Hollywood Squares

From Academic Kids

The Hollywood Squares is a American television comedy and game show in which two contestants play tic-tac-toe to win money and prizes. The "board" for the game is actually a 3 × 3 vertical stack of open-faced cubes, each occupied by a celebrity seated at a desk and facing the contestants. The celebrities are asked questions and the contestants judge the veracity of their answers in order to win the game.

Although Hollywood Squares is a legitimate game show, at its best the game is simply the background for the show's comedy. The show is scripted, in the sense that the panel of celebrities know the questions in advance and are provided with answers, and suggestions for bluffs and jokes. Typically, a celebrity's first response to a question is a(n attempt at a) humorous one. This is then followed by the true answer or bluff. It must be stressed that this does not mean the actual gameplay is scripted or predetermined, as the onus is still on the contestant to determine whether or not the provided answer to a question is the correct one.

The show's recurring and most successful celebrities have always been the ones with comic timing.

Missing image
Tic-tac-toe, the game upon which Hollywood Squares is based.

Basic rules

Although there have been variations over the years in the rules and the prize-winning aspects of the game, certain aspects of the game remained fairly consistent. Two contestants, a woman playing Os (noughts) and the man playing Xs (crosses), take turns selecting a celebrity, following traditional tic-tac-toe strategies for which square to select. The chosen celebrity is then asked a trivia question by the show's host. The celebrity answers the question, and a contestant win an X or an O on the board by agreeing with the celebrity, or disagreeing if the celebrity is bluffing or wrong. If the contestant is right, he or she gets the square; if wrong, the other contestant gets the square, unless that causes the opponent to get three-in-a-row. In that case, the opponent has to win the square on his or her own. A player can also win by getting five of his or her symbols on the gameboard (thus preventing "cat's games" or ties); this is called a "five square win."

Peter Marshall's explanation of the rules were legendary: Object of the game is to get three stars in a row; either across, up-and-down, or diagonally. It is up to the players if a star is giving a correct answer or just making it up; that's how they get the square.

Original version

The show's greatest success was during its original run. In its heyday in the early 1970s, it was the most popular daytime show in the country, and a platform for celebrities to promote their work which seemed almost as popular as Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show.

The show got its beginning as a black-and-white pilot episode filmed for CBS in 1965. That pilot was hosted by Bert Parks, with the squares occupied by Cliff Arquette in his "Charley Weaver" comic persona, Wally Cox, Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam, Abby Dalton, Jim Backus, Gisele MacKenzie, Robert Q. Lewis, and Vera Miles. The first five of the initial panelists were to later appear on the first broadcast show (October 17, 1966) and become some of its initial regulars.

CBS shot a second pilot hosted by Sandy Baron, but choose not to follow-up with either host. A year later, NBC acquired the rights to the show, and chose Peter Marshall as host, a job he held for fifteen years, until 1981.

Paul Lynde, in addition to his recurring role on Bewitched, had his greatest fame as the coveted "center square" throughout most of the original show's run. But he was not (as is commonly believed) the first person to take that position; Ernest Borgnine held that honor. However, in 1970 after two years on the show, Lynde became the regular center square. Lynde was the only panelist on the show to win two daytime Emmy Awards, in 1975 and 1979. Other regulars and semi-regulars over the years included Nanette Fabray, George Gobel, Vincent Price, Jan Murray, Rose Marie, Charo, Sandy Duncan, Jonathan Winters, Karen Valentine, Roddy McDowall, and Joan Rivers. Lynde left the network series in early-1980, but returned when the series relocated to Las Vegas towards the end of the year.

The daytime series was played as a best-of-three match between a returning champion and a challenger, with each individual game worth $200 and a bonus prize package going to a five-game winner. Beginning in the late 1970s, an "endgame" of sorts was added; here, the champion simply selected a panelist, each of whom held an envelope, to earn the prize concealed within. (The "real" prize here, however, was a check for $5,000 in cash.) Both the syndicated and NBC primetime version featured the same two contestants playing for the entire half-hour, with each completed game worth $300 (NBC primetime) or $250 (syndicated). If time ran out with a game still in progress, each X or O on the board at that point was worth an additional $50 to the players. The player with the most money at the end of the show won a bonus prize, which on the syndicated series was usually a new car.

The "Secret Square" round was played as the second game on a given episode (or the first complete game if a show began with one already in progress) during the daytime series. In this game, one of the nine panelists was selected at random (and revealed to the home audience only) as the "Secret Square," and if that panelist was picked during this game, the contestant who picked him or her could win a bonus prize package for correctly agreeing or disagreeing with the celebrity. For the syndicated version, initially the first two, and later the first three games were all "Secret Square" games. The prize packages were always different on the syndicated version; the daytime show featured an accruing prize package that continued to build until won.

