16 October 2008

Jack Narz, Game Show Host: 1922-2008


Correction: the original version of this missive named one of the Twenty-one contestants at the heart of the quiz-show scandals as James Van Doren. This is incorrect: it should have been Charles Van Doren. The Times regrets the error (thanks to Mark Murphy at murphyscraw.blogspot.com)

I am a lover of game shows. Not necessarily the current overbred, overproduced, hyper-funded kind; I loved the old game shows, the ones that were big in the second game-show golden age of the 1970s. When I was but a neat thing, my idea of a perfect day wasn't going to school, it was being sick, staying home, and spending the morning and afternoon watching a perfect thirty minutes of blinking lights and sound effects, six or seven times from the morning through the afternoon.

I was enjoying Match Game before it became ironic. I really believed that Charles Nelson Reilly and Brett Somers hated each other.

Anyway! The reason I put down these memories is because I just learnd that Jack Narz has died. This would be an name with very little Q today, but back during the 70s, Jack was not only a respected member of the small-yet-ubiquitous game show host fraternity, he actually survived the quiz show scandals of the 50s unscathed.

You'll remember that one if you saw the movie Quiz Show, where Ralph Fiennes played James Charles Van Doren and John Turturro played Herbert Stempel. That was of course the show Twenty One, the show famous for the scandal, but the quiz-show-fixing scandal first erupted on Jack Narz's own show, a show that combined quiz questions with a childrens connect-the-dots game, a show madly popular in its own right, called Dotto. Quiz shows were huge in those days, and the networks and the show's sponsors spared no measure to keep crowd-pleasing contestants on and keep the drama high.

In 1958, Dotto went straight to the top, becoming the most popular show in daytime television. After evidence was discovered that it was fixed, it fell even faster, very soon to be cancelled. Narz was never implicated in the scandal, indeed it seemed as though he wasn't in the loop at all. Perforce, he escaped the tarring and feathering that, for example, Jack Barry's career endured (he was out of work in game-showing for the better part of 20 years, until The Joker's Wild).

He was at work soon after Dotto's cancellation. Eventually landing on such shows as Now You See It, the TV version of the good old word-search. MrMatchGame has a great tribute to him:

Jack Narz was the brother-in-law of the great Bill Cullen, and the actual brother of Tom Kennedy ... who was born James Narz (and is, as of this writing, still with us).

Very few of the old hosts from the good-old-days of 70s game shows are still with us.

TV was so much more simple then. $10,000 was considered a huge jackpot. Match Game was the king of the roost.

And so it goes.

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