Goodson and Bill Todman were among television's most successful
producers of game shows. They refined celebrity panel quizzes with
What's My Line and I've Got a Secret, and created
games that lasted for years. Some, like The Price is Right, became
even more popular in revived versions. Many of their shows have
been adapted for production in television systems outside the United
1939, Mark Goodson created his first game, Pop the Question,
for San Francisco's KFRC. In Pop the Question players threw
darts at balloons to collect prizes inside. Goodson left for New
York City in 1941, with an introduction from Berkeley alumnus Ralph
Edwards. While working several announcing and writing jobs, he met
Bill Todman, a radio writer, director, and advertising copywriter.
The two found a shared love of games, and set to work on their first
quiz show. They developed the methods that would serve them throughout
their careers: Mark refined the format, while Bill tested possible
flaws in the rules and worked out the financial angles. CBS Radio
finally picked up the game, Winner Take All, after World
War II, and the two also partnered to create four local radio quizzes:
Hit the Jackpot, Spin to Win, Rate Your Mate, and Time's
a Wastin'. Winner Take All used a lockout buzzer system and
was the first quiz to pit two contestants against each other, rather
than against the quizmaster one at a time. It was also first to
have winners return each week until they were defeated. Winner
Take All became the first Goodson and Todman show on CBS' new
television network, debuting 8 July 1948.
shows had been popular on radio through the 1940s, and they were
equally popular with TV executives: they cost little to produce,
and merchandise prizes, so scarce during the war, were furnished
free by manufacturers in return for plugs. An oft-repeated story
had Mark and Bill carrying prizes for Winner Take All from
their office to the studio. Todman slipped, sending small appliances
clattering to the sidewalk. Writer Goodman Ace witnessed the accident
and shouted, "Hey, Todman, you dropped your script!"
most popular radio quizzes did not survive on television. Straight
quizzes proved visually dull, and failed to involve the audience.
Before the rise and fall of the big-money shows, Goodson and Todman
found their success by going in two different directions: celebrity
panel shows and celebrations of ordinary people.
Their first panel show began in 1949 with Bob Bach, a staffer who
had bet Mark and Bill that he could deduce the occupations of total
strangers. This inspired a proposal called "Occupation Unknown,"
which CBS bought in 1950 and renamed What's My Line. Bach
became its associate producer as a reward for creating the basic
concept for the program, a custom that continued at Goodson-Todman.
What's My Line put tuxedoed bon vivants into viewers' homes
for parlor games. These wits seemed amazed and amused by the occupations
of ordinary working people. There was also a chance to be suggestive:
for a guest whose "line" was "sells mattresses," Arlene Francis
innocently provoked gales of laughter by asking, "If Bennett Cerf
and I had your product, could we use it together?"
the Clock, meanwhile, let ordinary folk attempt difficult, wacky
stunts, which often involved whipped cream, mashed potatoes or water
balloons. This was the only Goodson-Todman show to join the trend
in "big money" games, as the prize for completing the stunts rose
from $100 to $5,000 by 1958.
1950, CBS gave Goodson and Todman a shot at live drama when the
producers of the popular anthology Suspense abruptly announced
they were taking a summer hiatus. With just four weeks to the first
air date, their studio put together The Web, an anthology
of stories focused on people caught in a "web" of situations beyond
their control. The show stayed on the air until 1954, and, like
many New York-produced dramas, featured several future Hollywood
stars. James Dean made his television debut on The Web, and
later worked as a "stunt tester" for Beat the Clock. He proved
so well-coordinated, however, that his times at completing stunts
could not be used to gauge average contestants. Dean was obliged
to seek his fortune elsewhere. Goodson and Todman made a few other
forays into drama, with the Westerns Jefferson Drum, The Rebel
and Branded . They also produced Philip Marlowe, and
a repertory anthology, The Richard Boone Show.
