To Tell the Truth

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To Tell the Truth is a classic American television game show that has been seen in various forms on and off since 1956.

Basic Premise

The basic premise is simple: Three contestants, each of whom claims to be the same person, are interrogated by a panel of four celebrities in an attempt to identify who is the real one and who is bluffing. The contestant in question usually holds an unusual occupation or has done something noteworthy. After each celebrity has had a turn to question the guests, they each vote as to who they think is the real person. When this is finished, the moderator says the now-famous line, "Will the real ________ please stand up?" The real person stands, the other two then reveal who they really are, and money is awarded to the players based on how many incorrect votes were placed.

First Edition (1956-1968)

To Tell the Truth (or TTTT), created by Bob Stewart and produced by Goodson-Todman Productions, premiered on December 18, 1956 on CBS in prime time, and a daytime edition was introduced in 1962. Bud Collyer was the host of this version; major panelists by the 1960s included Tom Poston, Peggy Cass, Orson Bean, and Kitty Carlisle. Earlier regular panelists had included Johnny Carson, Polly Bergen, Don Ameche, columnist Hy Gardner, and Ralph Bellamy. The daytime show featured a separate panel its first three years, with actress Phyllis Newman as the only regular. The evening panel took over the afternoon show in 1965, and in 1968 Bert Convy replaced Poston in the first chair. In the prime time version, three panel games were played per show, reduced to two games for the daytime show. Typically (but not always) one of the games would be played for laughs while the other two had more serious subjects. Each incorrect guess from the panel paid the challengers $250 on the primetime run for a possible $1,000, but if the entire panel was correct, the challengers split $150. On the daytime run, each wrong vote paid the team $100. The studio audience also voted, but the majority vote counted. If two or all three challengers tied for highest vote from the audience, that counted as an incorrect vote and a guaranteed $100 for the challengers.

Second Edition (1969-1978)

This first version of the show was cancelled in 1968, but returned only a year later in syndication; this one lasted until 1978. Garry Moore hosted until 1976; regular panelists included Orson Bean the first year (he would reappear as a guest panelist into the 1990-91 run), and for the entire 1969-78 run, Peggy Cass, Kitty Carlisle, and Bill Cullen, who subbed for Moore when needed. Many of the earlier regulars appeared, including Tom Poston and Bert Convy. Other quiz-show hosts, including Tom Kennedy, Kennedy's brother Jack Narz, Hugh Downs, Gene Wood, and Goodson-Todman stalwarts Larry Blyden and Gene Rayburn, appeared as occasional guest panelists and proved themselves to be inquisitive, well-read cross-examiners. Each incorrect vote was worth $50 to the challengers. Fooling the entire panel won the challengers a total of $500.

In late 1976, Moore went to the hospital with what was diagnosed as throat cancer. His place was taken by Bill Cullen until Joe Garagiola took over on an interim basis. At the beginning of the 1977-78 season, Moore appeared for one last time to explain his sudden absence and to formally hand the show over to Garagiola.

This version only used two panel games per show. Often, a demonstration or video was shown after each game. There was also much more banter than the earlier or later versions. 1,715 episodes of this new TTTT were made.

Third Edition (1980-1981)

To Tell the Truth returned for a brief one-year run in 1980 with Canadian game show host Robin Ward emceeing. Each wrong vote paid the challengers $100. $500 was awarded for fooling the entire panel. This version was disliked by many fans because a lot of the panel banter of the 70s version was ditched in favor of more game play. This is because in addition to the regular panel games, a minigame called "One on One" was added to the program. In the One on One segment, the four impostors from the previous two games returned to play this game. While a lot is known about the impostors, one piece of information is purposely withheld from the panel until now. After revealing that information, each of the panelists questioned the impostors directly across from them. After 20 seconds, the panelist was asked if that person did or did not do whatever information was revealed here. An incorrect vote was worth $100 and a full stump was worth $500. This show was also known for its very disco set. Also, it had no regular panel, though Cullen, Cass, Carlisle, Soupy Sales, Dick Clark and others showed up occasionally. Alan Kalter, who was the off-camera voice of the show late in Moore-Garagiola run, was its main announcer, and this version of To Tell The Truth (along with The $50,000 Pyramid) was the last New York City-based game show to air on television until Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in 1999.

