Bob Boden - Gameshow Guru
On June 14, 2002, I interviewed gameshow guru Bob Boden at his Game Show Network office in Culver City. He serves as Senior Vice President for Programming.
Bob: "I grew up in Flushing, Queens, New York. I was intrigued by gameshows. As early as the age of six, I went to tapings of gameshows such as Password. I knew instantly that it was what I loved and what I wanted to do. It's been a lifelong passion for me.
"When I was six, my mother took me to a taping of Password at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City. I remember sitting in the balcony and because the view was blocked, they had installed the largest television screen. I was so enamored by that screen, I wanted to go back all the time. I drove my mother crazy.
"Throughout gradeschool, junior high and high school (NYC's John Browne High School), I would regularly attend tapings of gameshows. I would watch them whenever I wasn't in school, from morning to night. During the summer, I'd sit in my pajamas at home and watch gameshows morning to night, about 30 hours a week.
"It's a fanaticism. I'm not hiding it. I'm not embarrassed by it. But there's an education along with the fanaticism.
"One day I refused to go to summer camp. I didn't want to learn how to swim or to ride a bike. I wanted to stay home in pajamas and watch TV.
"I organized "gameshow Night" at the school with recreations of the The Match Game and The Gong Show.
"My parents were registered nurses. They met in nursing school and got married. They had no interest in television. They respected my passion and allowed me to study and learn and watch as much as I wanted to. I tip my hat to them for not making me be like all the other kids."
Luke: "What did the other kids at school say about your passion?"
Bob: "I don't think anybody thought it outrageous. My friends were into it too. A group of us would go to tapings in New York City all the time. I was moderately popular. I hung out with some of the performing arts kids. When I first came to California, I thought I might have some performing ambitions. But once I understood what was really involved, and noticed the kind of people who relied on that for their work, I knew I was not cut out for it."
I notice a picture on the wall from Boden's high school yearbook that says that his number one interest is TV gameshows.
Bob: "I applied to Yale University. When the interviewer asked me about my career goals, I said I was interested in entertainment. Pressed for specifics, I said I wanted to be a gameshow host. His jaw dropped, and I knew the interview was over.
"I majored in Theater Arts at UCLA. I arranged my classes around my work schedule. In my sophomore year at UCLA, I got hired as a cue card boy. I did that job throughout the next three years of college and for several years after school. I'd take classes in the morning so I could go to the studios in the afternoon and learn all about production and television.
"Starting in my Junior year, I called up a gentleman at CBS. I was doing a project on TV ratings. I asked him if he would, each week, give me ratings for daytime programming so I could compile statistics. The project lasted about two months but I continued to call him weekly. He continued to talk to me. And ultimately I was able to get an internship working in the research department at CBS. There I got to know the people who did The Price is Right, which taped in the same building. I'd hang out at The Price is Right and watch how the show was done.
"I started calling them asking for an internship. Up to that point, they'd never had an intern and they didn't want to do it. I kept calling them every week for six months until they finally let me become an intern. And that was a dream come true. I still get goosebumps when I go to see The Price is Right. I just went to a taping two weeks ago.
"I fully expected that my internship on The Price is Right would lead to a job on The Price is Right, since they loved me and I loved them. But I found that nobody ever leaves a job on the staff of The Price is Right because it is the best job in Hollywood. The hours are reasonable. They get a lot of time off. They're well compensated. The excitement, environment and fun of that show is unbeatable.
"I graduated from UCLA in 1981. I kept the cue card job going for several years. I got a job as a production assistant on a revival of Queen for a Day. In 1982, I visited the Career Placement Planning Center at UCLA to look at their listing for entry level jobs. And there was a listing up there for a research analyst at Paramount TV. I got the job and I worked there for a year. Then I moved to CBS and replaced the guy who I'd called every week for the ratings. I became the manager of research for CBS TV.
"That started a wonderful journey that took me through five years at CBS. When I was there a year, a memo was sent around to all employees about a training program. It was a way for people outside the company, at selected colleges around the country, to get entry level jobs inside the network. A year prior, they'd opened it up to internal employees as well who wanted to move up and get into programming. I looked at the application and thought, 'They'll never pick me for this. There have to be thousands of people who want it.' I tossed the application in the trash.
