I’ve Got A Secret (1952-1967)
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 What’s My Line?, 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 What’s My Line? 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 I’ve Got A Secret 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 What’s My Line?, the panel was prim and proper and dressed in tuxedoes 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 I’ve Got A Secret, the game would be followed by him shooting an apple off some panelist’s 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 I’ve Got A Secret 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. (Note on the above ticket for an Allen-hosted episode, it says “Two shows tonight.”) In his 1994 autobiography, Henry Morgan recalled the show as hitting a ratings decline when Allen took over and being cancelled soon after. In truth, it lasted three years with Steve…but Morgan’s mistake says a lot about how it must have felt to one of the key panelists.
The original CBS version of I’ve Got a Secret was cancelled in 1967, the same year that What’s My Line? bit the dust. It was revived in 1972 for a syndicated version, also hosted by Steve Allen, which ran one year. It was revived again in 1976, hosted by Bill Cullen, for a brief summer fill-in run. It was revived again in 2000 for the Oxygen Network in a version hosted by Stephanie Miller. And yet another version, hosted by Bill Dwyer, ran on GSN in 2006.
[NOTE: The second ticket above was donated to this site by Brian Gari. Had you used it to attend the broadcast on 3/16/64, you would have seen special guest star Olivia DeHaviland try to stump the panel with a secret.]