The 16 Greatest Old And Obscure Game Shows

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Game shows are like reality TV, but more interesting and less morally bankrupt (usually). Many game shows have stood the test of time, like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. Even if you aren’t watching the Game Show Network it’s interesting that one can almost always find a game show on television. However, all game shows are not alike—not every host is a right wing buffoon, and not every show has a lofty legacy. Many game shows have fallen through the cracks over the years, and they deserve their moment of recognition. Here are 16 of the best, most unusual and obscure game shows in television history.

16. Secrets of the Cryptkeeper’s Haunted House

When you think of Tales from the Crypt and the Cryptkeeper, a lot of bad puns probably come to ming. You likely don’t think about a Saturday morning game show for kids. And yet, here we are. This is super weird.

15. Nick Arcade

Nickelodeon had about a million game shows for children, but most of them involved a lot of slime, other messy stuff, and Marc Summers. Nick Arcade was more short-lived, and a bit different. There was a small trivia component (akin to many game shows), but there was also a “watching people play video games” portion, which… could be somewhat dull (as you might imagine). But it’s the final round of this game that is most notable, and, as an adult looking back, most ridiculous. Kids were asked to basically “be in” a video game, and ninety percent of the time they couldn’t figure out the logistics. Nobody could blame them.

14. Wanna Bet

This show was basically like America’s Got Talent, with more wagering and less self-aggrandizement. A person would claim they could perform a stunt, and celebrities would wager an amount of money on whether or not they thought the person could do it. It’s a pretty solid premise, but I imagine they may have struggled to get people to agree to do it. Tom Green appeared on three of the six episodes that aired. What more needs to be said?

13. You Don’t Know Jack

The You Don’t Know Jack series of computer and video games are very popular, so it’s no surprise that an attempt was made to turn them into a real life game show. They even got Paul Reubens to host. But even with this somewhat easily-recognizable star, the show only lasted six episodes.

12. Pitfall

In and of itself, Pitfall is only slightly amusing and interesting, and only then in the bonus round, which is featured in this clip. What makes this worthwhile is the afro’d, mustachioed host, a gentleman named Alex Trebek. Yep, back in the early 80’s, Trebek was hosting this Canadian production, which was syndicated in America. And apparently Trebek was never paid for his hosting duties! Nobody crosses Alex Trebek and lives to tell the tale.

11. Wait ‘Til You Have Kids

Parenting is very complicated, and often the general consensus is that there is no, one “right” way to handle things. However, Wait ‘Til You Have Kids sent a very different message, and they were willing to put up fabulous prizes for the best parents out there (according to the show). Three couples would be asked a question about parenting, and then had to choose from a multiple choice list of responses for the situation. You were deemed “right” if a “parenting expert” agreed with you. In the final round, the winning couple had to decide whether or not different scenarios were okay for a child at a certain stage of development. Wikipedia wants you to believe that maybe the expertise of the parenting experts involved was a bit dubious. This is truly shocking—who’d have thought that a game show seeking to tell you whether or not you were a capable parent might not be entirely up to snuff?

10. The Magnificent Marble Machine

A giant pinball machine! That’s all you need to know.

9. Late Night Liars

Every once in a while we get a game show that asks contestants to decide whether or not someone else is lying or telling the truth. What Late Night Liars presupposes is this: what if the potential liars are puppets? Brought to us, in part, by the Jim Henson Company’s “Henson Alternative” wing (from whence their more “adult” puppets come), this show took a shot at being bawdy and funny in a game show format. It more or less failed, unless you like broad jokes delivered by puppets with names like William A. Mummy.

8. Identity

Give Identity credit—it had a fairly unique idea for a game show. Contestants would have to match 12 strangers with 12 facts they were given. Some of them would be easy. Some of them would be very difficult, obviously, because if you matched them all (using the clues that were given) you got half a million dollars. And based on this clip, there was a lot of padding. However, Penn Jillette has never seemed more jovial, and the show trotted out a bunch of different minor celebrities to be the strangers— a lot of former models and athletes and such. Also, that guy who married Britney Spears who isn’t Kevin Federline.

