To Tell the Truth
To Tell the Truth is an American television panel game show in which four celebrity panelists are presented with three contestants (the "team of challengers", each an individual or pair) and must identify which is the "central character" whose unusual occupation or experience has been read out by the show's moderator/host. When the panelists question the contestants, the two "impostors" may lie whereas the "central character" must tell the truth. The setup adds the "impostor" element to the format of What's My Line? and I've Got a Secret.
The show was created by Bob Stewart and originally produced by Mark Goodson–Bill Todman Productions. It aired, on networks and syndication, continuously from 1956 to 1978 and intermittently since then, reaching a total of 26 seasons in 2016. As of 14 June 2016[update], it is one of two game shows in the United States to have aired at least one new episode in at least seven consecutive decades, the other being The Price Is Right.
Although there have been some variations in the rules over the years (including the addition of a secondary game in some versions), certain basic aspects have remained consistent throughout all versions of To Tell the Truth. Three challengers are introduced, all claiming to be the central character. The announcer typically asks the challengers, who stand side by side, "What is your name, please?" Each challenger then states, "My name is [central character's name]." The celebrity panelists then read along as the host reads aloud a signed affidavit about the central character.
The panelists are each given a period of time to question the challengers. Questions are directed to the challengers by number (Number One, Number Two and Number Three), with the central character sworn to give truthful answers, and the impostors permitted to lie and pretend to be the central character.
After questioning is complete, each member of the panel votes on which of the challengers they believe to be the central character, either by writing the number on a card or holding up a card with the number of their choice, without consulting the other panelists. Any panelist who knows one of the challengers or has another unfair advantage is required to recuse or disqualify himself or herself which, for scoring purposes, is counted as a "wrong vote."
Once the votes are in, the host asks, "Will the real [person's name] please stand up?" The central character then stands, often after some brief playful feinting and false starts among all three challengers. Occasionally, the central character would be asked to do something else related to their story instead of standing up. The two impostors then reveal their real names and their actual occupations. Prize money is awarded and divided among all three of the challengers, based on the number of "wrong" votes the impostors draw.
To Tell the Truth was to have premiered on Tuesday, December 18, 1956, on CBS in prime time as Nothing But The Truth, but the program title was changed to To Tell the Truth the day before the show's debut. (There was one pilot episode titled "Nothing But The Truth", and the pilot / planned title, and the eventual title, both derive from the standard English court oath "to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.")
The series was recorded in New York City; initially at CBS-TV Studio 52, moving to Studio 50 late in its run. The existence of an audience ticket for a taping indicates that the show originated in color at the CBS Broadcast Center in late 1966.
Bud Collyer was the show's host (Mike Wallace hosted the pilot); recurring panelists by the 1960s included Tom Poston, Peggy Cass, Orson Bean, and Kitty Carlisle. (Cass and Carlisle stayed on as panelists for most subsequent editions.) Earlier regular panelists had included Johnny Carson, Polly Bergen, Jayne Meadows, Don Ameche, Hy Gardner, Dick Van Dyke, Faye Emerson, Hildy Parks, John Cameron Swayze, Betty White, and Ralph Bellamy. Bern Bennett, Collyer's announcer on Beat the Clock, was the inaugural announcer of To Tell the Truth in the 1950s. Upon Bennett's transfer to CBS's Los Angeles studios, Johnny Olson, who in time became the best-known of all Goodson–Todman Productions announcers, joined the show in 1960 and remained through the end of its CBS runs.
On the pilot and the prime-time run, three games were played per episode. For the pilot, a wrong vote from each of the four member panel and one wrong vote derived from the majority vote of the audience (a total of five votes) paid $300, the total prize money divided among the three challengers. The studio audience also voted with the majority vote counting equally with that of one of a celebrity panelist, thus the maximum of five incorrect votes resulted in $1,500 divided among the challengers. If there was a tie for the highest vote from the audience, and for each panelist who was disqualified, a wrong vote was counted. There was no consolation prize for no wrong votes.
For the prime-time run there was no audience vote, thus each wrong vote from the four member panel paid $250 divided among the three challengers, for a possible $1,000 for a complete stump of four wrong answers (raised to $1,250 in 1967 as a premium only awarded for four wrong votes). A consolation prize of $150 was awarded and divided among the three challengers if there were no wrong votes. For each panelist who was disqualified, a wrong vote was counted. A design element in the set for this series was a platform directly above and behind the emcee's desk. The contestants stood on this platform during their introduction allowing the camera to pan directly down to the host. They then traveled down a curved staircase to the main stage level to play the game.
