How baby boomers can get on a game show

Forty years ago, Chicago writing coach Rosanne Ullman made her way to the small screen… as a contestant on a daytime game show. She was only 27. What she writes today for BoomerCafé is, if you’re a baby boomer and have the same goal, you don’t have to be just 27.

Step right up and be our next contestant!

If you’ve wanted to hear those words all your life, it’s not too late. There are still game shows you can get on. They may not dominate daytime TV the way they did when we were kids, but there still are plenty of games on television and a whole outlet, Game Show Network (GSN), devoted to the genre.

Longtime Password host Allen Ludden.

Competing on a show challenges you and gives you a story to tell that will always interest people. I’ve been telling mine ever since appearing on Password Plus, when I was 27. It was part of my scheme to pay for travel to attend a friend’s wedding near Los Angeles.

Other than videochat options, today’s hopeful applicants audition much the way I did 40 years ago, according to game show historian and author Adam Nedeff, currently a researcher for GSN’s Common Knowledge. But now the casting calls typically are posted on Craigslist or the show’s Facebook or Reddit pages. Casting staffs also may attend local trivia contests to recruit participants.

If you think you’d make a good contestant, select a show that fits your skills. Maybe you’re quick with wordplay or knowledgeable about 20th Century trivia.

“Treat your audition like a job interview,” recommends Adam, whom I found online when hunting for someone who might own a tape of my episode. “They want people who put in that effort.”
Adam’s tips:

  • Watch a lot of episodes. Know the game’s rules, and get a sense of the show’s culture.
  • Dress to get “hired.”
  • Prepare something interesting to tell about yourself.
  • Be chatty; think out loud so they know what’s going through your mind and why.

Rosanne on Password Plus.

If you make a good first impression, they’ll ask you to stick around to play the game. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but pay attention to the answers and demonstrate that you can follow directions. And don’t be self-conscious about your age.

“There’s a perception that game shows want only the young and attractive, but shows want a broad swath of people,” Adam says, noting that Hollywood Squares used to file potential contestants according to “type”— athlete, grandmother, military— to ensure they had a good mix each week. But while you’re not too old, there’s still this intangible that Adam mentions: “Try to have a likable air about you.”

Rosanne Ullman

Hour-long, primetime game shows may look for a dramatic narrative, so don’t be shy about personal details. “These shows are packaged as a story, a journey,” Adam says. “A common question to the contestant is, ‘What will you do with this money if you win it?’ Some shows emphasize the game, but some thrive from highlighting the sizzle.”

I won one Password Plus game and enough prize money to pay my way to the wedding— plus “parting gifts,” which are basically a little extra swag (“Stuff We All Get”). In my case, a fondue set and men’s Ban-Lon socks.

If you enjoy game shows and want to join in the fun, choose your game carefully— and go for it.

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Rosanne’s book is The Case of the Disappearing Kisses.

2 Comments

  1. Thanks, Rosanne! Among the interesting points in your story, I never realized swag was an acronym (even after a military career!). Never too old to learn something!
    For another interesting acronym, look up the history of “ship high in transit”.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the article, Denver. Everyone asks me what my parting gifts were, so I made sure to mention them! As for the acronym emerging from “ship high in transit,” Snopes and others say that’s a myth :). Makes a good story, though!

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