7. How’s Your Mother-In-Law?

For a guy who was assassinating people for the CIA, Chuck Barris had a lot of time to come up with subversive game shows. Most people have probably heard of The Gong Show, and maybe The $1.98 Beauty Show, but few are likely to remember How’s Your Mother-In-Law? Folks like George Carlin and Richard Dawson would appear as “defense attorneys” for the competing mothers-in-laws, and then at the end a jury of unmarried men and women would choose which mother-in-law they’d want to have. The winner got a hundred bucks. This may not have been the most serious game show.

6. Downfall

Game shows where stuff gets destroyed come around every now and then, but how many of them had the “largest conveyor belt ever seen on TV?” Or pro wrestling’s Chris Jericho as a host? Only Downfall. The show took place atop a 10-story building, and the prizes move down a conveyor belt toward the edge of the building. If you didn’t answer your questions quickly enough, prizes would start plummeting down. If they lost the game, the contestant themselves would also be dropped off the building, although Wikipedia assures us that they were wearing safety harnesses that kept them from hitting the ground. Sorry, snuff film fans. Maybe that’s why this show ended up airing for less than a month in the summer of 2010.

5. Don Adams’ Screen Test

To one generation, Don Adam is the star of Get Smart. To another, younger generation, he’s the voice of Inspector Gadget. To an even younger generation, he probably isn’t known at all. And then there’s a handful of us who remember him from the game show Don Adams’ Screen Test. In this show, two people would participate in the recreation of famous movie scenes, with the help of Adams and guest stars. The grand prize was a trip to Hollywood to partake in an actual screen test. Note: This is a terrible prize. Somehow, this show still managed to last 24 episodes.

4. Debt

Debt is kind of a bummer. And in this modern era of ours, it has become more and more of a problem. Now, imagine a game show that was basically any other game show, except that every contestant was playing to get out of debt. Enter the aptly-named Debt. Hosted by long-time game show veteran Wink Martindale, the Lifetime Network managed to get two seasons out of this. It had your basic game show format where contestants answered various questions, except with the whole debt thing looming over the proceedings. Everybody started the game with a negative score reflecting their debt. Also, pretty much everybody’s debt seemed to come from weddings. If nothing else, Debt was a valuable service announcement about the perils of marriage.

3. The Chamber

It came down to a battle between The Chamber and The Chair for this list. The Chair had John McEnroe as a host, but The Chamber had the more ridiculous premise, and also only lasted three episodes. In The Chamber a contestant had to answer trivia questions while facing the pressures of said chamber. There was a hot one and a cold one, and I believe there was talk of other chambers, but they were never seen.

Both chambers could perform various tasks, like shooting out bursts of wind and simulating earthquakes. The point was to distract and anguish the contestant, and it was possible for them to be eliminated if their stress quotient entered the “Danger Zone” for too long. Or, they could yell “Stop the chamber!” Nobody ever did that, which must have bummed out the folks who created the show.

2. Caesars Challenge

In a lot of ways, Caesars Challenge was a typical game show. It had a few different levels and various mental puzzles for contestants to play. However, it was shot at the Caesars Palace Las Vegas casino and so host Ahmad Rashad’s assistant was a dude dressed like a gladiator. It only lasted about half a year, but it is still arguably the most popular game show set in a casino ever.

1.Throut and Neck

Was this whole article just an excuse to write about Throut and Neck? Maybe. But it’s worth it. It’s difficult to find information about the show online, as any search will result in an immense amount of information about throats and necks, respectively. This was a short-lived game show that aired on GSN in 1999. The titular characters were impish digital monsters that people could control by calling in and playing the games with their phone’s touchpad. That’s right, this was a game show where people watched folks at home fumble with their phones to try and make Throut and Neck complete whatever silly game they were involved in.

The human host was Rebecca Grant, whose primary role was that of the eye candy, as she trotted about in little outfits week in and week out. There was a lot of joking—often of a sophomoric variety—and chicanery and such. It was a really low-key affair that was presumably watched mostly by stoned teenaged boys, which is, actually, not an insignificant market at all.

Chris Morgan is an Internet gadabout who writes on a variety of topics and in a variety of mediums. If he had to select one thing to promote, however, it would be his ’90s blog/podcast, Existential Parachute Pants can also follow him on “Twitter”