On Monday, June 18, 1962, a daytime five-day-per-week edition was introduced, running at 3 p.m. Eastern, and 2 p.m. Central. The daytime show, also hosted by Collyer, featured a separate panel for its first three years, with actress Phyllis Newman as the only regular. The evening panel took over the afternoon show in 1965; in early 1968, Bert Convy replaced Poston in the first chair.
The daytime show was reduced to two games to accommodate a five-minute news break towards the half-hour mark. On the CBS daytime run, each wrong vote paid the three challengers $100 for a possible total of $400 divided among the three challengers for a "complete stump" of all four wrong votes. If all the votes were correct, the challengers split a consolation prize of $75. During the show's final year and a half, for only the daytime version, the studio audience also voted, with the majority vote counting equally with that of one of the celebrity panelists, thus a maximum $500 divided among the challengers could be awarded for the maximum five incorrect votes. If there was a tie for the highest vote from the audience, and for each panelist who was disqualified, a wrong vote was counted. One CBS daytime episode featuring Dorothy Kilgallen, best known as a regular panelist on What's My Line?, was broadcast on the East Coast on Monday, November 8, 1965, as news of her sudden death was circulated by wire services. The breaking news story prompted CBS newscaster Douglas Edwards to announce her death immediately after To Tell the Truth ended. She had videotaped the program six days earlier, according to the New York Herald Tribune. The newspaper added that Kilgallen and Arlene Francis both pretended to be Joan Crawford while sitting next to the real Crawford in a celebrity segment that the daytime series featured regularly starting in 1965. The episode was one of the large majority of To Tell the Truth daytime episodes that were destroyed because of the common practice of wiping videotape prior to the invention of the videocassette. This was a different half-hour telecast from the 1962 prime-time episode on which Kilgallen can be seen and heard as one of the panelists. GSN repeated that episode decades later.
The prime-time show ended on May 22, 1967, with the daytime show ending on September 6, 1968. The show was replaced by the expansions of Search for Tomorrow and Guiding Light to 30 minutes, in a scheduling shuffle with The Edge of Night, The Secret Storm, and Art Linkletter's House Party.
Metropole Orchestra leader Dolf van der Linden composed the show's first theme, "Peter Pan," used from 1956 to 1961. From 1961 to 1967, the show switched to a Bob Cobert-penned theme with a beat similar to "Peter Pan", and then to a Score Productions tune during its final CBS daytime season.
Most episodes of the original nighttime run of the series were preserved on black and white kinescope, along with a few color videotape episodes. Only a handful of shows remain from the CBS daytime series' first three years because of a then-common practice of wiping videotapes and reusing them due to tight storage space and even tighter budgets. Many daytime episodes (including some in color) from 1966 to 1968 exist, including the color finale.
Reruns of the black and white kinescopes were running on the Buzzr channel as of late April 2016.
To Tell the Truth returned only a year later, in autumn of 1969, in first-run syndication. During the early years of its run, the syndicated Truth became a highly rated component of stations's early-evening schedules after the Federal Communications Commission imposed the Prime Time Access Rule in 1971, opening up at least a half hour (a full hour, usually, on Eastern Time Zone stations) to fill with non-network fare between either the local or network evening newscast and the start of the network's prime-time schedule for the evening. Other stations found success running the program in place of a daytime network game or soap opera, or in the afternoon "fringe" time period between the end of network daytime programming at 4:30/3:30 Central and the evening newscasts. This edition of the show was again based at the New York CBS-TV Studio 50 until 1971, when it moved to NBC Studio 6-A in Rockefeller Center.
Each wrong vote in this version was worth $50 to the challengers; "complete stumps" of the entire panel won the challengers a total of $500. There were two "games" (actually rounds) per episode, and there was often a live demonstration or video to illustrate the central character's story after many of the games.
The show was first released to local stations on September 8, 1969. A total of 1,715 episodes of this version were produced, with the series ending on September 7, 1978. Some markets that added the series after its 1969 release opted to carry the show for another season or two in order to catch up on the episodes that had not aired in their viewing area.