"An associate of mine in the next office said, 'Hey, did you see that memo? You've got to apply for that.' I took it out of the trash, filled it out and sent it in. I got a call from Personnel. I was selected in a field of 400 people as a quarterfinalist (out of 6000 applications). I interviewed. A few weeks later, I got a call saying that I was a semifinalist (in a field of 17). Eventually, I was one of three people selected for the training program, and the only internal selection.
"For a year, I got to travel through every area of CBS to learn everything that everybody did in the whole company. I went through all the areas of programming from comedy to drama to news, sports, daytime, movies... I went to New York for six weeks and learned about sales and affiliate relations. They offered two of us a chance to create an area we wanted to work in and they would choose a job for us. I chose daytime programming. I was made responsible for some of my favorite gameshows including the $25,000 Pyramid show. I worked with The Price is Right and some of the soaps including The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful.
"After a couple of years on this job, I was contacted by Barry & Enright Productions. It was one of the premiere gameshow production companies. The man who contacted me was Dan Enright, renown for having been the mastermind of the Quiz Show scandal in the 1950s. He was played by David Paymer in the 1994 movie Quiz Show."
From PBS.org: "The show [Twenty One] went on the air in 1956 and we felt that it had such great quality and content to it that we would not have to rig it," Enright recalls. "In fact, the first show of "Twenty-One" was not rigged and the first show of "Twenty-one" was a dismal failure. It was just plain dull."
The next morning, the show’s sponsor, Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which produced Geritol, called Enright and Barry, telling them "in no uncertain terms that he never wanted to see a repeat of what happened the previous night," remembers Enright. "And from that moment on, we decided to rig Twenty-one"
Enright and Barry believed they could attract more viewers if they could find guests that the audience would want to root for or against – and then choreograph these guests' involvement. The plan became reality with the appearance of an affable, 30-year old English professor from Columbia University named Charles Van Doren. Van Doren’s reign on the show would stretch for 14 weeks and his appeal would turn the show into one of the most-watched television gameshows of the 1950s. "Twenty-one" became such a success that NBC bought it from Enright and Barry for $2.2 million.
Van Doren’s first victory came at the expense of Herbert Stempel, whom Van Doren replaced. Stempel was bitter about his loss and Van Doren’s meteoric rise and national fame. He began to haunt Enright’s office, saying he would expose the rigging that took place behind the scenes unless he was given more money or a steady job. Enright put off Stempel with the promise of future opportunities.
Finally, Stempel, frustrated with Enright’s broken promises, went public with the charges that he had participated in a fix. Enright denied all charges and participated in a cover-up. In his book about the scandal, "Prime Time and Misdemeanors," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joseph Stone recalls Enright’s initial reaction to the early reports. When Enright came to Stone’s office, the "Twenty-one" producer said that "unsubstantiated allegations like Stempel’s, if not repudiated, could seriously damage the reputation of the show and destroy it." Stone adds that Enright portrayed Stempel as "a disturbed person and a blackmailer." According to Stone, Enright looked him right in the eye and denied ever giving Stempel prior answers.
Slowly, though, Enright worked his way back into the television business. In the 1970s he joined up once again with his old partner Jack Barry. The two returned to what they had done for so long: They produced gameshows such as "The Joker’s Wild" and "Tic Tac Dough," which was popular on the networks and in syndication as well.
Bob: "Dan Enright asked me to be his director of development and try to sell gameshows to the networks. In 1988, I left CBS to take that job. I worked with Dan and learned about producing and development. Then my mentor at CBS, Michael Brockman, had gone to ABC, where he was in charge of daytime and latenight programming. He asked me to come to work for him. I did. I was the Director of Daytime Development for about a year. We put on a new version of Match Game which now runs on The Game Show Network. I worked for him for a year and then Michael left the network.
"I was recruited by Disney to manage the development of a gameshow to be based on state lotteries. It was going to be a live show every night that would give away a million dollars per show. It was a big idea. I was put in charge of recruiting the producers. Two months into my time there, Disney pulled the plug on the project. I had a one year contract to complete. I worked with Disney on the development of numerous gameshows including Class Clowns.
"For 18 months, I went into a freelance mode which was frustrating. I worked with PBS to produce a primetime gameshow based on Nova [science show]. I was a consultant to a new cable channel that at the time was just an idea. It was called The gameshow Channel. Sony was a co-owner along with United Video and Mark Goodson Productions.
"And the folks at Mark Goodson called me and asked me to work with them. They were developing a lottery show in Illinois called Illinois Instant Riches. It was the first of many lottery shows the company would do.
