So, I've seen that ABC is bringing back the old game show, To Tell the Truth, in a six-episode Summer run. It will star Anthony Anderson, who I like very much. The original show first aired in 1956 and had a long run, and it's had other incarnations since.
To Tell the Truth is, I think, one of three particularly iconic TV game shows of that era, the others being What's My Line?, I've Got a Secret.
As readers of these page have probably figured, What's My Line? is the one I think was the best, being substantive, and a good mix between celebrity Mystery Guests and "everyday" guests, along with sharp and entertaining celebrity panelists who had a wide range to ask thoughtful questions and be funny-- not to mention having perhaps the most erudite host, John Daly. I've Got a Secret was a respectable second best, for me, a show that was clearly heavily inspired by What's My Line?, but I find the "secrets" often fairly flimsy and forced, especially with the celebrity guests compared to the celebrity Mystery Guests.
In watching old reruns on YouTube, I find To Tell the Truth not only the least interesting of the three, but often annoying to watch. To be fair, I didn't feel that way when I watched the original show as a kid -- but then, I was a kid. But the reruns don't hold up for me. It does have one thing going for it, though two negatives for my taste, which far top the sole positive.
Make no mistake, the one positive is a big one -- it's probably the easiest for home viewers to play along with. Three guests insist they are someone, and panelists ask questions to determine which of the three guests is the real person.
But that's the foundation of the biggest problem. Because two-thirds of the answers are lies, I find myself not caring. Even if the answers by the "fraud" contestant are accurate, the person responding is lying because they're not who they say they are. And when the answers are not accurate, because the fake-person simply doesn't know, that just makes it all the less involving In the end, I just find it sort of bone-dry empty. There's a randomness, as well, to the questioning, which is totally up to the panelists that means the actual person could conceivably be asked almost no questions about themselves if the panelists prefer to question the two others, who are frauds. And as the viewing audience in the dark, you just don't know. Some viewers might find that "the fun" -- me, I find it frustrating and empty.
The other problem is what comes after the game, when the real person is revealed. At that point, the host would question the two "liars" to find out more about them, and once that's done all three contestants would get sent off. That's what I find especially egregious. They've brought on someone who is apparently interesting enough to be a subject, let two other people lie about that person, and once this interesting person is finally revealed -- he or she is never asked a single thing directly about their interesting life. Only the two "frauds," which is usually something fascinating like, "I'm Earl Bondurant, and I sell insurance at the Automobile Club." Swell, but I want to know more about the person who was interesting enough to have them on as a guest.
The good news is that this second problem is is easily resolvable, and if this new version does so, it'll be a vast improvement. If the new show repeats that pattern, it will -- for me -- fall into the same boring hole. If, however, they allow for brief follow-up questions by the panelists for the real, and interesting, person who can at that point answer more about themselves, in more detail, then a big hole will be vastly improved on.
Otherwise, I find To Tell the Truth an especially frustrating show., and ultimately fairly empty. Yes, a game that the audience can play along with reasonably well -- it's one notable saving grace -- but a game that "Who cares?" is far too often the first reaction.
Me, I'm just not particularly interested in watching a show where the answers are lies two-thirds of the time. If I wanted to do that, I'd put on a Donald Trump press conference.
There! And you didn't think I could get politics in this. O ye of little faith...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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