Yet another panel game show from producers Mark Goodson and Bill Todman, this one created by Allan Sherman, who later rose to greater fame in the novelty song industry. Although several different versions have aired, they all have essentially the same game play.
A contestant enters and sits down next to the host. The contestant then pretends to whisper a secret into the host's ear; meanwhile, their secret is superimposed over the TV picture for the audience to read. The host then clarifies the secret for the panel, e.g. "his secret concerns something he did" or "her secret concerns something she is."
The four panelists then get about 30 seconds each to ask the contestant yes or no questions about their secret. For each panelist who is unable to guess the contestant's secret, the host hands the contestant cash (on the original version of the show, it was $20 per panelist, for a maximum possible of $80).
Also featured in each episode is a celebrity with a secret of their own. Originally, the celebrity's secrets were similar to those of the contestants, but then Monty Woolley appeared with the secret "I sleep with my beard under the covers." After his secret was revealed, the panel asked him about it, and he admitted that he didn't really, that it was just a secret the producers had chosen for him. (This was the closest Goodson-Todman ever got to having a quiz show scandal.)
The celebrity's secrets soon became more demonstrative in nature, such as Buster Keaton with "I'm going to judge the panel in a pie-eating contest" and Mickey Rooney imitating the facial expressions seen on photographs of babies that were being projected on a screen behind the panel.
In fact, more often than not, the actual contestants' secrets would involve their hidden talents, which they were always given a chance to demonstrate. "I've Got a Secret" tended to be more variety show than game show at times.
The original version premiered on CBS on Thursday, June 19, 1952, at 10:30 P.M. Eastern time; the time slot it spent the longest in was Wednesday nights at 9:30.
Garry Moore was the first host, with regular panelists Bill Cullen, Henry Morgan, Faye Emerson, and Jayne Meadows. By 1959, the females had been replaced by Betsy Palmer and Bess Myerson.
In 1964, Garry Moore left the show and was replaced as host by Steve Allen, who remained as host until the final episode aired on April 3, 1967.
Steve Allen then returned as host when "I've Got a Secret" returned in the fall of 1972 as a weekly syndicated program, lasting only one year. There was no group of regulars on this version, although many of the regulars from the 1970s "What's My Line?" such as Gene Rayburn and Meredith MacRae made occasional appearances.
CBS then revived the show for a limited run from June 15 to July 6, 1976, Tuesday nights at 8:00. This time, Bill Cullen had been promoted to the host's chair. The panelist rotation on this version included Henry Morgan, Pat Collins, Phyllis George, Elaine Joyce, and Richard Dawson.
"I've Got a Secret" then made an unlikely return on the Oxygen cable channel with host Stephanie Miller, where it premiered the same day as the channel debuted, February 1, 2000. On this version, instead of the host and the panel sitting at desks, the set resembled a living room.
The original theme song was a Leroy Anderson instrumental called "Plink, Plank, Plunk," which sounds exactly like the title indicates it does. When Steve Allen took over as host, the theme was changed to his personal theme song, "This Could Be the Start of Something Big."
Reruns of both the first CBS version and the syndicated version have aired on Game Show Network. GSN even shows the episodes that were sponsored by Winston cigarettes, even though cigarette advertising is illegal on TV these days.