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R.I.P. Jim Lange, host of The Dating Game

Radio broadcaster and TV host Jim Lange has died, at 81. Lange began his radio career while still a teenager in Minnesota. After graduating college and serving in the Marines, he moved to California, where he hosted radio shows on various San Francisco and Los Angeles stations, starting in 1960. Two years later, he made his TV debut playing announcer and sidekick to the country singer Tennessee Ernie Ford.

But he was best known as the host of The Dating Game, the lovably smarmy  quiz show that premiered on ABC in 1965 and that, along with The Newlywed Game (which debuted a year later), set producer Chuck Barris on the road to earning a reputation as a national menace hell-bent on the destruction of western civilization. On each episode, a “bachelorette” or, less frequently, a bachelor would select one of three unseen potential suitors on the basis of their answers to questions—questions that were designed, by the show’s writing staff, to elicit leeringly flirtatious questions. (As a prize, the two of them would win a date together.)

As ringmaster over this particular circus, it was Lange’s job to keep things moving, glide past the cringe-inducing moments, and impose a modest veneer of class on the proceedings. He managed it well enough that, after ABC cancelled the show in 1973, Barris retained him to host the syndicated version that ran until 1980.

The ranks of bachelorettes and the show’s “male-order” panel sometimes included people trying to break into show business who were looking for a little TV face time, and some of them later went on to bigger things. Farrah Fawcett, John Ritter, Tom Selleck, Lindsay Wagner, and Steve Martin all appeared on the show; so did Andy Kaufman, doing one of his early media put-ons under the alias “Baji Kimran.”

In what may be the single creepiest episode of a game show ever recorded, the bachelors on tap one night included Rodney Alcala, a serial killer who had already been convicted of rape, and who is believed to have taken photographs of his victims. (Lange references Alcala’s interest in photography in his introduction.) Asked by the bachelorette for his “best time,” Alcala replied the best time is nighttime, because “nighttime’s when it really gets good.” He won.

Lange also hosted other game shows, such as Bullseye and $100,000 Name That Tune, and appeared as himself on episodes of Amazing Stories, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, and Moesha, and in George Clooney’s feature film adaptation of Chuck Barris’ bizarro-world autobiography, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (2002). He continued to work in radio, which his wife described as “his real love,” until 2005.

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