|Bill Cullen (1980–1982)|
Bill Rafferty (1987)
|Bob Hilton (1980–1982)|
Johnny Olson (sub)
Rich Jeffries (sub in 1982, 1987)
|Broadcast (NBC Daytime)|
|Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions (1980–1982)|
Mark Goodson Productions (1987)
Blockbusters was a game of skill and strategy, where the game board was a honeycomb filled with letters, each of which were the beginning letters "that lead to victory" of an answer to a question. This show originally pitted a solo player against a family pair to see if two heads are better than one. In the 1987 revival, it pitted only a solo player versus a solo player.
A 4×5 board of 20 hexagons was presented with a letter in each hexagon. A letter was chosen at random to start a game. The answer to the question would begin with the letter chosen. For example, if the letter B were chosen, a sample question could be, "What 'B' is a long silver rod twirled by a majorette or cheerleader?", in which case the correct answer would be "Baton". The contestant who buzzed in first would get a chance to answer the question. If correct, the space was marked with their color. If they were incorrect, the other side would get a chance to answer. If nobody answered correctly, another question was asked whose answer begins with that same letter.
One player would have to connect from top to bottom, which could be done in as little as four correct answers. The other would have to connect from side to side in as little as five moves. Completing a path earned money, with two games needed to win the match and advance to the bonus round.
Due to the interlocking patterns of the hexagons, a game couldn't end in a tie.
The contestant had to connect from side to side in 60 seconds or less. The difference here was that many of the hexagons had multiple letters on them (1 to 5 letters), and naturally, they represented an answer of more than one word (eg: "BS", What people kiss in Ireland: Blarney Stone). Correct answers would mark the chosen hexagons, but wrong answers or passes put up blocks and the contestant had to work around them. If the contestant made the connection, he/she won a major cash prize. If time expired, they received $100 for every captured hexagon. If they were blocked out, the contestant could continue and try to build up the consolation prize of $100 for every correct answer until time ran out.
For this version, a solo player faced a family pair. The solo player went top to bottom, while the family pair went side to side. If the solo player missed, only one half of the family pair could answer, without conference.
In the pilot, it took $500 to win the match. A regular game of Blockbusters was played, with the first side to make the connection winning $250. That side then played a game called "Shortcut to Victory", Bill asked three Gold Run-style questions. The contestant answered by calling out a(n) (set of) initital(s) and then give the answer. If the contestant could answer all three questions correctly, it paid $250, ending the match immediately. If the contestant stumbled along the way, the opposing side received the $250, and a second game of Blockbusters was played to determine the winner of the match. That's why to potentially prevent this from happening, the winning side was asked to pass control of the game to the opposing side, making the process reversed. For the Gold Run, the four gold bars on the right-hand side concealed a money amount ($1,000/$3,000/$5,000/$10,000). If the contestant connected gold to gold, the payout as the amount hidden behind the bar adjacent to the last correct answer.
For the show's first four weeks, each win was worth a trip to the "Gold Rush/Run", with no money awarded for the front game. After that, completing a path earned the side $500, with two games needed to win the match.
Gold Rush/Gold RunEdit
If the contestant made the connection, he/she won $2,500 (on the first time) or $5,000 (on the second time). After the show began awarding money in the match, Gold Run was always played after each match for $5,000. If the family pair advanced to the bonus round, only one of them could play.
The show was revived in 1987 with two solo players. The champion represented white while the challenger represented red. On questions in which somebody would win the game on the hexagon that would cause either side to make the connection, Bill Rafferty referred to this situation as a "dual implication". Again, the game was best two-out-of-three, with the advantage alternating between players in the first two games. If a tie was achieved, a 4×4 tiebreaker board was used and either player could win in as few as four moves (white still went from left to right, and red still went top to bottom). Each game was worth $100 instead of $500.
The Gold Run was played exactly the same as before, with one exception that was added for the show's final nine weeks. If the contestant won, he/she received an accumulating jackpot that started at $5,000 and increased by that amount for each unsuccessful attempt. The jackpot reset to $5,000 each time a new champion was crowned (a la Hot Potato, which, ironically, Cullen went on to host after his version of Blockbusters ended).
For the show's first four weeks, the longest that champions could stay on the original Blockbusters was eight matches. If they won all 16 bonus rounds that they played, they would retire with $60,000.
Starting in the show's fifth week, each champion was permitted to stay up to 10 matches, with the top possible payout again being $60,000. On August 31, 1981, the match limit was doubled to 20, making the potential payout $120,000. Also, retired 10-time champions started to return to the show in an attempt to add more to their winnings.
The revival revived the second 1980 format. So again, champions could stay until they won ten matches or were defeated. Theoretically, contestants winning their last Gold Run in this version would retire with at least $52,000 (including Gold Run consolation prize winnings).
