"To Tell The Truth" , 1977-78

Links: 1977-78 panel guide, 1977-78 crew list

Goodson-Todman Productions was facing a serious personnel crisis by late 1976. Its "To Tell The Truth" host Garry Moore had undergone major throat surgery during the holiday break and could not speak, effectively nixing his ability to emcee the eight-year-old series. With half the season's episodes yet to be taped, G-T had to scramble to find a temporary replacement.

In past seasons, Moore had not really been interested in emceeing every single week, so during Moore's vacations, "TTTT" regular panelist Bill Cullen frequently substituted. Cullen was already familiar with the show; maybe more importantly, the gifted host could moderate any program offered his way at the last second, familiar or not. So in stepped sub-host Bill Cullen for the first couple of taping sessions without Moore. Both weeks were ultimately smooth sailing for the series, with panelists Kitty Carlisle and Peggy Cass joined by stalwart semiregulars Nipsey Russell and Soupy Sales the first week, then Gene Rayburn and Russell the second. The only serious change during Cullen's temp stint was at the start of each show. During the Moore era, Moore got top billing. Viewers may have seen the name of the show before anything else, but the first thing they heard was "Ladies and gentlemen . . . Garry Moore!" In fact, this was the only "TTTT" version to date in which the first round's contestants weren't introduced before the emcee. So it was a throwback during those first weeks of '77 to hear announcer Bill Wendell reading copy that belonged to the original "TTTT" series of the '50s and '60s

All three of these gentlemen claim to be ____________. Only one of them really is. The other two are impostors and will try to fool the panel on . . . "To Tell The Truth!"

After that, the panelists, then the pre-seated Bill Cullen, were introduced. Despite
"TTTT" always kept an extra place at the table for relatives of the famous. The year 1977-78 was no exception. Sylvester Stallone's mother, powerlifter Franco Columbu's wife, Farrah Fawcett-Majors' sister, and Dr. Joyce Brothers' mother all appeared during the year. That last relative was really no surprise; every few seasons another Brothers family member would pop up to challenge the panel.
those nifty Cullen-hosted weeks, G-T knew it had to rock the boat as little as possible while awaiting Moore's return. To continue with Cullen as host meant an unavoidable emcee change as well as an unnecessary panel change. But if an outsider could emcee, the well-established panel could continue its well-established ways.

Joe Garagiola was sort of an insider's outsider where "TTTT" was concerned. But that was good enough.

Like Garry Moore, Joe Garagiola was a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster. Garagiola's post-baseball career had included "Today," "The Baseball World of Joe Garagiola," and the game shows "He Said, She Said" and "Joe Garagiola's Memory Game." Garagiola's first "TTTT" panel appearance had been back in 1972, after which he was asked to return often. And not insignificantly, Joe Garagiola had a reputation as being one heckuva nice guy . . . a lot like Garry Moore.

On Tuesday, 25 January 1977, Garagiola taped the first in a string of sessions in which he mentioned, up front, that he was substituting for Moore. Everything except the host seemed the same: Bill Cullen was back on the panel, the show's intro credits were back to the Moore-era format, and the bulk of the guest panelists were those who had been visiting for years and knew how to keep the show entertaining.

As in prior seasons, the weekday on which "TTTT" taped its programs jumped around. Tuesday had always been the base day and still comprised well over half the weekly taping sessions. Wednesday was typically the alternate production day; twice in Garagiola's 46 weeks the tape day fell to Thursday. Producers played it safe with the panel during those early sessions without Moore, using semiregulars and game show pros in the rotating panel chair. Gradually, invitations were extended to new faces, but by that time, Moore had made a decision to step down permanently.

When it became evident that Garry Moore wouldn't be returning to the host's chair, Joe Garagiola got the job for good. Immediately there were production changes. First and most obviously, Garagiola dropped the pinch-hitting-for-Garry schtick with which he had begun each broadcast. Next, exuberant Alan Kalter replaced longtime "TTTT" announcer Bill Wendell. Then, commercial fades began to be accompanied by instrumental music, while audience microphones were opened way up during panelist/contestant walkons and the voting period. Finally, the show began to open, close, and fade to/return from commercial breaks using a visual wipe rather than its traditional slow fade. All of these modifications appeared to be an attempt to update the show by giving it a fresher, younger feel.

