extra stars or props, such as kitchens for Wolfgang Puck, Joe Carcione or Justin Wilson. Richard Simmons once led the audience in exercise routines. Ray Combs once led the audience in singing a rendition of the theme to The Brady Bunch. TV alien puppet ALF, supposedly on a dare from host Davidson, actually guest hosted one episode. And on a memorable April Fool's Day episode in 1987, the two contestants were actually actors hired by the producers to play a joke on the host and panel. (The climax of this gag, featuring the female "contestant" shoving the male off of the set's raised contestant desks are the popular staple of game show blooper specials, and inspired another prank on the later version, see below.) Although such gimmicks made the show a popular favorite early on, its momentum could not be maintained long term, and it folded after just three years. The final episode ended with the cast and crew singing "Happy Trails to You!", then disappearing off the set while soundbites from the series played.
Stevens, announcer for the Davidson version, revived his voice-over role for most of the Bergeron run (though he was not featured as a panelist) with Jeffrey Tambor taking over for the 2002-03 season, followed by John Moschitta for the final season. It was taped in Studio 33 at CBS Television City.
For the first several weeks of the 1998-1999 season, first and second games were worth $500, the third game was worth $1,000 and fourth and subsequent games were worth $2,000. If time ran out during a game, $250 was awarded for each square captured.
These figures were doubled shortly after and would remain at the same value for most of the series.
In the last season, the "two-out-of-three match" format from the Marshall daytime version returned. Each game was worth $1,000 and the first player to win two games played the bonus round. The previous season's scoring format was used during theme weeks where certain groups of people (lifeguards, celebrity lookalikes) played.
The first season also saw up to two "Secret Square" games. The first one was in its customary position as the second game played on each episode, with its prize package carrying over to the third game if it was not won. From the second season onwards, the "Secret Square" reverted to its old Marshall-era format: played as the second game on each show worth an accruing prize package (Bergeron referred to it as "The Secret Square Stash"). In the last season, the "Secret Square" was played in the second game of each match, with a different prize offered each time.
For the first season, this version had no returning champions; two new contestants played on each show. Beginning with the second season, the show began having returning champs, who were allowed to remain for a maximum of five days; it was also during this season that the show began having an annual Tournament of Champions each May, with the season's five-time champs returning to compete for additional cash and prizes.
No contestant ever advanced to a fifth prize. Two contestants made it to the fourth level, but failed to win the $50,000 bonus. Three contestants swept all nine stars during this version of the bonus round, guaranteeing them the grand prize.
In the final season, champions always had nine keys to work with each time they played the bonus round, regardless of the prior number of appearances, and the amount for each correct answer went back to $500. The prize structure was also changed (but somewhat cheaper):
Only one person reached the fifth prize in the final season, however they failed to win the trip.
This era of Squares was notable for its reliance on "theme weeks." One of the most well-known was a December 9-13, 2002 "Game Show Week" which featured Peter Marshall in the Center Square, marking the first time he had appeared on any version of the program since 1981 (although in 1993 and 1994 he appeared as host of a parody version in several episodes of the sketch comedy program In Living Color). On the Thursday show of that week, Marshall and Bergeron traded places, with Bergeron in the center square and Marshall hosting. Marshall had refused to appear on the Whoopi Goldberg-produced shows as he disliked them immensely, feeling they were too crude in tone. However, the show never regained the popularity it enjoyed after Goldberg's departure, and the series ended on June 4, 2004 due to declining ratings. Reruns from that season ended on September 10, 2004 in syndication, but they later moved to GSN.
Two episodes of this version had been noted in blooper specials. The first episode came in the show's second season, where the first game of the show took the entire episode to complete, because of the contestants' inability to correctly agree or disagree with panelist Gilbert Gottfried's answers (which he would follow by yelling "YOU FOOL!" at the contestants) six times in a row, as he was the only remaining panelist and it would have resulted in a five-square win for either contestant. The second episode included the April Fools' prank played on Tom Bergeron in the show's fifth season, featuring E. E. Bell (best known as Bob Rooney on Married...with Children) as an obnoxious contestant who kept pushing his overly emotional opponent until she broke down in tears, in addition to testing Bergeron's patience.
The second and most famous theme was composed by William Loose: "Bob & Merrill's Theme", named for Bob Quigley and Merrill Heatter, the show's creators and original co-executive producers. The theme was used from 1969 to 1979, but was edited in later broadcasts, cutting out a piccolo solo- a very popular part of the song itself, one that is highly sought after by Hollywood Squares collectors and enthusiasts. This version of the theme song (minus the piccolo) is available on The Best of TV Quiz and Game Show Themes; however, the track on the CD was edited even further by removing more of the organ solo, although the first twelve bars of the theme are repeated near the beginning of the track to make up for the shortened length.
A third theme song was used from 1979 to 1981. Stan Worth recorded a "disco-fied" version of "Bob & Merrill's Theme" and renamed it as "The Hollywood Bowl." Three versions of "The Hollywood Bowl" were created for the show--one for the opening music, one for the secret square prize descriptions and one for the main theme.
The theme to The Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour was composed by Edd Kalehoff for Score Productions. Even as the show ended its run in 1984, the theme is still heard as a car prize cue on The Price is Right and was used for similar purposes on the late-'80s revival of Card Sharks. The theme to the 1986-1989 edition and its cues were composed by Stormy Sacks. The 1998-2004 edition had two themes. The first theme was composed by Jennifer May Mauldaur & Paul David Weinberg, performed by Whoopi Goldberg and was used from 1998 to 2002. The second theme was a re-recording of the Teena Marie song "Square Biz", originally written in 1981, and was used from 2002 to 2004.
GameTek released a version of Hollywood Squares in 1988 for MS-DOS, Commodore 64 and Apple II computers and later for the NES. In 1999, Tiger Electronics released an electronic LCD handheld game based on the Bergeron version. In 2002, the official Hollywood Squares website had an online version of the show using the celebrities that were on that week.