To host the revival series, Goodson and Todman made a call to original host Bud Collyer. But they had mis-timed their request, as Collyer had been suffering from a series of health issues that caused his death shortly thereafter, and he told the producers, "I'm just not up to it."  (Ironically, Clayton died the very same day the new Truth was being distributed to stations.) The next call they made was to Garry Moore, the former host of I've Got a Secret. Although he had retired from television a few years earlier following the cancellation of his eponymous TV show, Moore decided the time was right to return and he accepted the offer to host the new series. Regular panelists included Orson Bean during the first year, Peggy Cass, Kitty Carlisle and Bill Cullen, who was also the designated substitute host whenever necessary. Many regulars from the original run appeared, including Tom Poston and Bert Convy.
In late 1976, during the eighth season, Moore was diagnosed with throat cancer and left for the remainder of the season to deal with his illness. As he had done numerous times before, Bill Cullen became his replacement. As Cullen's time as host continued on, Mark Goodson noted how Cullen's serving as host, rather than as a panelist, hurt the chemistry he had shared with Cass and Carlisle. A decision was made to have Cullen return to being a permanent panelist and give semi-regular panelist Joe Garagiola the hosting position. Garagiola stated that he was "pinch-hitting" for Moore, who returned to the series for a farewell performance on the ninth-season premiere in 1977. Moore explained why he had left the program, then after presiding over one last game announced his final retirement from television and handed the host position to Garagiola permanently. To Tell the Truth ended production at the end of the season.
Johnny Olson stayed with To Tell the Truth when it moved to syndication. He left in 1972, when he moved to Los Angeles to announce the Goodson-Todman revivals of The Price Is Right and I've Got a Secret. NBC staff announcer Bill Wendell replaced Olson from 1972–77, with Alan Kalter taking over during the final season. Don Pardo, also an NBC staff announcer, served as backup announcer to Wendell and Kalter.
To Tell the Truth used three distinctive sets throughout its nine-year syndicated run. The first, designed by Theodore Cooper and dubbed by some as the "psychedelic" set, was used for the first two seasons and the first four weeks of the third; with one man on the door. The second set was a toned-down set, with two additional men added on the door, and it was used from the fifth week of the third season through the first 30 weeks of the fourth. The third--and longest-lived--set, which Cooper also designed, was a blue-hued, gold-accented, block-motif set. This set was used for the remainder of the run. The show was the only edition of Truth to feature a theme song with lyrics. The theme was written and composed by Score Productions chief Robert A. Israel and Truth producer Paul Alter, along with veteran theme composer Charles Fox. The bulk of this version is intact. However, the current status of the first season is unknown, and is presumed to be lost to wiping. GSN has never rerun the first season of the show, and had always begun with the second season. One episode from the first season exists in the UCLA Television and Film Archive.
On September 8, 1980, a new To Tell the Truth series premiered in syndication. The new series was recorded at the same studio at NBC's Rockefeller Center complex that the previous series had, and Canadian TV personality Robin Ward served as the host, with Alan Kalter returning as announcer. A new theme and set were commissioned for this edition of Truth. Even though previous regulars Bill Cullen, Peggy Cass, and Kitty Carlisle made frequent appearances, there was no regular panel for this edition. The new Truth aired for one season in syndication, but it never recaptured the popularity of the original, and aired its final episode on September 11, 1981.
Two games were played, and each wrong vote paid the challengers $100; $500 was paid if the entire panel had been fooled. No consolation prize was given if the entire panel correctly identified the subject.
After the second game, a new game called "One on One" was played with the four impostors from earlier. One fact had been purposely withheld from the panel about one of the impostors and it was up to the panelists to determine correctly to which of the impostors it applied. One at a time, each panelist would be given twenty seconds to question the impostor sitting directly across from them and would then say whether he/she believed the fact applied to that impostor. Wrong votes still paid $100 with $500 paid if the panel did not correctly determine to whom the fact pertained.
The 1980 edition of To Tell the Truth was a rarity in that it was still based in New York while nearly all television game show production had moved to California. Both To Tell the Truth and The $50,000 Pyramid (which debuted at the midpoint of the 1980–81 season and taped at ABC's Studio 15) were the last two broadcast (non-cable) television game shows to emanate from New York until Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? came to television for the first time in 1999 and taped at the ABC Television Center in Lincoln Square. Millionaire continued to tape in New York until 2013. New York tapings for game shows were then used in 2016 for two ABC primetime game show revivals, Match Game and The $100,000 Pyramid.
To Tell the Truth returned again, and returned to a major broadcast network, for a run that lasted just nine months from September 3, 1990 to May 31, 1991. After spending many years originating from New York, the show originated for the first time from California at NBC's Burbank studio complex. The show's theme music was an orchestral remix of the 1969–78 theme (minus the lyrics), and the show utilized the block-letter logo from 1973–78. All episodes of this series exist and have aired on GSN in reruns.