The daytime version of the show was replaced by NBC on June 20, 1980, along with Chain Reaction and High Rollers, by a short-lived talk show hosted by David Letterman. The panel for the 3,536th and final NBC episode consisted of Rose Marie (the only person, other than Peter Marshall, to appear on both the first and last network episodes), Tom Poston, Michelle Lee , Vincent Price, Leslie Uggams, George Gobel, Marty Allen, Charlie Callas, and Wayland Flowers (with "Madame") in the Center Square. Squares ran for one more year in syndication (this last year of shows was taped at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada) before it was canceled for good.

Peter Marshall wrote about his experiences on the show in the 2002 book Backstage With The Original Hollywood Square [sic] (ISBN 1558539808).

The 1st theme song used in 1966-1969 is called "The Silly Song" by Jimmie Haskell. The 2nd theme song used in the 1969-1980 version is called "Bob & Merrill's Theme" by William Loose. The 3rd theme used from 1980-1981 was composed by Stan Worth.


Missing image
Connie Sellecca of Hotel occupies a square in a revival version.

There have been several revivals, each with variations in the prize-winning rules but still based on the core premise.


For nine months starting in October 1983, Jon “Bowser” Bauman of Sha-Na-Na hosted a version packaged back-to-back with Match Game. The Match Game - Hollywood Squares Hour, as it was called, featured not only celebrties of the day (many of whom had appeared on Match Game or Hollywood Squares, or both, in the past), but also up-and-coming new stars (such as comedian Bruce Baum, John deLancie, and Mary Page Keller) who would become famous years later.

This version of Squares featured a returning champion playing against a challenger (the winner of the previous Match Game segment; for more information, see the appropriate section of Wikipedia's Match Game entry). Here, the champion always played X and the challenger O, regardless of the gender of the players; to date, this has been the only version of Squares not to use the traditional "Mr. X" or "M(r)s. Circle" distinction. Each individual square earned was worth $25, with $100 going to the winner of the first game, $200 for the second game, and so on. No "Secret Square" was played in this version. Additionally, most questions asked were of the true/false or multiple choice variety (this is generally believed to be the result of the show's writers not providing the same pre-show briefings to the celebrities as on other versions). Finally, on this incarnation of Squares it was possible to win a game "by default"; that is, on an opponent's mistake, something not possible on any other version of the program.

The contestants played as many games as time allowed. When time was called, the contestant in the lead won the game and the championship, and advanced to the "Super Match" endgame; again, the reader is directed to the Match Game entry for more information.


John Davidson hosted a version called The New Hollywood Squares, produced between 1986 and 1989 by Orion Television (which by then had acquired the Filmways production company). Shadoe Stevens was the announcer, and from midway through the second season onward was also a regular panelist (he always occupied the bottom-center square). Most seasons featured Joan Rivers as the center square. James J. Bullock was another regular, usually occupying the upper-left square. The lower left square would feature a "special guest star", usually a musical or comedy group, or sometimes even a regular from the original Peter Marshall version.

For the first season, each game was worth $500, with a $100/square bonus if time ran out in the middle of a game in progress. Beginning with the second season, the third and subsequent games were worth $1,000 apiece, and the bonus also increased to $250/square. The second game on every show was a "Secret Square" game, usually worth a trip (instead of an accruing prize package as on the Marshall version).

The day's winner would choose one of five keys, which would start one of five cars. If the key selected started the car selected, he or she won it and retired; otherwise, he or she held on to the key and returned on the next show, with that car being eliminated from the choices should he or she retain the championship. (Each week saw a different set of five cars; in the event a champion crossed over to a new set of cars, he or she picked a new key, with the lowest-value cars on offer already eliminated, up to as many as that champion was already entitled to.)

The Davidson version was one of the first game shows to go "on the road" and tape episodes from remote locations, including Hollywood, Florida and Radio City Music Hall.

This version of Squares became noted for gimmickry, such as musical questions (with one or more panelists singing along), questions involving props in a panelist's square, questions presented as skits involving outside actors and "surprise" special guests, and so on. On one occassion, when noted chef Wolfgang Puck was a guest, his square was outfitted with a complete kitchen. On another, the Solid Gold Dancers managed to squeeze into a special elongated square (lower left corner). Fitness guru Richard Simmons would sometimes lead the audience in exercise routines. TV alien puppet ALF, supposedly on a dare from host Davidson, actually guest hosted one episode. And on a memorable April Fool's Day episode in 1987, the two contestants were actually actors hired by the producers to play a joke on the host and panel. (The climax of this gag, featuring one "contestant" shoving the other off of the set's raised contestant daís, is a popular staple of game show blooper specials.) Although such gimmicks made the show a popular favorite early on, its momentum could not be maintained long term, and it folded after just three years.


