To Tell the Truth
September 8, 1969 - September, 1978
Produced for daily syndication
A team of three challengers comes onstage and each challenger introduces him/herself with the same name. One challenger really is the person s/he claims to be, while the other two are imposters. The host reads an affidavit, written in the first person, explaining why the central character is significant, after which the challengers take their seats at podiums labeled with the numbers 1, 2, & 3.
Each of the four panelists, in turn, has about a minute to cross-examine the challengers by asking them questions about their field of expertise, what they did, etc. After all four panelists have had a turn, they cast their votes as to who they think the "real person" is.
After all four panelists have had a turn, they cast their votes as to who they think the "real person" is. After the votes had been cast, it was customary for the host to ask, "Will the real (name) please stand up?" The real challenger stands up, and the vote scores are tallied. On this particular version, the contestants split $50 for each wrong vote cast or $500 if all four panelists were wrong.
To Tell the Truth was the first series developed by legendary producer Bob Stewart after he joined Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions. It's actually fairly surprising that the series ever went into production because the mere premise seemed so preposterous to those who heard Stewart's pitch. Mark Goodson flatly rejected it, feeling that three civilians could never trick a panel largely consisting of professional actors. Gene Rayburn, a friend & former co-worker of Stewart's, told him that it could never work. A run-through where three contestants stumped a roomful of Goodson-Todman staffers turned everyone into believers, and the series debuted in 1956 on CBS. It ran until 1968.
The series was revived for first-run syndication in 1969. Orson Bean, Peggy Cass & Kitty Carlisle, regular panelists from the original series, joined the new series. Bill, who had only appeared on the original series twice, came aboard as well. Bean departed after the first season. The rest of the regulars remained for the entire series, joined each week by a guest star.
Original host Bud Collyer elected not to host this version, considering himself retired (in an eerie coincidence, Collyer died suddenly on the day that this version premiered in many cities). Goodson-Todman, needing a new host, turned to former I've Got a Secret host Garry Moore, which was surprising because Moore had also retired, having left his series in 1964. He returned for Truth and remained with the show until a bout with throat cancer sidelined him in 1976. He made a full recovery but elected not to return, saying he took his illness as a sign from above that it was time to retire.
Bill had been the "go-to" guy for guest-hosting when Garry Moore frequently took vacations, but when the time came to sign a permanent host, the decision was made to bring in Joe Garagiola as host and leave Bill on the panel. In his book What's My Line?, Gil Fates explains that "Bill's superlative gamesmanship was so missed on the panel." That's how talented Bill Cullen was, folks...he reached a level of greatness that actually cost him a job.
One subtle thing that distinguishes this series from the rest of Bill's TV work was the way that his limp was dealt with on this program. Throughout his career, Bill's shows would open with him already seated, or very close to where he needed to be, so that he only had to take a few steps. If he had to walk any more than that, the cameras would cut away. None of that applied to To Tell the Truth. Each program with Bill on the panel opened with the host walking to center stage to greet each member of the panel, one at a time. Bill would walk to center stage, shake hands with the host, then walk to the desk, in full view of the camera. Typically the camera would zoom into minimize the sight of the limp, but it was still apparent. At the end of each episode, Bill would get up and walk to center stage again for the "mill-around" as the credits rolled.
This version of the show is probably best known for its unusual "mod" set, apparently inspired by the artwork of Peter Max, as well as the rock song, penned by Goodson-Todman director Paul Alter, that served as the show's theme music ("It's a lie, lie...you're telling a lie...")
195 episodes of To Tell The Truth were produced each season, enough for 39 weeks of programming. According to a 1975 magazine article, the shows were taped on Tuesdays, five per day, from mid-September to mid-June each season.
Bill once had the hiccups when taping five To Tell The Truth shows in one day. "When the shows ran through a week, people thought I had hiccupped an entire week, and were sorry for me! More than 5000 letters came in offering sympathy and remedies, and I was very touched."
Many of the "central characters" that the panel had to identify were people who just had interesting stories, pursuits, or careers. But because of the nature of the show, To Tell the Truth was able to showcase many people who had achieved a degree of celebrity without their faces being particularly well-known. Among the contestants on this version: The Exorcist author William Peter Blatty; MAD Magazine founder William M. Gaines; ice cream tycoon Tom Carvell; and Bugs Bunny creator Bob Clampett.
Two years after this version ended, most of the same production staff worked on a new version hosted by Canadian personality Robin Ward. Cullen, Cass and Carlisle all made appearances on this one-season version, though never all at the same time.
To Tell The Truth has proven to be the most durable of the Goodson-Todman panel shows. From its original network run in the mid-fifties to the two-season remake that debuted in 2000 to the current incarnation on ABC, there have been six distinct versions and about twenty different people have filled the host's chair (probably more than for any other game show). Kitty Carlisle made a single appearance on the 2000 version, which marked her sixth decade of panel appearances on the show.
It's believed that the entire 1969-78 series still exists. It has aired on Game Show Network and Buzzr. A selection of episodes is available for viewing at the Paley Center, including episodes that haven't been rerun.
Marshall Aker's To Tell The Truth on the Web - History and info about the show, plus episode guides for a handful of seasons