After the year-long failure of The Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour, a more successful version took off in first-run syndication in 1986 with John Davidson hosting. This one had some jarring differences with the original as well...like an end game borrowed from the 1970s game Split Second
and celebrities having props kept in their squares, as opposed to just their wits, their writers' work or their timing. While duos and even trios often popped up on the older show, the new one often crammed large groups like the Solid Gold Dancers into one elongated square. Producer Merrill Heatter, who had nothing to do with this version, called it a "circus". This version lasted until 1989, with reruns appearing on the USA Network until 1993, only to fade into obscurity. The show did have a few things going for it, though, including a nice saxophone-arranged theme song. Joan Rivers was center square for awhile, doing some of her best comedy ever at a difficult time in her life. She was later replaced by Too Close for Comfort
's Jim J. Bullock.
Big and splashy was apparently the rule in this version. The large set could be scanned in an entire camera shot, with the host podium, contestant seats and grid seen together. On the original, the cameras were apparently located between the host-contestant area and the grid, as if the producers were making the most of the limited space at NBC Burbank. You could even see the studio audience, something never seen on the original version (until the Vegas years), and even five prize cars parked on center stage, as opposed to the promotional slides and running footage from the original years. The Davidson version also went in a new direction: at times, instead of just being Hollywood Squares, it became "road" Squares, originating from places like Hollywood, Florida or New York's Radio City Music Hall. New, lighter cameras and other technology, and a bigger budget, made road trips a lot easier to pull off.
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