Fourth Edition (1990-1991)

TTTT returned again for a year in 1990 with Gordon Elliott, then Lynn Swann, then finally Alex Trebek in the host's seat. The reason for all of these changes was because Elliott was fired eight weeks into the run because of an odd contract dispute with his former employers. Because of this dispute, he could not appear on television for some time. Swann, a former football player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was formerly a panelist. He had no experience as a host, and many would say it showed. He was replaced by the more experienced Trebek after 14 weeks as emcee.

There are two more hosting oddities related to this show. On the first day of the show's run, NBC inadvertently aired (in the East Coast feed only) the pilot episode of the show, which was hosted by actor Richard Kline. The second oddity occurred during Trebek's run as host when his wife went into labor just before airtime. So Mark Goodson guest hosted the show (which turned out to be his last TV appearance before his death in 1992). (Goodson had previously filled in for an ailing Bud Collyer during TTTT's original daytime run in the 1960s.)

As a side note, the job on Truth made Alex Trebek the first, and as of yet only, person to host three national game shows simultaneously, as he was also hosting Classic Concentration on NBC and Jeopardy! in syndication.

Fooling the whole panel won the challengers $3,000. Three wrong votes won $1,500, while any less than that awarded $1,000.

Only two games were played followed by a reworked One on One feature. In this version of One on One, one additional contestant presented two stories, of which only one was correct. Each panelist asked one question of the person on each story. After this was completed, a selected member of the audience tried to guess which story was true. If they were correct they won $500, otherwise the contestant gets $1,000 for stumping that audience member.

The show could be considered more "retro" than the 1980 edition: Octagenarian Kitty Carlisle appeared more often than anyone else and old regulars Bean, Bergen, Cass and others made frequent appearances. Additionally, the show's theme music was an orchestral remix of the 1969-78 theme (minus the lyrics).

TTTT, after spending many years originating from New York, originated for the first time from NBC Studios in Burbank. Burton Richardson was its main announcer, however, Charlie O'Donnell also announced on occasion.

Fifth Edition (2000-2002)

TTTT had a two-year run in syndication starting in 2000 with John O'Hurley. Now in her 90s, Kitty Carlisle made a guest appearance for one show in 2000. The 2000 edition made TTTT the only game show to exist in six decades — the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s. Comedian Paula Poundstone and actor Meshach Taylor were regulars while the show was hosted by actor John O'Hurley.

As on the CBS daytime run, the studio audience voted. Each wrong vote awarded the challengers $1,000 meaning that $5,000 can be split by the challengers for fooling the panel. Sometimes the team split $10,000 for fooling the whole panel.


Metropole Orchestra leader Dolf van der Linden composed the original series theme, "Peter Pan", used from 1956-1961. From 1961-1967, the show switched to a Bob Cobert-penned theme (with a beat similar to "Peter Pan"), then to a Score Productions anthem during its final CBS daytime season. For the 1969, 1980, and 1990 versions, the music was again composed by Score Productions. Gary Stockdale supplied the score for the 2000 edition.

The 1969 version is known by many for its original psychedelic set and its lyrical theme song; the psychedelia was toned down somewhat in 1971, and replaced altogether with a more conservative blue-toned set in early 1973. However, the lyrics — which resembled a soft rock song sung by a British band — remained throughout the run. The 1990 score was an orchestral rendition of the 1969 theme.

In Film

Several people who would go on to fame appeared on the various incarnations of this show. Frank Abagnale, Jr. appeared on he show years after he had given up his con artistry. The biopic based on his life, Catch Me If You Can opens with his appearance on the show, with actors (Leonardo DiCaprio playing Abagnale) taking the place of the contestants.


To Tell the Truth is the most enduring of the panel-based Goodson-Todman game shows (the type also exemplified by What's My Line? and I've Got A Secret), having been seen sometime in every decade since its premiere. It has been seen first-run either on network TV or in syndication a total of 25 seasons, just exceeding the 24 of Line and outpacing the 20 of Secret.

To Tell the Truth's in American culture is such that the show's famous catch phrase -- "Will the real ________ please stand up?" -- was adapted for the hook of rapper Eminem's breakout single "The Real Slim Shady" in 2000 as "Won't the real Slim Shady please stand up?". Almost as famous is the line used by the announcer to begin each game: "Number One, what is your name, please?"

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