Concentration (1958-1973)

Hugh Downs was the announcer/sidekick on Jack Paar’s Tonight Show when NBC asked him to also host a daytime game show. It made for a long workday but Downs agreed and Concentration went on the air. It was a very simple game of memory, strategy and perception, and you won if you could uncover the pieces of a hidden rebus and solve it.

There was also a prime time version of Concentration in 1958 and 1961. At first, it was jazzed up with more lights and music, and Downs was ignominiously passed over for the moderator position, which went to Jack Barry who, with his partner Dan Enright, owned and produced the show. When ratings proved disappointing, NBC decided it needed Downs after all, and he agreed on the condition that they remove the “improvements.” This was done, he took over the nighttime version…and its ratings went up.

Downs was very proud and protective of the series. At a time when it was revealed that certain other game shows were rigged and their handlers — Jack Barry and Dan Enright — were being shamed out of the business, Downs happily pointed out that Concentration was practically rig-proof. Even if someone had given a contestant the answer, they couldn’t do much with it. If they solved the puzzle too early, they didn’t win much in the way of prizes. If they waited until the bounty grew to a hefty size, they risked losing control of the game board, which meant that their opponent would win. And at no point could the winnings equal the kind of megabucks that characterized the shows that were fixed. Nevertheless, Downs himself was known to skulk around and investigate to make sure the game he was fronting was as honest as he represented it to be. That honesty was one of the things that kept Concentration on the air for so long. When the game show scandals hit, NBC quietly bought out the interests of Barry and Enright, removed all mention of them from the show’s history, and kept things running.

After Paar left The Tonight Show, Downs took over The Today Show…but he retained the Concentration job until 1969 when the workload got to be too much for him. When he announced his desire to quit the game show, the network asked him to stay on for an extra four months past the expiration of his contract to help them with an important ratings period. Downs agreed on the condition that the show’s announcer, Bob Clayton, be given the host’s job after him. Downs and Clayton were friends, and Clayton had filled in for Downs a few times and done the show the way Downs felt it should be done. As someone who had himself been typecast for a time as an off-camera announcer, Downs felt that Clayton was deserving of the on-camera gig, so he made the condition. NBC agreed and Clayton got the assignment…but not for long. Another Tonight Show sidekick, Ed McMahon, had been hosting Snap Judgment, another game show for NBC. When it was cancelled, Clayton was booted from Concentration and McMahon installed in his place. Downs was furious at the double-cross. Several months later, realizing McMahon wasn’t working out, an NBC executive actually phoned Downs and asked, “Do you know how we can reach Bob Clayton?” Downs later said he tried not to be too smug.

Clayton returned as emcee until the show was cancelled in 1973. Jack Narz hosted a syndicated revival that ran from 1973 to 1979 and then Alex Trebek hosted Classic Concentration, which ran from 1987 to 1991.