Ah, To Tell The Truth. One of the best panel shows. Ever.
This show has come and gone over the years. The two longest runs being on CBS from 1956-68 hosted by Bud Collyer, and first run syndication from 1969-78 hosted by Garry Moore and then Joe Garagiola in the final year. There’s been at least one short-lived incarnation as well in each the 1980’s in syndication, hosted by Canadian personality Robin Ward, the 1990’s on NBC, hosted by in order: Gordon Elliott, Lynn Swann, and Alex Trebek; and the 2000’s in syndication again with John O’Hurley.
The rules are pretty simple, and with the exception of dollar amount and set changes, and adding a couple things like the audience vote seen late on the original and 2000 runs, they stayed the same. Three contestants are introduced, all claiming to be the same person. Then the host would read an affidavit signed by the central character. The central character only tells the truth when questions are asked one at a time by celebrity panelists while the two imposters are allowed to lie and pretend to be the character. When the questioning is done, then the panelists secretly write who they think is the real central character (either number one, number two, or number three). Once the host asks for the real person to stand up, the other two players tell who they really are.
The thing that really stands out with this show are the contestants’ stories. Some of which were emotional, like involving lost family members. Some were fun as well involving animals, science, or the world of movies and television. This classic moment involved dog food. Famous people would be involved as well. Rip Taylor and Christopher Hewitt dressed as impostors. Civil rights icon Rosa Parks appeared on the show in 1980. Also, some didn’t just involve celebrities themselves, but also some people who would be players later became famous, such as Ally Sheedy and Larry King.
Another thing that usually makes the show fun are the celebrity panelists. It’s one reason why the 1969-78 version is my all time favorite. Nothing could beat the combination of Bill Cullen, Peggy Cass, and Kitty Carlisle on the screen together. Kitty was also hands down the best cross-examiner the show ever had and shined well (she appeared at least once on every version!). There were other great panelists as well, including Hy Garnder, Polly Bergen, Gene Rayburn, Bert Convy, Betty White, Dick Van Dyke, Nipsey Russell, and Tom Poston.
It’s a shame the show was pulled from the overnight. And thanks to silly self-inflicted restrictions, there are some years of the black and white era we’ll probably never see on GSN again even if they regain the rights to the show. But in spite of that, there’s plenty of episodes to go around and it’s definitely a series that deserves some spot on the schedule.