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1970s / Richard Dawson Unhappy Match Game Departure
CBS had an immediate winner on its hands when it reintroduced TV audiences to Match Game in 1973. Gene Rayburn had hosted a more formal version of the game show in the 1960s, but it was never a big hit. However, the fun, free-wheeling 1970s version on CBS caught the fancy of viewers by the millions with its moderately risque questions in which TINKLE or BOOBS might be proffered as matches to the show's fill-in-the-blank format. Airing weekdays at 4:30 p.m., Match Game drew a wide variety of viewers from housewives to students getting home from school and everything in between. Although Rayburn was again the emcee, Richard Dawson, whose last major TV gig was his role as Corporal Peter Newkirk on Hogan's Heroes from 1965 to 1971, quickly became the show's centerpiece. Seated in the center of the bottom tier, he routinely engaged in witty and humorous banter with Gene and the contestants--and he was consistently the best player on the six-person panel. Match Game was the number-one daytime show in from 1973 until 1976. It was finally usurped by Family Feud, another game based on matching answers that was hosted by...Richard Dawson! His engaging manner absolutely shone in Family Feud. As Family Feud soared in popularity, Dawson became less interested in being a Match Game panelist. Still, Dawson was the clearly best player and would most often be selected by knowledgeable contestants when they were playing for the Super-Match jackpot question. In a candid interview long after Match Game went off the air, fellow regular panelist Brett Somers said she and Charles Nelson Reilly disliked Dawson because of his aloof personality to the point of them silently hoping he would not match the contestant. (Dawson, a non-drinker, did not socialize with the other five panelists during their boisterous lunch breaks where booze flowed freely.) In 1978, CBS expanded its afternoon soap operas to full hours and moved Match Game to a morning time slot. It was a horrendous blunder. The after-school crowd and working people could no longer watch the show. Moreover, a new gimmick--the star wheel-- was introduced. It randomized which celebrity would be used for the jackpot question. Dawson saw the star wheel as a personal slight and his mood on the show noticeably soured. His friendly banter with Gene virtually disappeared. Sensing Dawson was unhappy with Match Game, the show's producers asked if he wanted out of his contract. Dawson said yes. His final appearance on the daytime version of Match Game was episode #1285. He was shown in the opening montage holding a sign that said, "Fare thee well." At the episode's end, Gene made no announcement pertaining to Richard's impending departure--even after he was conspicuously not listed among the celebrity panelists who would be appearing on the following week's shows. Dawson left the studio without saying goodbye to anyone. He and Gene Rayburn never spoke again. Dawson coldly stated years later, "I moved on to greener pastures." Beset by declining ratings, Match Game was cancelled by CBS in 1979, although the syndicated Match Game PM ran until 1982. Rayburn died in 1999. Dawson died in 2012.