- John Hatton – The show’s biggest champion solo player who was a psychologist from California. His first day was on a day when the board went loopy. Other than that, he was one of several contestants who was invited back after the limit rose. His first time playing netted him the full $60,000. At one point during his first run, his house burned to the ground after a single taping; during that time, he was asked to leave the show to straighten things out and then come back on a future show, but he declined just to continue his run. During his second run, he appeared to lose his 19th Gold Run when he supposedly answered a question incorrectly; however, the answer that he gave for that question, "John Audubon", was ruled correct after the staff did their research and realized their mistake. John was awarded the $5,000 because he would have made the connection. He played his 20th and final Gold Run with no problems, retiring with the full $120,000. He was also a champion from the 1970s version of Split Second.
- LaRae Dillman – Had two separate runs as champion having won $65,000. She was the only one who retired as champion during the first format having won $47,000 at that time. She also appeared as a contestant on The New $25,000 Pyramid in 1982, Sale of the Century in 1989, and Russian Roulette in 2002.
- Leland Yung – A contestant on Password Plus in 1979, winning $16,000 there, Leland came to Blockbusters, playing his first ten matches to a tee and winning $51,000. When he returned in March 1982, Leland won another $55,600 for a total of $106,600. He graduated from UCLA in between his runs.
- Kandi Doyle – During her two separate runs as champ won $62,800 (her first run won her $50,800). She came on the show after Leland Yung had his first retirement.
- Sherry Lucas – During the 10-game limit, she was tied with John Hatton as the biggest winner at that time with a perfect score of $60,000. She was later invited back with the 20-game limit, but she did not go the full 20 times. Sherry finished with $66,500.
- Gene Vissich (female) – She was the last solo player on the show although she was a returning champion having won ten matches. She didn't win many of her Gold Runs, but her final total was $51,700 ($46,700 in her ten matches). She only played one game in her return, due to the fact it was the final episode. She got $5,000 for winning it.
- Jeanne Pierce – She was the only undefeated champion from the 1987 revival. She picked up the full $52,000, plus $1,000 in Gold Run consolation prize money, for a total of $53,000. Jeanne later appeared on Sale of the Century.
- Joe & Tom Hendricks – These twins were the first championship family pair on the show, winning $26,800. Tom also appeared on Match Game and later Trivia Trap in 1984.
- Alan & Jeff Dennis – These twins won five of the ten trips to the Gold Run and won $37,700. They did return with the 20-game limit, won none of the Gold Runs, and were defeated with $40,600.
- Kathy Thomas & John Shannon – A brother & sister team who appeared in the final days of 1980 and early days of 1981. In their first match, an incorrect answer for John was proven correct. Like the McCarthy's, they alternated in their turns at the Gold Run board and retired as 10-time champs with $51,200. They were invited back with the 20-game limit and left with $59,300, not going the full 20 times.
- Pat & Liz McCarthy – The show's biggest family pair champions, they were the only players of either side to win 20 consecutive times, winning the full $120,000.
1982 – In the 1982 series finale, the second & final match of the day (and the final match of the series) was just a single game in which the winning side receives $5,000 (no Gold Run was played afterward); if time had run out, the side which captured more hexagons was declared the winning side; this was all so that the show could close up shop as evenly as they can. Gene Vissich (female), a returning retired champion, won that game to give her a final total of $51,700. In the final segment after showing the audience filled with future contestants who would never get a chance (including previous champion Marge Moore with a total of $1,400), Bill Cullen read statistics regarding both the solo players and family pairs, all in answer to the questions about the handicap and the design of the board (at least five correct answers for family pairs, and at least four correct answers for solo players). 37 solo players played 175 Gold Runs and won $806,000, while 45 pairs also played 175 Gold Runs but won $767,000; the family pair side won for winning the most matches by eight while the solo players won for winning the most money by $39,000, though both sides played the same number of Gold Runs; so all in all, the format worked out great. As Bill said, "If everything else worked as well as the handicap, I would've said at a time like this, 'Goodbye, we'll see you tomorrow.'"
1987 – In the 1987 series finale, one full match was played in which returning champion Patti Perrin won with two straight (with & without the advantage), but she got blocked in playing the Gold Run and only picked up $400 since she put up four gold hexagons. Patti supposedly would've been playing for $10,000 but instead was playing for $15,000 since this was the show's finale (by that time, the show started adding $5,000 additional for each failure of winning the Gold Run but by that contestant only; new champions always started at $5,000). Before the Gold Run and as the show had been doing over the final weeks, Bill Rafferty & Rich Jeffries promoted Classic Concentration by doing a contestant plug for that show; Classic Concentration would be the show that replaced Blockbusters the following Monday. In the final segment in his goodbye speech and since Patti wasn't able to win the final Gold Run, Bill Rafferty gave Patti an additional $1,000 for a final total of $2,200, and the rest is history.
