What Went Wrong?, Episode 6: Interview with Wink Martindale

All right, folks. Here’s the moment I’ve been waiting for, and I’m sure you have too.  It’s my interview with Wink Martindale. If you’ve been watching GSN in the past few years, you should know who the man is.

Anyway, I got the chance to interview him over e-mail and Facebook. All these people have Facebook, can you imagine?

Greg Palmer: Hi, Wink. First off, I understand you hosted a few dance shows on local TV before you really got started. In fact, I think there’s a YouTube video somewhere of you singing on one of those shows. Did this have anything to do with your friendship with Elvis?
Wink Martindale: I hosted the Top Ten Dance Party [for] WHBQ-TV in Memphis – mid-fifties till the time I was transferred by RKO from Memphis to LA, March, 1959. The song you refer to was likely sung in a movie titled Let’s Rock – circa 1957 (song, “All Love Broke Loose”. (on YouTube).

GP: Now, how exactly did you get involved in game shows?
 WM: I became “addicted” to Password, around 1964.  Loved that show, with host Allen Ludden.  I was then a deejay at KFWB in Los Angeles. I did some “research” on Allen and discovered he taped 10 shows 2 days a week and played golf the rest of the week!  I asked my agent at the time to set me up to
audition for some game show hosting jobs.  My first network game show as host was What’s This Song [for] NBC.  It lasted only a year but it got me started.

GP: Your first really really big one was Gambit. It premiered the same exact day The Price is Right did. First off, how did you get involved with it?
WM: Gambit enjoyed an almost 5 year run on CBS.  I auditioned for the show along with almost every host in LA at the time.  It came down to Bob Eubanks and me (I’m told). Fortunately I was selected to host the show.

GP: According to Gambit‘s Wikipedia page, only 2 episodes exist among traders and 5 exist at UCLA. It’s a shame because I like it and it lasted 4 years on CBS. Seriously, 4 years. I’m also reading that the reruns were shown in local syndication, but haven’t been seen since late 1977. Where do you think all those tapes are, and why do you think they haven’t been found? 
WM: I have no idea.  Personally I have many, many episodes of the show on the seventies Betamax format.  I know nothing about “trading and/or traders” for games. 

GP: It’s the same way with your revival for NBC, Las Vegas Gambit. There are only 7 episodes out there among traders, including the pilot and the finale. Yet, it’s a great show. First off, how did you get involved with the revival?
WM: The producers Heatter-Quigley sold the idea of re-doing Las Vegas Gambit to NBC.  Simple as that.  We taped the shows at the Tropicana Hotel in Vegas.

GP: I know you did a lot of traveling between Las Vegas and Hollywood. Now Wink, I’m thinking one of two things. One, you must have racked up a lot of frequent flier miles. Or two, there were a lot of gas station clerks that practically laid out the red carpet for you. So, how exactly did you work out the commute?
WM: We taped 10 shows in 2 days every other week.  All of us involved in producing the show flew from LA  to Las Vegas.  When the last shows were done we’d fly home to LA.  A fun experience taping a show in Las Vegas.

GP: Now, near the end of the run, LVG switched from the original “Gambit Board” to the “Big Numbers” from High Rollers. I’m sure that people watching the day the game was introduced were thinking, “They’re playing the Big Numbers now? What is this, Gambit or High Rollers?” How exactly did you introduce the game that day? Was Alex Trebek there, did you say “Now don’t change that channel, this isn’t High Rollers“, what?
WM: That was simply a format change made by Merrill Heatter and the show runner Bob Noah in an attempt to better the show.  Nothing more, nothing less.

GP: Wink, I bet everyone and their dog remembers you from Tic Tac Dough. How exactly did you get involved with that show?  
WM: I simply auditioned and won the hosting job.  Prior to beginning taping the show for CBS (then syndication) we worked in the office for weeks doing mock shows/runthroughs….just to make me thoroughly familiar with the show.  The show lasted only 13 weeks mornings on CBS.  But when it went into syndication that same September, it really took off…and we never looked back!

GP: You were working with one of the greatest game show host/producers of all time, Jack Barry. The man who almost outlawed game shows in the 50s then came back 20 years later. How much of an influence was he on your hosting? How did that relationship work?
WM: Jack was pleasant to work with.  However Jack wasn’t as “hands on” the show as his partner, Dan Enright.  They were both very good to me and my relationship with them was excellent.  Obviously this show gave me my longest run of all the shows I’ve hosted.  I was blessed to have been selected as host for this show.

