WINNER TAKE ALL

AIRDATES

February 25-April 25, 1952 (as "Winner Take All")
June 9-September 5, 1952 (as "Matinee in New York")

NETWORK(S)

NBC Daytime

ANNOUNCER(S)

Don Pardo (for "Winner Take All")
Unknown (for "Matinee in New York")

PRODUCED BY

Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions


"Do you want to be a winner? [Yes!] Then sound your buzzer! [Bzzzzz] Sound your bell! [Ding-ding-ding-ding] and get ready to play Winner Take All!"

A game show loaded with "firsts" in the genre; among other things, Bill Cullen's first game show gig.


It can't get any simpler than this. Two contestants, one a returning champion, compete. They're equipped with lockout devices, one that sounds like a buzzer, the other like a bell (hence the opening speil). Bill asks a series a questions. First one to give three correct answers wins a prize and meets a new opponent.


A simple rulesheet for an enduring series. "Winner Take All" took flight as a regular series in the mid-1940s, with Bill originally serving as the announcer. Host Ward Wilson took a six-month leave of absence, leaving Bill to host, and when Ward decided to stay gone, Bill kept the job. In 1948 "Winner Take All" began airing a TV version and a radio version. Bill would stay with the radio version, while Bud Collyer hosted the television version. That version would last two years. It would return in 1951 with host Barry Gray on CBS, and again with Bill in 1952.


Since the show's radio-born format didn't particularly lend itself to an attractive appearance on television, it was slightly tweaked so that it was no longer straightforward q&a. Sometimes songs and skits were performed, and the contestants would have to answer questions about what they had just watched. Other games were used in place of questions, as well. In the above snapshot, the two blindfolded contestants have to guess, by touch, what kind of bottles are being placed on their podiums.

Bill's TV version would only last for two months, initially, but then a strange thing happened. Six weeks later, it was revived as a segment of an entirely new series. The daily variety series "Matinee in New York" featured a number of different segments in each hour-long telecast, among them a game of "Winner Take All" hosted by Bill. The author of this page cannot think of another example of a game show being absorbed by another series.

This was actually an influential series in a number of respects. For starters, it popularized the concept of putting contestants in direct competition. The vast majority of game shows prior to this were structured as "one contestant vs. the house." It also marked the first use of the "returning champion" (an idea Goodson claimed to have nabbed from radio soap operas; figuring part of the appeal was a continuing cast of characters dealing with conflicts, he thought having quiz show contestants return again and again might an interesting premise). Its most enduring innovation, arguably, is the lockout button for giving answers. In a medium where many people take credit for being the first to do something, this is one of the rare instances of a provable "first": "Winner Take All" was the first game show to use these devices.

You've stuck through the whole page, and that's a good enough reason for us to post this gem, courtesy of Matt Ottinger, Fred Wostbrock, and Bill's own personal collection...It's an episode of Bill's first regular gig as a game show host. Originally aired April 29, 1947, we give you the radio broadcast of a 27-year-old Bill Cullen hosting "Winner Take All!"



The utter simplicity of the game made it a great vehicle for Bill to start off. A simple format meant that "the new guy" had a lot of time for ad-libbing and chit-chatting with the contestants, and he does indeed milk the contestant interviews for all they're worth. As he got smoother with passing years, this show is actually a good example of what made Bill such a well-liked host in his early years. He's smooth and prepared throughout the show, but still has enough gee-whiz folksiness about him that he strikes the viewer as being surprised to find himself on stage. That "I'm one of you" charm is most appealing when it's genuine, and if there's one word for Bill, it's "genuine."


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