The show's two pilot episodes were hosted by actor Richard Kline with Charlie O'Donnell as announcer, and one of these was accidentally aired on September 3, 1990 in the Eastern Time Zone markets. When the show first made it to air, A Current Affair reporter Gordon Elliott hosted it, with Burton Richardson announcing and O'Donnell serving as his substitute. After eight weeks, a dispute with Elliott's former employers in Australia forced him off American television altogether temporarily, and he was replaced with then-frequent panelist Lynn Swann. Swann, in turn, left due to his own conflicts, as he was a reporter for ABC Sports at the time, and Alex Trebek was brought in to be the permanent host. Trebek missed two episodes due to his wife going into labor during a taping and Mark Goodson filled in for him. When Trebek took the position on To Tell the Truth, he was already hosting Classic Concentration on NBC and Jeopardy! in syndication. This made him only the second host, after Jim Perry, to host three nationally televised game shows simultaneously and the first to do it entirely in the United States; Perry hosted a pair of Canadian-based game shows, Definition and Headline Hunters, while hosting Card Sharks in the United States from 1978 to 1981.
The celebrity panelists for To Tell the Truth during this period included several of the '70s panel stalwarts, including Kitty Carlisle, who appeared on a majority of the shows, taking the fourth and most upstage seat. The first seat, furthest downstage, saw Ron Masak and Orson Bean alternate on the panel for 34 of the 39 weeks the series was on air. The chair next to that was occupied by rotating guests, although voice actress Dana Hill appeared in the seat most often. The third chair most often featured David Niven, Jr. as a panelist, although Masak and Bean would also sit there if both were to appear on the same program. Polly Bergen and Peggy Cass, who began appearing on the original series, would appear from time to time, and other frequent panelists included Vicki Lawrence, Cindy Adams, and Betty White. The panelists were introduced in twos, with the male panelists escorting the female panelists down the staircase, followed by the host. For one week, Monty Hall (who would later replace Bob Hilton as a permanent guest host on the 1990 version of Let's Make a Deal), sat in the first seat.
Two games were played with two sets of impostors. Any incorrect votes up to two paid $1,000. If three of the panelists had voted incorrectly, the players split $1,500. On the pilot, each incorrect vote earned $500. If the panel was fooled entirely, the players split $3,000.
After the second game, a new version of the "One on One" game from the 1980 series was played. A seventh civilian player was brought out with two stories, and a member of the studio audience was given an opportunity to win money by trying to figure out which of the two stories were true. Each panelist was given the opportunity to ask the contestant one question for each story, and after both stories had been presented the audience member chose which one he/she thought was the truth. After the choice was made, the contestant revealed the right answer and if the audience member came up with it, he/she won $500. If the contestant stumped the audience member, that player won $1,000.
Occasionally, celebrities whose faces were not well known would attempt to stump the audience during this part of the game. For example, Hank Ketcham, the creator of Dennis the Menace and a challenger on the original To Tell the Truth in May 1962, tried during one episode to convince an audience member that he was really the songwriter to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (Johnny Marks had actually done this), but was unsuccessful in doing so.
The show then had a two-year run in syndication, starting in 2000, with John O'Hurley hosting, and Burton Richardson returning as the announcer. The series was again produced at NBC Studios in Burbank, California. Gary Stockdale supplied the music for this edition. In most markets, it was paired up with Family Feud, which was then hosted by Louie Anderson; O'Hurley would eventually host Feud from 2006 to 2010.
Actor Meshach Taylor was the only regular to appear on every episode of this edition, while Paula Poundstone was a regular during the first season. Panelists appearing in at least 6 weeks of episodes included Brooke Burns, Dave Coulier, Brad Sherwood, Traci Bingham, Kim Coles, and Cindy Margolis. The show's website touted Coles and Burns as regulars for season two in place of Poundstone, though neither panelist was featured in every show that year. Kitty Carlisle appeared as a panelist for one episode in the first season, making her the only panelist to have appeared on all incarnations of this show to that point. It was Carlisle's final appearance in the franchise, due to her death in 2007.
This edition of To Tell the Truth brought back the audience vote that the original series had last used. Their vote was revealed after the panel had cast their votes, just before O'Hurley asked for the subject to identify themself. Each incorrect vote paid $1,000, with a maximum of $5,000 available if the challengers managed to completely fool both the panel and the audience. (A tie in the audience vote or panel disqualification counted as a wrong vote, as they had in previous versions.) In the first several weeks of shows, a game that resulted in five incorrect votes was worth $10,000 for the challengers.