"Some friends of mine from high school had our pictures taken outside this studio where they did the $25,000 Pyramid for this gameshow magazine. When we went there in high school, we would hang around backstage to try to get Dick Clark's autograph. I got his autograph many times."
Luke: "How did you get the name 'the gameshow guru'?"
Bob: "I don't know. It's an unofficial title. In college, I did get the XXXname TV Bob, which has been my license plate since I got my first car in 1982. I have a production company called TV Bob Productions.
"I got a job on the Game Show Network. I was director of programming services. I was in charge of the live production we did every day. We had a four-hour live show in the morning of interstitial material, and a primetime show. I was here morning to night every day. They were live interactive shows, the first of their kind. After a year, I left and went on a journey through more of gameshow land.
"The first step was the Family Channel. I was hired as the executive in charge of the new daytime show called Home & Family, which was hosted by Cristina Ferrari and Chuck Woolery. It was a two-hour a day live talkshow done at Universal Studios.
"The Family Channel started to build a block of three hours of gameshows in the daytime. They made me vice-president of daytime programming. I was doing five gameshows and a two-hour a day live talkshow at Universal Studios. It was wonderful and exciting. I ran from studio to studio.
"In 1997, the Family Channel was sold to Fox and Haim Saban. I decided that I needed to move on. I didn't want to be involved in more management changes.
"I went to work for F/X cable network. I was put in charge of development and production. The network was still doing live daily programming from a studio apartment in New York. Our biggest show was our collectibles show. The network wanted to get away from that New York apartment deal to more of an edgy male-oriented network. They asked me to find product that would satisfy that need.
"I got a pitch from Stone Stanley Productions to do a gameshow based on a theatrical experience they had done called 'The Real Live gameshow.' What made it a big idea was when they added the talent to it - Bobcat Goldthwait. It was called Bobcat's Big Ass Show. Not the most shining moment of my career but a helluva lot of fun.
"We did that show for about six months. It was a raucous latenight party atmosphere. Stone Stanley was producing [the TV show] Loveline at the time and they used the same kind of studio energy and young excitement. The games were bizarre and outrageous.
"The F/X show I'm most proud of is a variety show - Penn & Teller's Sin City Spectacular. I also did the first strip improv comedy show with the Groundlings called Instant Comedy."
Luke: "And how far would they go?"
Bob: "They went pretty far. We had some edgy material on there."
Luke: "How far did they go with the stripping?"
Bob: "No, no, no. A strip means that it is on five days a week.
"Then my boss Mark Sonenberg left the network. His successor came in and wanted to go in a different direction than I was going. He kindly and generously escorted me out.
"For the next year-and-a-half, I was freelance again. I had a production deal at Telepictures. Then I learned that the current version of Family Feud was coming back. I called over to the production company and asked if they would allow me to work on it. I was hired as a supervising producer. I did that for six months and then a show called Who Wants to be a Millionaire? came on. And that changed my life. That was the rebirth of gameshows on prime time after a 40-year absence.
"Millionaire came on. Dick Clark had the foresight to know that that show was going to be a hit. And he wanted to develop his own show in the same category to sell to another network. He called me to work with his team to develop a show which ultimately became Greed.
"One week after Millionaire premiered, on August 16, 1999. On August 19, Dick called me. On August 23, Dick brought me in. We invented the show. On Tuesday we pitched it to Fox. We sold it on Tuesday. We pitched it again on Wednesday to Doug Herzog, the president of Fox entertainment. He gave us money to develop it.
"We did a run through and five weeks later, showed it to the management. They gave us a greenlight. Four weeks later, on November 4, we were on the air. We were Fox's big sweeps show. The ratings were good. It skewed young.
"I was hired by Dick as an executive producer. We did 44 episodes of the show and then it was canceled. Shortly before it went off, Dick offered me a contract to work for him as Senior Vice President of Development for Dick Clark Productions to help him sell other product.
"I worked with Dick until last September. That was another dream come true. He's a childhood idol. He's been a true hero and a gentleman to me."
Luke: "Why do you have an invoice framed on your wall of Dick Clark refusing to reimburse you for lunch?"
Bob: "One of the jokes about me in town is that I never pay for
lunch. It is well know that if you go out to lunch with me, I won't pay.
Dick knew that. I took out one of his development executives and picked
up the tab and then put it in for an expense reimbursement. I was reimbursed.