GP: In the last season, Wink, you gave the hosting reins to Jim Caldwell. Why’d you leave the show? I’m sure your collaboration with Merv Griffin had something to do with it.  
 WM: I left Tic Tac Dough to host my own game show that I’d sold to Merv Griffin, Headline Chasers.

GP: Do you think we’ll ever see a revival of Tic Tac Dough any time soon?
WM: I have no idea.
GP: Now, a lot of people don’t know this, but you did collaborate with the legendary Merv Griffin. The game was Headline Chasers and you created, produced, and hosted it yourself. First off, where’d you get the inspiration for the show?
WM: The idea came to me while reading my morning Los Angeles Times – which I do daily.  The idea was to fill out headlines in the news, past and present.

GP: A number of my readers, college age students, will probably remember you for those Orbitz commercials. How on Earth did you get involved with those, Wink?
WM: The ad agency for Orbitz contacted my agent.  They were planning a series of commercials with a game show theme and simply wanted to use me.  That’s it.
GP: Why do you think those commercials are so successful?
WM: They were clever and well done.  I don’t think any of the Orbitz commerical campaigns have been as successful since.

[I’ve found 4 so far, they’re not easy to find. The 2 I found on YouTube were for gay travel and depict homosexuals in a stereotypical manner (and being indirectly rewarded for it), and seeing as how I support Proposition 8, I find that a bit uncomfortable. Luckily, I found 2 that I’m willing to show. I am a Mormon and I’m not willing to deny it.]

GP: Onto your most recent effort, Instant Recall. Here, I think you got taken. IMO, I think you were taken for a ride. The show’s cancelled now, thankfully. What was your reaction to all this? How on Earth did you get involved with this?
WM: GSN made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.  Plus the idea for the show – combining a hidden camera format with a game was basically a good concept. The producers had worked very successfully with Ashton Kutcher on MTV’s Punked.  Unfortunately – the bits were badly written and were not funny, killing any chance of the show’s success.  Obviously it wasn’t the show I was “sold”.  Sometimes these things happen over the course of a career.

GP: I bet you probably know this, having worked at GSN, but they’ve brought back Gambit, in a way. It’s called Catch 21. Have you seen it? If so, what do you think of it? Do you think it needs any changes? Has Alfonso Ribiero (the host) come to you for advice?
 WM: I think it’s well done.  I would never offer another host ideas on how to do his work.  I’ve never met the host of Catch 21.

GP: Wink, you’ve done 21 game shows, 21 of them. Out of all the ones you’ve done, which one of them is your favorite and why?
WM: Natually Tic-Tac was my favorite – with High Rollers a close second.

GP: Do you consider yourself a victim of ageism?
WM: Ageism is a reality one has to deal with.  I don’t lose sleep over it.
GP: Do you think you’ll ever do another game show?
WM: Two of my shows are now under option  by the Arthur Smith Co. (producers of Hell’s Kitchen on Fox, among other shows). And who knows.  I might host one or the other.
GP: Finally, Wink, what advice do you have for people who want to enter your field of work? 
WM: Get as much education as possible.  High school and college degrees ALWAYS help, in every way…no matter what field one enters. 
GP: Thank you, thank you, a hundred million thank yous for your time, sir. Good luck with your future work.

I had other questions for Wink, but he didn’t have the answers for me right away. However, he said he would send me a copy of his autobiography, Winking at Life. Being a blogger rocks!

And unfortunately for you, it would be taking advantage of him to ask for discounts for readers. I’m not going to ask him to do that.

Anyway, I hope you liked it. I’m still working on an interview with Stu Billett.

In game show news…..

* They’re showing a week of Wheel from Las Vegas this week, but they’ve edited out the late Charlie O’Donnell and edited in Johnny Gilbert. As much as I like Johnny, this is completely unfair and is an insult to his career. Just because the man is dead doesn’t mean you have to edit him out.

I’ll keep you posted!


About gameking77

I'm an average guy who loves game shows and interviewing people.
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2 Responses to What Went Wrong?, Episode 6: Interview with Wink Martindale

  1. Pingback: VIDEO BONUS: 40 Years Ago Today….. | Slow Boat to The Land of Parting Gifts

  2. Bob Patrick says:

    ‘”Gambit” did air in syndicated reruns in 1978; I remember watching in on WXIA Atlanta, and I know it was carried in New York, Los Angeles, and Louisville. One of my all-time favorite games, especially the CBS version. I also miss the original dealer, Elaine Stewart, who passed away about a year or so ago.

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