According to Steve Beverly's tvgameshows.net, this edition of Truth never received a rating higher than 1.8. It was cancelled on January 28, 2002, only 96 episodes into its second season. However, repeats continued to air through March 15, 2002. All episodes of this series exist and have aired on GSN in reruns.
ABC ordered six episodes of the show, hosted by Anthony Anderson, which taped in July 2015 and began airing on ABC on June 14, 2016. Anderson is the second African-American host of the franchise; the first was Lynn Swann in the short-lived NBC daytime version from 1990. The first season featured three regular panelists: Betty White, NeNe Leakes and Jalen Rose. White would then gain the distinction of appearing on all three broadcast network versions of the show.[not in citation given] Guest panelists included Tracee Ellis Ross, Iliza Shlesinger, Mike Tyson, Brooks Wheelan, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Daymond John. The 2016 version also included a house band, Cheche and His Band of Liars, as well as Doris Day Bowman, Anderson's mother, as the "scorekeeper."
The 2016 version of the show departed from prior versions in a number of ways: Episodes lasted 60 minutes rather than 30 minutes. Contestants did not always claim to have the same name; some introduced themselves solely by claiming the central character's story. The questioning period was not split distinctly among the panelists, and Anderson and Bowman occasionally participated in the questioning. Once in each episode, the two impostors from a round participated in "Before You Go," a second round in which one was the central character and the other was again an impostor. Many episodes ended with a stunt performed by one of the central characters. The panelists received one point for correctly identifying central characters, except in the final round, for which two points were awarded. While no mention was made of financial compensation for the impostors or the central characters, the losing panelist (in the event of a tie, Bowman chooses the loser) was subjected to "Tweet a Lie," in which the host would post an embarrassing tweet to that panelist's Twitter account, which they could not delete for the next 24 hours.
On August 4, 2016, ABC announced it had renewed the show for a second season. The second season debuted January 1, 2017. The house band and regular panelists was eliminated (although Rose still made occasional appearances); Bowman still appeared on each episode. The second season resumed, with new episodes, beginning June 21, 2017.
Starting with the September 11, 2017 episode, the scoring system changed from 1/2 points per round to 10/20, and the losing panelist became the subject of a "Fake News" story read by Anderson (replacing "Tweet a Lie"). Also starting with this episode, Anderson took over announcing duties and the set was given some updates.
ABC announced that the show would air on Sundays in its 2017 fall schedule, but later delayed the show until Spring 2018. Expected celebrity panelists include Octavia Spencer, Gabby Douglas, and Dermot Mulroney.
A board game was released by Lowell in 1957.
During the run of the 2000 version, a single-player on-line game was offered by the short-lived website Uproar.com, and promoted by John O'Hurley at the end of each episode.
A video slot machine game, based on the 1969 version, was released to American casinos nationwide by Bally Gaming Systems in 2002.
|Australia||Tell the Truth||George Foster||Nine Network||1959||1965|
|Earle Bailey||Network Ten||1971||1972|
|Canada (in English)||To Tell the Truth||Don Cameron||CTV||1962||1964|
|Germany||Sag die Wahrheit
("Tell the Truth")
|Indonesia||To Tell the Truth||Andhika Pratama||Metro TV||2018|
|Marco Balestri||Canale 5||1990||1991|
|Netherlands||Wie van de Drie
("Which of the Three")
Flip van der Shale
Rob van Hilst
|Norway||På ære og samvittighet
|Kari Borg Mannsåker
|Thailand||สาบานว่าพูดจริง ("Sworn Truth")
To Tell the Truth
|Turkey||Üç Yalancı (Three Liars)||Cenk Koray
|United Kingdom||Tell the Truth||McDonald Hobley||ITV||September 17, 1957||September 6, 1961|
|Graeme Garden||Channel 4||April 17, 1983||November 22, 1985|
|Fred Dinenage||ITV||April 11, 1989||October 26, 1990|
An episode of To Tell the Truth is reproduced in the 2017 novel Never Split Tens by Les Golden of Oak Park, Illinois, published by Springer Nature.
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- To Tell the Truth @ pearsontv.com
- To Tell the Truth (O'Hurley era) site
- To Tell the Truth (Anderson era) site
- To Tell the Truth on the Web offers a look at the various versions over the years. It also contains an episode guide for the 1990-91 and 2000-02 series.
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