The Theater And Secrets Of…’I’ve Got A Secret’
IGAS began at CBS Studio 59, The Mansfield Theater at 256 West 47th Street, which is now the Brooks Atkinson Theater. Below are photos of the theater in the CBS days and now. Studio 59 also hosted another huge CBS hit…’What’s My Line’ and from that show, came IGAS. Here’s the full story as detailed by Mark Evanier on his great Old TV Tickets.com site. http://www.oldtvtickets.com/
‘What’s My Line’ was one of the most popular shows on TV when two out-of-work comedy writers, Howard Merrill and Allan Sherman, created a not-dissimilar show which they called ‘I Know A Secret’. They took their creation to the producers of WML, Mark Goodson and Bill Todman, who immediately informed them it was a copy of their program. Sherman, displaying the ingenuity that would later catapult him to stardom as a singer of song parodies, replied that “People are going to start imitating your show whether you like it or not. You might as well do it and make the money.” Amazingly, Goodson and Todman saw the wisdom in this and bought the idea.
When ‘I’ve Got A Secret’ went on CBS a year later, it was an immediate disaster, in part because Goodson-Todman had tried too hard to differentiate it from ‘What’s My Line’. It had an awkward courtroom set in which the panelists would walk up and interrogate the contestants seated in a witness stand. After the first broadcast, Goodson ordered the set scrapped and a new one built which would be a mirror-image of the WML set. Also after the first broadcast, one of the show’s two sponsors cancelled so for the remainder of its first season, Secret only aired every other week, alternating with ‘Racket Squad’.
By the end of the year, the producers had gotten most of the bugs out of IGAS and it built up enough of a following to return to weekly status. The show had many things going for it. The program staff (mainly Allan Sherman, until he got himself fired in 1958) was fearless about trying different things and taking risks. On WML, the panel was prim and proper and dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns…and if the contestant’s secret occupation was that he shot apples off someone’s head, you never got to see him do it. On IGAS, the game would be followed by him shooting an apple off some panellists noggin. The show, though broadcast live, was willing to be wildly unpredictable with its odd stunts and clever “secrets.”
The producers also managed to eventually assemble a great panel, anchored by Bill Cullen and Henry Morgan, two of the wittiest men in television. They were good opposites: Cullen was cheery and optimistic; Morgan was acerbic and if something on the show was silly, likely to say so. The women changed from time to time but included Jayne Meadows, Faye Emerson, Betsy Palmer and Bess Myerson, all of whom were quite charming. Best of all, the show had Garry Moore as its host. A great ad-libber, he could handle any disaster…a fact which no doubt encouraged the producers to try more daring segments. Moore did a terrific job of keeping the game moving and setting up the panelists to be funny. It all made for a great weekly party, right up until 1964.
That year, CBS programming was in the hands of a man named Jim Aubrey who was known for his ruthlessness. “The Smiling Cobra,” as some called him, cancelled The Garry Moore Show, the other show Moore was doing for CBS, in such a nasty confrontation that Moore decided to also give up the game show and retire.
Steve Allen was selected as his replacement on IGAS and he kept things afloat for three more seasons…but the chemistry wasn’t the same. Allen dominated the show more than Moore had, and you could sometimes sense that he and Henry Morgan weren’t getting along well. Also, since Steverino lived in California and commuted to New York to do the program, they began doing two shows every other week — one airing live that night, one taped to air the following week. -Mark Evanier
Enjoy and share! Bobby Ellerbee