In 1998, King World bought the format rights to the show from MGM (successor-in-interest to Orion Pictures and Filmways, who produced the respective previous incarnations of the series) and relaunched the final version of the show to date, hosted by Tom Bergeron. It starred Whoopi Goldberg in the center square (she also co-produced it for its first four years).

For the first several weeks, the scoring format worked like this:

  • First and second games: $500 apiece.
  • Third game: $1,000.
  • Fourth and subsequent games: $2,000.
  • $250 for each square if time ran out during a game.

These figures were doubled in short order, and would continue for most of the rest of the run.

The first season also saw up to two "Secret Square" games. The first one was in its customary position as the second game played on each episode, with its prize package carrying over to the third game if it wasn't won. From the second season onwards, the "Secret Square" reverted to essentially its old Marshall-era format: played as the second game on each show, worth an accruing prize package.

The end game underwent numerous changes throughout the run of the Bergeron version. Originally, it was the same "pick a star, win a prize" format the Marshall version had used during its last few years on the air. Within several weeks, this had been slightly adjusted to where the day's winner had to correctly agree or disagree with a "Secret Square"-style question to win that prize. In November 2001, in the wake of shows such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire raising the bar in terms of prize money, Squares adopted an entirely new endgame; the champion selected one of the nine panelists, each of whom concealed a different dollar amount from $1,000-$5,000. The contestant was then asked a series of ten questions, each worth that much money, with sixty seconds to get through them all. At the end of time, if the player so desired, he or she could risk the total money earned on one final double-or-nothing question. In this fashion, this game could earn a player as much as $100,000. This round, however, was generally disliked by fans, who felt it was needlessly complicated.

In its fifth season it underwent an update after Henry Winkler and Michael Levitt took over as executive producers, taking on the nickname H2 and switching to a rotating series of center square occupants. The set and theme were also upgraded at this time. Also effective with this season, the unpopular "ten questions" endgame was dropped and replaced with yet another bonus round, this one a variation of the "car keys" game from the '80s Squares. This time, the player selected from up to nine keys, only one of which would start a car (or open a symbolic safe containing prize money or tickets for a trip). Before choosing a key, however, he or she would play a game to eliminate incorrect keys from the selection process; he or she had 45 seconds to answer as many true/false questions about celebrities on that week's panel as possible, and with each correct answer one false key was taken off the board. Also, for each returning champion, an incorrect key was eliminated for every time the contestant failed to win the prize previously.

The Winkler-Levitt era of Squares was notable for its reliance on "theme weeks." One of the most well-known among genre fans was a November 2002 "Game Show Week" which featured, as that week's guest Center Square, none other than Peter Marshall himself, marking the first time the "Master of The Hollywood Squares" had appeared on any version of the program since 1981 (although in 1993 and 1994 he appeared as host of a parody version in several episodes of the sketch comedy program In Living Color). On the Thursday show of that week, Marshall and Bergeron traded places, with Bergeron in the center square and Marshall hosting.

This most recent series ended in September 2004.

Other versions

A UK version of the show, called Celebrity Squares and hosted by Bob Monkhouse, appeared on ITV from 1975 to 1979; it was revived with the same host from 1993 to 1994, the 1993 series named New Celebrity Squares.

Storybook Squares, a Saturday-morning children's version, was on for several months in 1969. It featured stars dressed as fairy tale and historical characters. It would later air occasionally in the 1970s during the run of the original Marshall version.

Other celebrity panelists

Missing image
Connie Francis in a fur coat, a prize on the show.

Since the center square is the most strategic in tic-tac-toe, it is treated as the position of honor on the show. Besides Paul Lynde, center square occupants in later versions have included:

The following is a partial list of other notable celebrity panelists:

Puppets have also appeared as panelists, including:


  • It was believed that NBC destroyed the whole Marshall version, but during a search for original master tapes of the soap opera Dark Shadows, at least 100 network master tapes of the classic Hollywood Squares episodes (the exact figure is still disputed) were discovered, thus the Marshall version would be seen for the first time in almost two-and-a-half decades (and to a whole new generation of fans whose previous one grew up on the classic incarnation). This discovery was a surprise to game show fans, even Peter Marshall himself. A majority of these episodes, which aired on GSN in 2002 and 2003, were of the 1970s syndication run, while others were of the network nighttime version shown in the late 1960s. One episode, aired on GSN for Halloween 2002, was of a special 1977 Storybook Squares week.
  • All of the Bauman version's episodes are assumed to be intact, but the Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour has never been rerun on any network, primarily because of cross-ownership issues between MGM and FremantleMedia (successor-in-interest to Goodson-Todman Productions), and on orders from co-host Gene Rayburn (whom reportedly hated working with Bauman). However, in 2004, The World of Soap Themes web site featured a selected episode with soap opera stars during one of its theme weeks.
  • Episodes hosted by Davidson were rerun on the USA Network for a few years after the show's cancellation.
  • The Bergeron episodes continue to air on GSN.

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