its second season, What's My Line's format and panelists
jelled, and CBS had a hit that would last for 18 seasons, the longest
running game show in prime time. Goodson and Todman continued to
prepare more panel shows such as The Name's the Same (ABC,
1951-55), in which celebrity panelists met ordinary people with
famous or unusual names (e.g. George Washington, Mona Lisa, A. Garter).
unemployed comedy writers, Allan Sherman and Howard Merrill, created
I've Got a Secret for Goodson-Todman, and when it debuted
in 1952, Sherman became its producer. He managed prodigious booking
feats such as locating the nearest phone to Mt. Everest in order
to be the first to contact Edmund Hillary following his historic
ascent. He requested the Air Force to attempt to break the flight
speed record from Los Angeles to New York on a Wednesday so the
pilot could be a guest that evening: that stunt gave audiences their
first look at John Glenn.
I've Got a Secret caught a whiff of the quiz scandals with its
celebrity segment: since few celebrities in those days wanted to
admit their real secrets, the writing staff created some of them.
Thus Boris Karloff's "secret" was that he was afraid of mice, or
Monty Wooley's that "I sleep with my beard under the covers." Asked
by Henry Morgan whether that was really true, Wooley shot back,
"Of course not, you bloody idiot! Some damn fool named Allan Sherman
told me to say so." (Sherman later became famous for his song parodies,
especially "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!")
third of Goodson and Todman's long-running panel shows, To Tell
the Truth, was created in December 1956 by Bob Stewart, a former
ad agency man, who later packaged game shows on his own, including
The $10,000 Pyramid. Stewart also contributed Password in
1961, the first quiz in which "civilians" teamed up with celebrities.
But in total air time, Stewart's most enduring creation has been
The Price is Right. When Price debuted in 1956, it was a
sponsor's dream. Contestants won fabulous prizes as rewards for
knowing their retail prices, a skill prized in the 1950s consumption
oriented society. During the quiz show probes, it was revealed that
contestants were sometimes furnished with ceiling prices over which
they should not bid, but all the contestants had shared the information.
The Price is Right continued in daytime until 1965, and ran
in prime time from 1957 to 1964. When the show was revived in 1972,
it put contestants through several flashy games, but with the same
object of guessing prices. The New Price is Right continues
to this day, an hour each weekday, and has spun off two syndicated
Goodson-Todman Productions was America's biggest producer of game
shows by 1956, but after the quiz scandals, the thirst for new games
cooled considerably, and they were coasting on earlier successes.
Their last winner in that period was another celebrity panel show,
The Match Game. The prime-time audiences for What's My
Line, I've Got a Secret, and To Tell the Truth had grown
older, and CBS retired the shows in 1967. By 1970, the networks
swept nearly all their game shows from their daytime lineups as
new window opened in 1971 with the implementation of the Prime-Time
Access rule, and Goodson-Todman produced new syndicated versions
of nearly all their old shows. They even purchased Concentration
from Barry & Enright after NBC canceled it in 1973, and issued a
New Price is Right was part of the networks' attempt to return
to daytime game shows in the early 1970s. Most shows of the period
used more lights, flashy scoreboards and high-tech, moving sets,
but substance was lacking and the shows had short runs. Goodson-Todman
had its share of gadget-filled failures, but they also struck gold
with Family Feud and Card Sharks.
Goodson and Todman families have been accounted among the wealthiest
in show business, with a value in the hundreds of millions. They
sold What's My Line to CBS in 1958, and I've Got a Secret
to CBS and program host Garry Moore in 1959. The sales helped
reduce their capital gains tax burden, and netted $3 million. They
established the Ingersoll Newspaper Group, a chain of 8 dailies
and 25 weeklies, and served as its vice-presidents.
partnership continued until Todman's death in 1979, after which
it was renamed Mark Goodson Productions. Goodson's son Jonathan
succeeded him as president and CEO of Mark Goodson Productions,
while Howard Todman serves as treasurer. In December 1994, the company
joined with Merv Griffin Enterprises to launch the Game Show Channel.
