7 strange, short-lived game shows of the 1980s

Are you up for a round of Hit Man or Dream House?

Image: The Everett Collection

Once upon a time, game shows were simple affairs. A few everyday people sat at a desk and answered trivia questions, posed to them by a sharp-dressed host in a suit. That's why they were called quiz shows in the good old days of the 1950s. Well, not all "good," considering several quiz shows were embroiled in a rigging scandal that nearly killed off the entire genre.

But that infamous quiz show scandal led to game shows getting creative, conceptual and a little more lighthearted. Giant playing cards, big boards dotted with light bulbs — the props and sets became playful. 

In the 1980s, game shows suddenly became more physical. People doodled on Win, Lose or Draw. Kids slithered through giant PB&J sandwiches on Double Dare. Contestants smashed buttons on Press Your Luck. The Price Is Right introduced Plinko.

The following game shows, largely forgotten, fall into this category. Quirky concepts and unlikely hosts led to some silly fun. Let's take a deeper look.

1. Animal Crack-Ups



Alan Thicke is a jack of all trades when it comes to television. He starred on the sitcom Growing Pains, hosted his own late-night show called Thicke of the Night, wrote and sang the theme song to Diff'rent Strokes… and played emcee on Animal Crack-Ups. This show was adapted from a Japanese series called Wakuwaku Dōbutsu Land, so right there you know it's going to be somewhat surreal. On Crack-Ups, after Thicke sang his theme about the majesty and soul of animals, celebrities like Betty White and Christina Applegate would watch video clips of exotic animals and answer questions about the species. Correct answers earned them a stuffed animal. Oh, and there was a hedgehog puppet called Reggie the Heggie.

Image: ABC Productions

2. Child's Play



Certainly not to be confused with the horror film, Child's Play pitted two adults against each other as they tried to "translate" just what the heck little kids are talking about. For example, veteran host Bill Cullen would show a clip of two youngsters explaining the concept of bravery. The contestants would then have to guess "Brave," sort of like Password. Primary colored daisies decorated the set, as if Romper Room had been turned into a nightclub.

Image: Mark Goodson Productions

3. Dream House



Beige carpeting, open beams and faux stone walls gave this show the vibe of an Olive Garden waiting area or modern church. Host Bob Eubanks welcomed two couples who competed for the chance to win a four-bedroom Tudor home built by Ryland Homes. It was worth more than… drum roll… $100,000! Ah, real estate prices of the early '80s. Anyway, winners would leave each episode with one complete room — a kitchen, bedroom or living room set — so if they didn't get the complete house, at least there was a bit of an upgrade. We certainly enjoy the promotional photo, seen up top, which depicts Eubanks as a Bob Vila-like handyman.

Image: Group W Productions / Lorimar Television

4. Hit Man



Sometimes, game shows can be too complicated for their own good. Take Hit Man. As you might pick up from its font and set design, the show tried to ride the video game craze of early 1980s. "Hit Man" was essentially a knock-off of Pac-Man. Though all this has little to do with the gameplay. "This is a quiz show," host Peter Tomarken announced at the start. "But before the questions start, you will hear all the answers." Contestants would then have to watch short films about, say, the making of The Wizard of Oz or the history of jeans. In a sense, it was far more like school than an arcade.

Image: Metromedia Video Productions

5. Body Language



Charades had been around for a long time, and there's nothing particularly weird about building a show around the popular parlor game. However, the origin of this series is rather fascinating. Body Language ("The Party Pantomime Word Game") was adapted from a Milton Bradley board game that featured Lucille Ball on the box, developed by Dr. Cody Sweet, an expert in non-verbal communication.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. Starcade



More arcade fun! At least with Starcade, unlike Hit Man, hit video games were the centerpiece. But the pilot is almost too surreal to believe. U.S. Olympic hockey player Mike Eruzione, part of the "Miracle on Ice," was the host. Young joystick jockeys would then compete on arcade cabinets — Defender, Pac Man and whatnot — for the right to take on… Larry Wilcox of CHiPs? In a game of Donkey Kong? Sure, why not? Alex Trebek later took over, which makes more sense. Strange as it was, this is perhaps technically the first eSports series.

Image: Turner Program Services

7. Trivia Trap



The busy Bob Eubanks hosted this series that pitted "Juniors" against "Seniors." The strangeness came in how they defined the two groups. "Juniors" were anyone under 30. "Seniors" were anyone over 30. Ouch. 

Image: FremantleMedia

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Iluvfeet 8 months ago
There's also The $50,000 Pyramid(1981),The $100,000 Name That Tune(1984-85),The(New)$25,000 Pyramid (1982-87&1988),among others.
Mario500 28 months ago
(note: a suggestion to correct certain details in the "Starcade" part of this article (for the sake of accuracy))
AlfonzoSmith 45 months ago
Re: "Body language" Milton Bradley did publish a game with the same name but the box game was a Charades variant with random words. The television series used the words as clues to a puzzle that the contestants had to solve to win money.
MarkSpeck 45 months ago
Body Language wasn't the first charade-based game show. That honor would probably go to another short-lived Goodson/Todman game, Showoffs, from 1975, which featured four celebrities (two male/female teams, the red and blue teams).

Larry Blyden was originally slated to host this show, but his untimely death meant that a replacement had to be brought in, and so Bobby Van took over for the first of three game shows he hosted.
Eric 63 months ago
You have forgotten another short-lived game show: Bullseye and it was hosted by Jim Lange.
Kiyone57 Eric 47 months ago
But did it fit the definition of "strange?"
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