GOODSON, MARK AND BILL TODMAN

U.S. Producers

Mark 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 States.

In 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.

Quiz 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!"

Yet, 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?"

Beat 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.

In 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.

In 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).

Two 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!")

The 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 versions.

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 well.

A 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 syndicated edition.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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 cable capacity.

-Mark McDermott

 


Bill Todman (right) and Mark Goodson
Photo courtesy of Mark Goodson Productions

MARK 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.

WILLIAM 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)

1948-50 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
1958-73 Concentration
1959-60 Phillip Marlowe
1959-61; 1962 The Rebel
1962-67 Password
1963      The Richard Boone Show
1965-66 Branded
1972-    The New Price is Right
1973-79 Match Game
1974-78; 1982-84 Tattletales
1984-85 Now You See It

RADIO (Goodson)

Pop 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.

RADIO (Todman)

Connie Boswell Presents; Anita Ellis Sings; Treasury Salute Dramas

FURTHER READING

Blumenthal, Norman. The TV Game Shows. New York: Pyramid Communications, 1975.

Doan, 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.

Fabe, Maxene. TV Game Shows. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1979.

Graham, Jefferson. Come on Down!!!: The Game Show Book. New York: Abbeville Press, 1988.

Holbrook, Morris B. Daytime Television Game Shows and the Celebration of Merchandise: The Price is Right. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Press, 1993.

Johnson, Steve. "Scrambled Picture." Chicago Tribune. 21 August 1995.

Schwartz, David, with others. The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows. New York: Zoetrope, 1987.

Sherman, Allan. A Gift of Laughter. New York: Atheneum, 1965.

Stern, Jane, and Michael Stern. "Game Shows." The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste. New York: Harper Collins, 1990.