The cable outlet offers shows old game shows from a library of 41,000
episodes, and new shows allowing home viewers to play along for
prizes via interactive controllers. Its growth, though, is currently
stymied by the lack of available channels on most cable systems,
and has been awaiting the expansion of direct satellite and expanded
Bill Todman (right) and Mark Goodson
Photo courtesy of Mark Goodson Productions
GOODSON. Born in Sacramento, California, U.S.A., 24 January
1915. Educated at the University of California at Berkeley, B.A.,
1937. Married: 1) Bluma Neveleff, 1941, children: Jill and Jonathan;
2) Virginia McDavid, children: Marjorie; 3) Suzanne Waddell. Acted
in small amateur theater productions as a child; worked in the Lincoln
Fish Market while at Berkeley, mid-1930s; disc jockey, KJBS in San
Francisco, 1937-39; announcer, newscaster, and station director,
Mutual Broadcasting System's KFRC station in San Francisco, 1939-41;
freelance radio announcer, New York City, 1941-43; created the ABC
dramatic series Appointment with Life, 1943; directed the United
States Treasury Department's war bond-selling show The Treasury
Salute, 1944-45; co-founder, Goodson-Todman Productions, (renamed
Mark Goodson Productions after Todman's death, 1979), 1946; with
partner, William Todman, created and marketed radio shows, 1946-1950;
served as producer on television series, including The Rebel and
Branded. Trustee, Museum of Broadcasting (now Museum of Television
and Radio) from 1985; Member, Board of Directors of the American
Film Institute from 1975. Member of the Academy of TV Arts and Sciences.
Recipient: Emmy Awards, 1951 and 1952; Great Britain's National
TV Award, 1951. Died in New York City, 18 December 1992.
S. TODMAN. Born in New York City, New York, U.S.A., 31 July
1918. Graduated from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland,
1938. Married: Frances Holmes Burson; one daughter and one son.
Freelance radio writer following college; writer and producer, radio
station WABC, New York; co-founder, with Mark Goodson, Goodson-Todman
Productions, 1946, which produced game shows for television; expanded
Goodson-Todman enterprises to form Capital City Publishing, which
included Ingersoll newspaper group and other publishing holdings.
Died in New York, 29 July 1979.
TELEVISION SERIES (selection)
Winner Take All
1950-54 The Web
1950-67 What's My Line?
1951-54 It's News to Me
1951-55 The Name's the Same
1952-76 I've Got a Secret
1953-54 Judge for Yourself
1953-57 Two for the Money
1956-67 To Tell the Truth
1956-72, 1974 The Price Is Right
1958-59 Jefferson Drum
1958-63 Play Your Hunch
1959-60 Phillip Marlowe
1959-61; 1962 The Rebel
1963 The Richard Boone Show
1972- The New Price is Right
1973-79 Match Game
1974-78; 1982-84 Tattletales
1984-85 Now You See It
the Question, 1939-40; The Jack Dempsey Sports Quiz,
1941; The Answer Man, 1942; Appointment with Life; Battle
of the Boroughs, 1945-46; Stop the Music.
Connie Boswell Presents; Anita Ellis Sings; Treasury Salute Dramas
Blumenthal, Norman. The TV Game Shows. New York: Pyramid
Richard K. "End of the Line: Why the Granddaddy of the TV Game Shows
Is Finally Finished." TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), June
1967. Reprinted in Harris, Jay S., editor. TV Guide: The First 25
Years. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978.
Maxene. TV Game Shows. Garden City, New York: Doubleday,
Jefferson. Come on Down!!!: The Game Show Book. New York:
Abbeville Press, 1988.
Morris B. Daytime Television Game Shows and the Celebration of
Merchandise: The Price is Right. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling
Green State University Press, 1993.
Steve. "Scrambled Picture." Chicago Tribune. 21 August 1995.
David, with others. The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows. New
York: Zoetrope, 1987.
Allan. A Gift of Laughter. New York: Atheneum, 1965.
Jane, and Michael Stern. "Game Shows." The Encyclopedia of Bad
Taste. New York: Harper Collins, 1990.