By Adam Nedeff, Researcher for the National Archives of Game Show History
Different shows treat Christmas differently. Some game shows have been content to just do their normal game, but with tinsel and a tree adorning the set. Some shows take it a little further, playing the game with special material—What’s My Line? might welcome a reindeer breeder, Wheel of Fortune might have the lyrics to a Christmas carol as the solution to a puzzle. But few game shows turned Christmas into a full-blown event the way that one game show in particular, Concentration, did.
Each Christmas during the venerable 14-year-run of the NBC game, the host—Hugh Downs, and later Bob Clayton—would welcome viewers at home, as well as 30 children on the stage. Those 30 children, each representing a United Nations country serviced by the charity CARE, were decked in native garb representing their homelands.
As a special treat for the youngsters, the host would welcome Santa Claus to the studio, and out would come the familiar bearded man in the red suit . . . and then another bearded man in a red suit would emerge. Yes, somehow, every year on Concentration, TWO Santa Clauses showed up. An argument would ensue about which one of them was the real Santa Claus, until it became clear that there was only one way to settle this. They would play Concentration. The winner of the game would be dubbed the real Santa Claus.
The real winner of the game was CARE, a charity placed in the spotlight every Christmas because Concentration producer/puzzle artist Norm Blumenthal had a special fondness for it. The usual prizes hiding on the Concentration board were replaced on Christmas day by various amounts of cash, with the money accumulated by the winner going to CARE.
At the end of the half-hour, both Santas would unmask—unbeard, really—to reveal two celebrity guests. Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon did battle against each other one year. Phil Ford and Mimi Hines competed against each other and surprised the children onstage with 30 presents that they had paid for out of their own pockets in preparation for the show. Game show hosts Joe Garagiola, Art Fleming, and Bill Cullen were all Secret Santas at different times.
At the end of the half-hour, the 30 children participated in a gift exchange, grabbing a present from underneath the big tree onstage and handing it off to one of the other children. One year, in a moment that Norm Blumenthal treasured, the child from Israel picked out a present and handed it to the child from Iran, and the two embraced.
And to close the show, Hugh Downs or Bob Clayton would implore the audience to consider a donation to CARE. One year, Clayton pulled a penny from his pocket and explained that a penny was enough for CARE to pay for a glass of milk, and concluded by setting the penny on the ground, giving the audience a chance to dwell on how small and insignificant the coin looked on the floor of the studio. A few coins that viewers wouldn’t have missed had the potential to do a lot of good, if they would just make a donation.
On October 23, 2022, Norm Blumenthal—TV producer, artist, father, grandfather—died at age 97. To honor his memory this holiday season, I’d like to suggest that you consider playing the Concentration home game and making a donation to CARE afterward, carrying a great tradition forward.