The Name's The Same
First Episode: December 5, 1951
Bill's First Episode: July 19, 1952
Bill's Last Episode: January 1953
Last Episode: October 7, 1955
Three panelists face a contestant identified only as Mister or Miss X, who may have the same name as a famous person (“Frank Sinatra”), descriptive term (“A. Maid”), place (“Paris France”), or thing ("A. Mattress").
Each panelist has a ten-question limit and, in turn, asks yes-or-no questions (and regardless of the answer, they lose a question from their limit). The panelist continues asking until they guess the name, reach 0 on their question limit, or pass to the next panelist in line.
The game ends when the panel guesses the name, all thirty allotted questions have been asked (which rarely if ever happened), or host Robert Q. Lewis simply stops the game because it’s running long (which was, by far, the most frequent occurrence). The contestant collects a $25 personal check from each panelist who couldn’t guess the name.
Each week, a celebrity guest dropped by to play, “I’d Like to Be…,” wherein the panel had to guess who the celebrity guest said they would rather be if they couldn’t be themselves.
We originally believed that Bill may have been pressed into service as a substitute for regular panelist Meredith Willson. However, we finally unearthed a 1952 New York Daily News profile that explicitly refers to Bill himself as a regular on this series. It seems odd that Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions would have signed someone to be a regular panelist on two shows at the same time, although if you're going to do that, Bill's your guy. His first known appearance was July 19, 1952. He was in at least six consecutive episodes through August and September, and one more appearance in January 1953.
Ultimately, Bill stuck with and became identified with I’ve Got a Secret, which would last 15 years. The Name's The Same was hampered by many setbacks. The pool of contestants with odd, interesting, and playable names was so shallow that the show eventually drifted from the premise, welcoming contestants from cities with strange names and contestants who were related to famous people. While the more enduring panel games were able to find stable rosters of on-air talent, this show was a revolving door. At various points in its four year run, Abe Burrows, Bill Stern, Carl Reiner, Arnold Stang, Bess Myerson, Mike Wallace, Roger Price, and Audrey Meadows were all regulars. Joan Alexander was the only one to last the entire run of the series.
The hosts didn't last either; Robert Q. Lewis was eventually replaced by Dennis James. James was replaced by radio comics Bob & Ray. That proved to be a terrible fit, so they were replaced by Clifton Fadiman.
For all of its shortcomings, the show actually managed to to produce some gems. Game Show Network reruns in the 1990s revealed a number of hysterical but forgotten moments that have given this show a new life and a new audience. You now seldom see a game show nostalgia or blooper special without at least a brief clip from The Name’s the Same.
Nearly all episodes, including possibly every one of Bill's appearances, have survived.