ACBL Bridge Beat #51: Goren Hits The Airwaves
They said it couldn’t be done. “Too much going on for a small TV screen to handle”, “They play too slow”, “They play too fast”, and a myriad of other reasons, Walter Schwimmer, producer of the hit shows Championship Bowling and All-Star Golf was undaunted. He put his top people on the job of creating a new technique for filming a bridge match that anyone could understand. He enlisted the U.S. Playing Card company support and ACBL cooperation, found a sponsor (North American Van Lines), invested $250,000 and Championship Bridge with Charles Goren was born.
Championship Bridge made its TV network debut on ABC on Sunday, Oct. 18, 1959.
The idea of Championship Bridge was simple. Each week a rubber bridge match was played between two pairs consisting of the top players in the U.S. with occasional appearances by the top players in the world (four members of the Italian Blue Team appeared on the show). The winning pair received $1000 and stayed on the show until defeated. The losing pair received $500. Additional bonuses of $250 and $500 were awarded for bidding and making a small or grand slam.
Goren served as the commentator, prize awarder, applauder of good bids, consoler of bad ones and explainer to the general public. He was assisted by veteran newscaster Alex Drier who served as emcee.
The first episode pitted Helen Sobel and Paul Hodge against Lee Hazen and Sidney Lazard. Others to appear on the show were Oswald Jacoby, B. Jay Becker, Howard Schenken, John Gerber, Richard Frey, Charles and Peggy Solomon, Albert Morehead, Edith Freilich and Easley Blackwood.
Championship Bridge aired on ABC from 1959-1964.