Canadian-born host Monty Hall returns to 'Let's Make a Deal'
It's been 50 years since Monty Hall first started asking people if they wanted what was behind Door No. 1, Door No. 2 or Door No. 3.
The Canadian-born host returns to "Let's Make a Deal" Friday (shown on City and CBS) to celebrate the incredible TV milestone.
Hall recently taped his scenes at CBS Television City studios, sharing the stage with current host Wayne Brady, now in his fourth season.
"What was extra nice about it was that I had on the show with me a few of the original people who worked on my staff,” Hall said this week from his home in California.
Among those featured Friday will be Carol Merrill, the model who stood next to the prizes during the original run of the series from 1963 to 1977.
"We've kept in touch over the years, she came all the way in from Hawaii," says Hall.
The game show host remains a creative consultant on the series he helped create back in 1963. Hall, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and a proud Order of Canada recipient, says making a deal for "Let's Make a Deal" was no easy task.
"First of all, there were only three networks," Hall points out. In those days, CBS did not air game shows, "so you were left with two customers."
Hall and business partner Stefan Hatos had been testing the concept at local functions and always got a great response.
"We took it to a knitting club in the valley once at eight in the morning," recalls Hall, who, at 91, still retains the patter and energy of a carnival huckster. "We took it to anybody we could get our hands on."
There were no real prizes at these early tests, just envelopes with words like "refrigerator" written on them. They used a rubber chicken as the booby prize or "zonk." No matter where their game show idea played, "people went crazy over it."
Finally the duo pitched it to an ABC executive. The studio audience went wild. The executive passed.
"Sure, it's a good show today," he said, "but what are you going to do tomorrow?"
Another test was made at NBC, and another broadcast executive turned it down. Fortunately, the man's assistant loved the idea and commissioned a pilot, shot in April 1963.
Hall and Hatos waited. Finally, a daytime time slot no one else wanted was offered. The series premiered on Jan. 2, 1964 and is now into its sixth decade.
Hall calculates he hosted 4,700 of the nearly 7,000 total episodes. Former "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" comedian Brady just passed the 700 episode mark.
Many of the early shows are lost. Back in the '60s and '70s, long before game show specialty networks, producers saw little value in keeping bulky tapes which cost a fortune to store. A decision was made to dump many of the early tapes, however Hall calculates around 2,000 still exist.
"I kept the shows and I kept my wife," says Hall, married to Marilyn since 1947.
A graduate of the University of Manitoba, Hall still gets back to Winnipeg at least every other year.
"The number of relatives are diminishing but we all go out to dinner," he says. There's a street named after him there, Monty Hall Drive, as well as one in Palm Springs, where Hall is renowned for his charity work.
"I'm constantly on stages, it keeps me sharp," he says.
Next June he'll receive a special Emmy Award for his lifetime in show business. Hall never won one back in the day but his wife, a producer, has one on their mantle.
"I can put my Emmy alongside her Emmy and they can have a bunch of little Emmys."
He's especially proud of the legacy of diversity he feels he helped introduce on television. Back in the early '60s, game shows only had one kind of contestant, says Hall, "a young, pretty, white person."
"Let's Make a Deal" — unusual in that it put its host in the studio audience — offered a more realistic view.
"We're going to take them all," says Hall of the show's open door, "black and white ... old and young and fat and skinny. We don't care because that's America."
He's not surprised that, 50 years later, modern audiences are still arriving at the studio in outrageous costumes, screaming and jumping all over Brady when called on to play.
"It's an exciting moment," says Hall. "When somebody points a finger at you and says, 'You're next,' you don't even remember your name."
But after 50 years, aren't audiences more blase and cynical?
"Until they get to the show," Hall maintains. "Then they get like everybody else."
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.