But when I was leaving the company, the guy that I took out, Barry Adelman,
tracked down through the accounting the receipt for that lunch and had
Dick sign this invoice asking me to reimburse the company for the lunch
they picked up."
Bob: "No. I don't pay for lunch."
Luke: "Where did you come up with that?"
Bob: "I don't know. When I got into television, I realized that food was plentiful. When you work on sets, it's all over. So I got into the thought, 'Gee, I don't have to pay for food because wherever I go, there's food.' When I worked at CBS, my counterparts would send me down to the different sets in the building to bring up food. I'd go to The Young and the Restless to get donuts. I'd go to The Price is Right to get bagels. I'd go to The Bold and Beautiful and get muffins. I was always getting food for the executive floor. Over time, it developed into a routine.
"Ask any producer in town about me, and I hope they'll say that I know gameshows. But what they'll say before that, and louder than that, is that I never pay for lunch."
Luke: "What else are you known for?"
Bob: "There's not much else in my life. I have a beautiful little girl who's eleven years old. Her name's Micki. She loves gameshows. She's been with me on every set that I've worked on. And she's sat in the control room since she was three. She understands gameshows and has a passion for them, maybe not as strong as mine. She's my passion. She's my reason for living."
Luke: "Are you married?"
Bob: "I'm remarried. Her mom and I divorced several years ago. I have a new wife and we're hoping to start a family."
Luke: "Were gameshows the reason for your divorce?"
Bob: "No, and you don't want to know.
"Last June, I got a call from Rich Cronin, who was the newly appointed president of the Game Show network. That gentleman who I had worked with prior had just left. Rich called me and said, 'I've been talking to a lot of people in town and all the roads seem to lead to you. Would you talk to me about coming to the Game Show network?'
"I said I'd be delighted to talk but I am happy where I am. I was already at the Game Show Network and it was a difficult experience for me. I'm not sure I wanted to come back. He said, 'I understand. But let's meet.'
"We met. He bought me breakfast. He's got my allegiance right there. We had a great meeting. I liked him. I started to believe that it would be a better experience working here. Then he bought me lunch. I thought, 'If he buys me dinner, I'll take the job.'
"He made me an offer. I went to Dick and said, 'I don't want to leave you. I hope you don't want me to leave. But I've been made this offer. It's attractive and it's exciting for me.' He put his arm around me like he was my dad and he said, 'You have to do what is right for you. And if this is your dream, you have to chase it.' So he let me out of my contract and I came here.
"I'm in charge of current programming, development and production. I love what I'm doing. We're putting new shows on the air all the time."
Luke: "Are there any gameshows that disturb you?"
Bob: "I'm not wild about the trend towards mean. When we did Greed, and we put the terminator into it - an element where two players who were previously partners now face off - I thought that was mean. But that's what Fox wanted - an edgy, contemporary element. That idea spawned much of what you see today - the voting off philosophy. Survivor did it first. Then The Weakest Link came about, which is all about eliminating the players. I think the industry went too far with shows like The Chamber and The Chair.
"It's one thing to have fun at the expense of a contestant. It's ok for contestants to be cutthroat with each other and eliminate each other. What I don't really buy into is the idea of people going on a show just to be tortured. I think that's wrong. To put people in a situation where they are physically in danger doesn't sit well with me. I think Fear Factor is a fine show because the contestants choose to do daredevil stunts. And although the eating stuff is on the gross side, they signed up for it and they can always pass."
Luke: "How about shows like Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? and The Bachelor?"
Bob: "I watched Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? and I was totally captured by it. I loved it. I thought it was great TV. I cried when they got married at the end of the show. I thought it was beautiful. I'm sorry that it was not well-researched and that these people turned out to be not who they said they were because I think that put an unnecessary cloud over what could've been a special form of television.
"I loved The Bachelor. I watched all the episodes. I thought it was well produced and engaging. I was really involved in the story. I don't see that as a gameshow. I see it as more of a reality show with a storytelling throughline. Just because it has a competitive element and a winner doesn't make it a game to me."
Luke: "What did you think of the movie Quiz Show?"
Bob: "It was interesting to me because I knew Dan Enright. Before he passed away, he knew they were going to make the movie. He wanted to write his own script, telling the story from his point of view. He died before the movie came out. He left this world thinking that the true story was never told. The movie had extra meaning to me. I think there were parts of the portrayal that were dead-on and there were parts of it that were glorified for the movies. It was a great movie."