With the return of Match Game on ABC’s “Sunday Fun and Games” block of shows, I have been thinking back to the heydays of one of the great game shows of all time. The Match Game was one of my childhood favorites. It was something that I could watch as a child and laugh at, but an adult could watch it and get a completely different vibe.
The panelists on Match Game were most likely drunk all the time. And they clearly unscripted as they went wild several times. Panelists switched spots with host Gene Rayburn at least twice, there was a riot over the judge’s refusal to call something a match…just to name a couple.
So… here is the list of the Top Ten Match Game Panelists.
First…some honorable mentions: Rosie O’Donnell and Tituss Burgess (from the new version), Marcia Wallace, Fannie Flagg, Bill Daily
#10. Gary Burghoff. Radar on MASH was a very solid panelist and even sat in on the third seat when Charles Nelson Reilly was gone.
#9. Nipsey Russell. Nipsey would always give a little rhyme when he was on. As an African America during the 1970s, many of the jokes were not always racially appropriate. However, he was always funny, and extremely quick witted.
#8. Joyce Bulifant. Joyce would usually sit in the bottom right seat (the final seat) and she would give some of the funniest, albeit, worst answers on the panel. She acted fairly ditzy, but she was sharper than what she seemed.
#7. Patti Deustch. Another woman who was in that bottom right seat (the “weirdo” seat as Gene Rayburn would say) and the jokes were directed toward some of the wild answers she would write. Some might argue that she was playing a character for the show, as some of her other appearances on other shows might indicate.
#6. Elaine Joyce. Another of the pretty women who seemed to be more than what they appeared. Elaine was very flirtatious with the males of Match Game.
#5. McLean Stevenson. Formerly Lt. Col. Henry Blake from MASH, McLean Stevenson made many appearances on Match Game. In fact, there were a couple of times when McLean took over for Gene Rayburn on a spur of the moment and ran the show (Gene took McLean’s seat.)
#4. Betty White. Betty was the other panelist to step into Gene’s shoes, showing off her hosting chops. She was also one of the funniest panelists around. She imitated Charles one episode which was a riot. Her one liners with Brett were also fantastic. Betty White has always brought class, and, even here, it was no exception.
#3. Brett Somers. One of the regulars, always seated in the middle of the top row, Brett was always a hoot. She had an amazing chemistry with Charles and Gene and her smart remarks were almost as enjoyable as her loud and joyous laughter. She was never afraid to be the butt of the jokes either.
#2. Richard Dawson. Probably the best player on the show, virtually all the contestants wanted to do the Super Match with Richard. It became so much of an issue, the show instituted a “Star Wheel” so other panelists might have a chance to play as well. Richard was charming and funny and he would go on to be an iconic host of Family Feud.
#1. Charles Nelson Reilly. CNR was the funniest panelist on The Match Game. He had chemistry with everyone that appeared. He was a classically trained actor who was willing to do anything for a laugh. He would be on the show with his strange outfits, his toupee and those large glasses and he would smoke his pipe. He was more than all of those. He made Brett funnier. His constant mugging for the camera told you he was having fun and gave you permission to laugh too. This makes Charles Nelson Reilly Match Game’s greatest panelist of all time.