The retired, sneaker-wearing Moore returned to host his own sendoff on the 1,591st program. Moore's unexplained disappearance from the series had really left audiences hanging and was a marked contrast from his highly publicized "Garry Moore Show" and "I've Got A Secret" departures in 1964. So when Moore did return, the entire second half of the program was devoted to letting Moore do what he always did best: tell the truth. Moore explained about his hospitalization. He snuffed out pesky rumors that had begun while he was away. He prodded the panel for anecdotes about all their years together (Carlisle talked about her clothes, Cass about meeting people, and Cullen about Moore's friendship). Moore announced that Garagiola was the new permanent host. And then, just before the closing credits, 62-year-old Garry Moore walked away. Moore's last show was certainly one of "TTTT"'s finest half-hours, compelling for its frankness and willingness to momentarily abandon the game in favor of a going-away party for its charismatic former captain. Had he gone into that taping hoping to leave his audience wanting Moore . . . well, mission seriously accomplished.

"TTTT" saw its share of modifications during the Garagiola term, and if you look closely, you'll notice the panelists experiencing their own cosmetic changes. When Garagiola started emceeing, Kitty Carlisle sported a bouffant hairstyle, but within weeks had it cut in shorter layers. Conversely, Peggy Cass' short January locks grew to shoulder length by November. Bill Cullen switched from the brown-framed glasses he'd been wearing to a frameless pair. And newcomer Joe Garagiola became the first "TTTT" host to land a clothing sponsor in the form of the ubiquitous Botany 500, whose suits he started wearing a few weeks after he arrived. Never a dull fashion moment in Studio 6A!

Moore's finale was designed to be the first show of the fall 1977 season, but it didn't work that way everywhere. In Los Angeles and Philadelphia, the Garagiola-subbed shows began airing in March 1977 -- just a few weeks after being taped -- and were followed by the ten Cullen-hosted shows just before Moore/Garagiola summer repeats. Moore's goodbye show was indeed used as the first show that fall in those cities. Meantime, Atlanta and Salinas also got to see Moore retire as a season premiere, but viewers in those localities must have scratched their heads when Moore mentioned his earlier disappearance from "TTTT": first they'd heard of it, since the Cullen/Garagiola era hadn't aired there. And then in Kearney, Nebraska, the local "TTTT" audience had to wait until spring 1978 to get their first glimpse of Garagiola and Cullen greeting panels and reading affidavits. For those viewers, Garry Moore was going strong well over a year after he'd actually left the series.

Watching Joe Garagiola handle "TTTT" is less than satisfying, but that's hardly Garagiola's fault. There's an almost disingenuous feel to his episodes that springs largely from the production changes instigated early in his tenure. Suddenly, the audience noise was making a circus out of previously tame opening entrances; the studio clamor during the voting was enough to make a TV viewer think fights were breaking out just offstage. The music, the wide open mics, the wipes: although calculated to update the show, these new conventions only made "TTTT" look tired and out-of-date. And after eight-and-a-half years of exterminators and roller derbyists and silk spinners and child star teachers and camel racers and world's toughest cops -- not to mention all the animal segments -- who wouldn't need a rest, anyway?

So, on Tuesday, 28 February 1978, the Goodson-Todman and NBC crew taped "TTTT"'s 1,715th and final program. The featured contestants on that last show were Charles Darwin's great-grandson and a broomball player -- the usual mixture of serious and silly. Kitty Carlisle made a reference to her last vote, and Joe Garagiola's signoff was only slightly less veiled than Garry Moore's opening remarks had been in 1969

Hey, for some reason, I only have five seconds to say goodbye and I'm kind of glad because it's kind of a . . . different goodbye. And it's known only to us. See you again.

That was it. Most markets would continue to air "TTTT" through the summer anyway, so direct mentions of the episode's finale status were inappropriate. It was a sadly muted sendoff for a show that had been in its prime not so far back.

Soon the show would return in another format.


TV Guide Magazine, various local editions. Triangle Publications. Radnor, PA: 1976-79.
Fates, Gil. What's My Line? Inside the History of TV's Most Famous Panel Show. Prentice-Hall. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: 1978.

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Copyright © 2004-24 by Marshall Akers
Revised to include photo 08/24/08