There is nothing on television more reliably entertaining than the 70s incarnation of Match Game. Find it on cable (or put in a DVD—a set exists, and I own it) and you’re guaranteed a good time for however long you watch. Watch it for the hilarious interactions among the panelists (there was an open bar backstage to keep everybody loose), the smutty questions and smuttier answers, the eye-burning orange set, the average people dropped into this goofy maelstrom as contestants, or the quick wit of host Gene Rayburn, who knew that no matter what happened, the producers intended to keep the cameras rolling, and it would be up to him to make something out of it.
Rayburn’s ability to make entertainment out of Match Game‘s chaos was no accident. He is considered a pioneer of the modern morning radio show format, having dominated the ratings in New York City during the late 1940s with two different partners, Jack Lescoulie and Dee Finch. He was appearing on TV by the early 50s, and hosted the original Match Game beginning in 1962, along with other game shows. In addition to his TV work, he remained on radio throughout the 60s and 70s, hosting segments on NBC’s weekend Monitor service.
But my intended focus in this post is not on the show or on Rayburn. It’s on what might be the single best part of Match Game: its theme music. The Match Game theme was developed by Score Productions, a company whose contributions to television history should be much more celebrated than they are. Score has been providing theme music since 1963, for soap operas, news and sports shows, and especially for game shows.
The best-known composer who worked for Score is probably Charles Fox, who wrote or co-wrote themes for Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, The Love Boat, Love American Style, and other shows, as well as Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly.” Before I started researching this post, I guessed that the Match Game theme was by synthesizer wizard Edd Kalehoff, who famously wrote and performed a number of TV themes that are still making him big money today, including The Price Is Right. But the Match Game theme is actually the creation of Score Productions founder Robert Israel. The theme even has a name—“The Midnight Four.”
(Edd Kalehoff is best seen in this fabulous 1970s commercial for Schaefer Beer. Until 2011, he was married to Andrea McArdle, the onetime child actress who became famous playing Little Orphan Annie on Broadway in the late 70s. You cannot imagine how thrilled I was, in the course of researching this post, to find a connection to someone as far removed from its original premise as Andrea McArdle. Welcome to my thought process, everybody.)
When ABC revived Match Game a couple of years ago with Alec Baldwin as host, its decision to keep “The Midnight Four” was a smart one. It’s one of the most recognizable and evocative themes in any program genre. The rest of the modern Match Game revival fails to live up to its 70s predecessor, but the music remains undeniably great.