powered by FreeFind

Apple iTunes


Come again: Match Game, CBS Sunday Night Movie reconnect for a night

Gene Rayburn presided over The Match Game's menagerie. And the once Clueless Alicia Silverstone is now a brave, beloved mom.

Two throwbacks, one only recently departed, return Sunday night to show us how their times have passed.

Cable's GSN, where old game shows still make whoopee, goes a bit deeper than usual with The Real Match Game Story: Behind the Blank (7 p.m. central, 8 eastern). And CBS gives its once vital Sunday Night Movie franchise a once-over with Candles on Bay Street (8 p.m. central, 9 eastern). It's the only new broadcast TV movie airing during the entire November "sweeps" ratings period, which ends Wednesday.

CBS had reserved the last two hours of its Sunday night lineup for movies until the start of this season. That's when Cold Case and Without A Trace ended a 20-year run of films ranging from Sarah, Plain and Tall to Spring Break Shark Attack. You probably can guess which of those aired under the Hallmark Hall of Fame banner, which is flown anew with Candles. Unfortunately it otherwise doesn't fly, in no small part due to an incredibly ill-chosen, mood-fouling music track.

The script and storyline are no great shakes either. But it's the constant intrusion of loud, discordant piano tinkles and hokey harmonica riffs that makes one want to blow out Candles well before its time. Aspiring to be a feel-good film full of good hearts and gentle people is all well and good. Still, you've got to be far more subtle and lots more dynamic to really pull it off. Candles in fact does have a tearjerking, uplifting finale in store for viewers willing to go the distance. In that sense it's harmless in the end but cloying and pokey much of the way.

Alicia Silverstone, now 11 years removed from her breakthrough role as Cher Horowitz in Clueless, has the centerpiece role as prodigal Dee Dee Michaud. After a 13-year absence, she's returning to the small eastern seaboard community of her youth with an 11-year-old son named Trooper (Matthew Knight) in tow. This immediately attracts the interest of veterinarian Sam Timmons (Eion Bailey), whose wife, Lydia (Annabeth Gish), co-runs their animal clinic.

Sam, you see, was clenched up and repressed until the free-spirited Dee Dee lit up his youth. He's still a pretty dull guy, but without her long-ago friendship Sam might find himself going through life in a figurative fetal position. Anyway, Dee Dee suddenly up and left town without saying goodbye. Now she's back to open her own candle shop while reopening Sam's feelings for her.

The story very slowly takes a sad turn that you'll probably see coming. Silverstone's performance sometimes shines through it all, and veteran Polly Bergen gets to sing a song or two as the town matriarch.

The director, old-timer John Erman, is behind some of network TV's finest hours, including An Early Frost, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, Who Will Love My Children? and several chapters of Roots and Roots: The Next Generations. This film can't hold a candle to those, but at least has nothing to do with forensics. There's more than enough grisly crime on CBS' schedule, and it is after all, a holiday weekend. So Candle might well find an appreciative audience. There's certainly no hurt in that.

Match Game found a lot of audience in the mid-1970s, when it was daytime's No. 1 show. Host Gene Rayburn was snarky before anyone used the term. And his ribald celebrity panelists, led by Charles Nelson Reilly, Brett Somers, Richard Dawson and Fannie Flagg, usually were feeling no pain after having a few belts backstage between tapings. It helped prime the pump when the late Rayburn threw out bait such as "I got my (blank) caught in a soda bottle." Or, "Everybody at the North Pole was shocked to see Santa Claus being (blanked) by his elves."

GSN's one-hour Behind the Blank includes new interviews with Dawson and Somers, who before Match Game was Jack Klugman's wife and little else. It's clear that she's still tart and "Sir Richard" remains egomaniacal.

Dawson "was about as sexy as a snail," she says. And when he left the show, "everybody was thrilled."

"I moved on to greener pastures," says Dawson, namely Family Feud. He also doesn't argue with the notion that he was the game's brainiest player, invariably the go-to guy for Match Game's climactic bonus round. In later years contestants had to spin a "Star Wheel" to keep them from always picking Dawson. He still sees it as an affront that hastened his decision to leave.

The special also has one of Rayburn's last interviews. Originally Steve Allen's sidekick on the first version of The Tonight Show, Rayburn says he "enjoyed being in charge" for really the only time in his TV career.

"We were just a buncha people who got together and had a good time," he says.

Rayburn's daughter, Lynn, says he took it hard when the show went off the air in 1982. Her Dad then "basically killed himself by doing nothing," she says, dying in 1999.

It was fun while it lasted, and Match Game reruns still are dotted throughout GSN's lineup. Once upon a time, Flagg showed up wearing a top emblazoned with two fried eggs where her bosom broke the plain. And Rayburn sent her into hysterics by once asking, "Speaking of bazooms, Fannie, would you show us yours?"

He meant the answer on her card -- more or less. It seems so long ago, far away. Wardrobe malfunctions hadn't even been invented yet.

Grades: Candles on Bay Street -- C; The Real Match Game Story: Behind the Blank -- C+.