In the 1980-1982 run, the game board was run by slide projectors (ala shows like Press Your Luck, The Joker's Wild, and Bullseye). It was a nearly 20-foot-high piece of machinery, made up of 20 hexagonal rear-projection screens, which concealed 20 separate Vismo projectors. Each projector contained slides for the hexagon’s appropriate letter, the red and white colors, the multiple-letter Gold Run slide, and a yellow color for the Gold Run markers. The entire board was flanked by two white fins that would swing in to provide the team of two with the proper connecting color for each side of the board. The fins would also swing out to reveal the gold sidebars that needed to be connected in the Gold Run; as shown in one episode, the white hexagons turned gold when the transition occurred. During the show, stagehands were stationed inside the board with the task of shuffling the letters for each main game, as well as replacing the used Gold Run slides and attending to any technical malfunctions. Absent from earlier weeks, at the top of the board was a flip sign reading "$5,000" which was used for the Gold Rush/Run only. At one time at the start of a show before a playing of the Gold Rush/Run, Tom Kennedy (who hosted Password Plus at the time) was inside the board and stuck his head out a top hexagon to promote the time change for Password Plus. Also, late in the run, the background of the set changed from gold to blue. On two shows during Christmas time, several of the hexagons made up a Christmas tree with red & white hexagons flashing back & forth.
In the short-lived four-month 1987 run, the board was completely computer-generated, provided by Entec Systems. The green hexagons which housed the letters were bevel-typed, and in the back, the hexagons were blue with diamonds inside, similar to the ones on the set. The advantage of having a computer-generated board was that it was now animated; in the opening of the show, the hexagons would fly from all directions to form the game board, flipped over & back (at the time of the show's logo showing), then came apart prior to host Bill Rafferty's introduction (a shot of the animation was used in the ticket & contestant plugs); at the start of a game, after the sides came in, the hexagons would fly in from the sides to form the board after which the letters would pop in one by one; later shows starting in March (excluding the Gold Run) had them flip zoom in; starting in February, they would flip zoom out (minus the captured hexagons) when the game was over. While the home viewers saw the board on their TV sets, the contestants saw the board on a small Sony TV monitor housed inside a giant neon blue hexagon which during the closing credits did a light show; it spun around and later wiped in (both two triangles at a time). On certain shows after the credits, while it was still wiping in light-wise, the neon hexagon zoomed out to re-reveal the set which by that point went dark save for a few spotlights and the set logo which continuously lit up a letter at a time just like the 1980 series logo during the closing. In one episode, when the game quickly went from a Gold Run to a new match with no commercial interruption, viewers could see the small monitor reveal itself as the Game 1 board flew in.
A home game by Milton Bradley was made during the later years of the 1980-82 version. It was commonly given out as a parting gift for defeated contestants.
GSN had their very own interactive version where you were allowed to play along with the show on their website.
For the 1980 version, the contestant would play the Gold Run from a section of Bill Cullen's podium, which would rotate outwards and to the right (or left from Bill's point of view), with a smaller microphone for this purpose. The 1987 set, meanwhile, instead had a gold-colored railing/handhold flip up from the floor for the contestant to stand at.
1980 – by Bob Cobert
1987 (Original) – Music Design Group
1987 (Vamps) – KPM Music
"Run Don't Walk (A)" by Richard Myhill
"Run Don't Walk (B)" by Richard Myhill
The 1987 theme and variants would later be reused on Know Your Heritage as well as numerous commercials and network promos for various products.
NBC Studios, Burbank, CA
Countries that have previously aired their versions of Blockbusters includes:
- The Netherlands
- Saudi Arabia
- A UK version of the show was broadcast at various times. Blockbusters aired on ITV from 1983 to 1994 and on Sky One from 1994 to 1995 (with presenter Bob Holness); in the show's original 12-season run, the contestants were high school students. The show was revived by the BBC for one season in 1997; Michael Aspel presented the show. In 2000, Liza Tarbuck presented a new series of Blockbusters on Sky One; that series ran until 2001. In 2012, months after Bob Holness died, Simon Mayo hosted a new edition of Blockbusters (called All New Blockbusters) on Challenge. From 1997 to 2012, all of the show's contestants were adults. In 2019, a new "comedic" version airs on Comedy Central (British channel not the American channel of the same name) hosted by Dara O'Briain.
- A spinoff series called Champion Blockbusters (also presented by Bob Holness) aired on ITV from 1987 until 1990 where it invited former winners back to play again but only this time for their favorite charities (along with the "mystery letter" boosting their funds considerably when answering a question correctly) In addition, they still won their gold run prizes (all of which were relevant in some way to whatever they were doing).
- A one-off revival of Blockbusters (presented by Vernon Kay) as part of Vernon Kay's Game Show Marathon aired on ITV in 2007.
In Popular CultureEdit
In the 1998 drama film Great Expectations based on an adaptation of the 1861 novel by Charles Dickens of the same name when Finnegan "Finn" Bell (played by Jeremy James Kissner) goes inside a shelter, clips of the original Bill Cullen version of Blockbusters can be briefly seen playing on television.
- ↑ Cullen Finale
- ↑ Rafferty Finale
- ↑ Tom Kennedy visits Blockbusters plus Gold Run
- ↑ Second Blockbusters Christmas Tree
Blockbusters at Classic Game Shows
Blockbusters at Game Show Utopia
Blockbusters at Game Show Galaxy (archived)
Blockbusters with Bill Cullen at tv-gameshows.com (archived)
Blockbusters with Bill Rafferty
Josh Rebich's Blockbusters Rule Sheets
A blog about the Blockbusters board game from 1982
Official Pearson website for Blockbusters (via Internet Archive)