Saturday, January 14, 2012

Everybody's Favorite Game Show Host

The game show host is a peculiar breed of television hosts.  They have to possess the charisma of a variety show host, the conversational skills of a talk-show host, and the detached impartiality of a reality show host.  They are not there to help the contestants win, but they can provide moral support and feign wisdom about the subject at hand.  The game show host's highest priority is the game.  They are one with the rules and exist only to encourage other people to play the game.  Every memorable game show in television history has an equally memorable host.  Alex Trebek, Bob Barker, Pat Sajak.  It is impossible to imagine these men outside of their game show contexts.  But Guy Smiley, he was made to host.

Born with a silver microphone in his hand.

Guy Smiley IS enthusiasm. Despite the staggeringly large amount of shows he has hosted, he treats each one as if it were the greatest gift to television kind.  He is excited to play and he is excited to watch others play.  Because he rarely wavers from this single note, one can read his continuous elation has false.  And at one point in his career, perhaps that was true.  In one of his earliest appearances, he introduces himself as "Sonny Friendly," a name which would later be attributed to Richard Hunt's game show host character.

Sonny Friendly: The poor man's Guy Smiley

In "Pick Your Pet," "Sonny" lead a Dating-Game-style game show in which a girl was to choose her perfect pet. Being new to the game show scene, Smiley maintained the correct level of excitement and also played up the dreaded "penalty" prize (the oft-discriminated Beautiful Day Monster) in a very gloomy manner.

Like any former A-lister struggling to maintain cultural relevance, Smiley appeared in as many hosting gigs as possible. Eventually, his exuberance was no longer forced. He became one with the role he was given and his joy over mediocre games became genuine. In one episode of his recurring show "Beat the Time," Smiley welcomes the Count to the program and must maintain his composure as the vampire's counting obsession nearly ruins the game. But the most telling moment about Smiley's character comes when he reveals his original name.

When the Count explains how he got his name, Guy gleefully responds that his audience-friendly name replaced "Bernie Liederkrantz." The fact that he suffers no ill will towards the producers or his agents or whomever changed his name proves that Guy lives for showbiz.

Game shows weren't Smiley's only raison-d'etre. His longest running show was "Here is Your Life," in which he would describe the lives of people who were not people (like trees, teeth, and paintings). It was as if his zest for life transferred over into these inanimate objects. When Guy Smiley is around, spirits are automatically lifted. Of course, there is always the exception to the rule.

In the most aptly named Guy Smiley vehicle "The Anything in the World Prize Game," Guy offers contestants the chance to win anything they want by answering simple questions. His fame and power are tools used for good and generosity. His passion lies in the happiness of others. Unfortunately, the short-lived show failed due to the uncooperative guest, Oscar the Grouch.

Despite the Grouch's manner, Smiley's resolve never quits and he manages to keep the show lively and entertaining. The creator of Sesame Street Joan Cooney found Smiley to be the most funny and likable character on the show, and she made Henson portray the character as much as possible. Guy's booming voice was difficult to maintain for long periods though, and Henson quickly grew tired of him. Henson, the man whose life was devoted to entertainment, couldn't even handle his own creation. This was his stone that was too big.
Both the character and the hair just got wilder and wilder.

Henson preferred the other aspects of Smiley's showman personality, making him not unlike another thick-headed attention-seeking Muppet, Link Hogthrob. This version of Smiley would be used to showcase his true passion, becoming a singer. But the audience demanded that Guy host their shows. As much as you can't imagine game show hosts without their respective shows, you can't imagine the opposite either. Once you're in the game, you never get out.

So let's pay tribute to the Guy Smiley that could have been, the lady-killing crooner with a god-like voice.

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