Museum to create National Archives of Game Show History
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Museum to create National Archives of Game Show History
Field of Play blocks, main sign. Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, New York.

by Neil Vigdor

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- “Showcase Showdowns” and “Daily Doubles” of yesteryear will no longer be relegated only to reruns.

A museum in Rochester, New York, announced Wednesday that it would serve as the home of a first-of-its-kind National Archives of Game Show History to preserve artifacts and footage from programs like “Jeopardy!” “The Price Is Right” and the “The $25,000 Pyramid.”

The archives will be housed at the Strong National Museum of Play, which is undergoing an expansion that will add 90,000 square feet to its space and that it expects to be completed by 2023.

Curators at the museum already have some ideas about what types of artifacts would make an ideal centerpiece and are asking for items from collectors.

“The wheel from ‘Wheel of Fortune’ would be iconic,” Chris Bensch, the museum’s vice president for collections, said in an interview Wednesday. The museum, he said, would gladly accept the letter board, along with a dress from the show’s famous letter-turner, Vanna White.

Museum officials said there was a void of preservation groups dedicated to game shows. They represent a key aspect of television and cultural history in America, from the earliest panel shows and the quiz-show scandals of the 1950s to big-money mainstays of evening television.

“It is something we feel uniquely qualified to do,” Bensch said of the museum, which opened in 1982.

The archive’s creation is part of the broader expansion at the museum, which is being supported by a $60 million campaign. The cost of the archive is yet to be determined.

Several marquee names have already lined up in support of the project, according to the museum, which said that the archive's co-founders are Howard Blumenthal and Bob Boden, the producers of “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” and “Funny You Should Ask.”

The museum, which is already home to the World Video Game Hall of Fame and the National Toy Hall of Fame, has found another key ally: Ken Jennings, the record-setting “Jeopardy!” champion.

“There’s like a pleasant nostalgia to game shows for generations of Americans,” Jennings said in an interview Wednesday.

Calling the preservation effort overdue, Jennings said that people were starting to realize the importance of game shows the way they did with other great 20th-century art forms like jazz and comic books.

“I think it’s the game show’s turn,” he said.

In a statement released through the museum, Wink Martindale, a veteran game show host, said there was a certain urgency to the preservation effort.

“Without this initiative, many primary resources relating to these shows, as well as oral histories of their creators and talent, risked being lost forever,” he said.

The museum, which welcomed nearly 600,000 visitors in 2019 before the pandemic, said it was seeking to acquire everything from set pieces and audience tickets to press photographs.

“It deserves a place where it can be preserved, a place where scholars, media and the general public can access it,” Bensch said.

The museum is not limiting its focus to those in front of the camera. Officials said contestants, television crews and audience members would play an important role in preserving the history of game shows.

“There are so many significant folks who have shaped this industry over the years,” Bensch said. “They deserve a chance to tell their stories. We also have plans to do video oral histories with key people so we will capture their stories directly and share those with the world.”

It seems the museum has a lead on an artifact.

“If they want a necktie I lost on ‘Jeopardy!’ with,” Jennings said, “they’re happy to have it.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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