|Faded Denim Productions|
|Buena Vista Television|
Debt was a two-year game show hosted by Wink Martindale. Barring a 2008 appearance on Good Morning America where he hosted a segment of Gambit, this was Wink's last game show until the short-lived Instant Recall in 2010.
Three contestants were introduced with the amount of debt they had (usually between $6,000 and $10,000) and the reasons why. After introductions, the debt of the three contestants was averaged to level the playing field. The scores were shown in negative amounts to reflect the debt of each contestant.
Round 1: General DebtEdit
The first round was a Jeopardy!-style round in which the contestants faced a 30 trilon board with five categories, each with five questions with negative dollar values ranging from -$50 to -$250 in increments of $50. The first selection went to the player who had the lowest debt (before averaging the scores). On a player's turn, he/she chose a category and value, after which a "Who am I?" type question was revealed. The first contestant to buzz in was allowed to answer. Contestants were required to start their answers with either "You are…" to receive credit (the contraction "You're" also was accepted). A correct answer deducted the chosen amount from the player's debt. A wrong answer or running out of time put the player that much further in debt. The contestant who answered correctly then chose the next question from the board. If no one did so, the contestant who gave the last correct answer kept control.
One of the questions in the round was labeled the "Debtonator". This was the round's most difficult question in the producers' opinion, and was worth $500, regardless of the face value of the question.
When time ended or all questions had been asked, the player with the highest debt was eliminated and received a $200 savings bond, along with a piggy bank.
This round underwent a few format changes between seasons:
- The 30 trilons were replaced with a 9-screen video wall.
- Before Round 1 (and after the averaging of the debts), the game started out with a toss-up question worth -$1 and the right to pick first from the board.
- Contestants were no longer required to begin their responses with the phrase "You are…" throughout the game.
- Rather than choosing individual questions, contestants chose an entire category from the five on the board, and the five questions from that category were asked in succession. Due to this change, the "Debtonator" now represented an entire category played for double value (-$100 to -$500).
- The contestant who gave the last correct answer in a category chose the next one.
Round 2: Gambling DebtEdit
After revealing the category, each contestant announced how many out of five questions he/she could answer to win the money for that category. At the beginning of the round, the trailing player (the one with the higher amount of debt) placed the first bid; his/her opponent then had the opportunity to increase the bid. Bids were exchanged until the maximum bid of five was made or a contestant directed their opponent to "Prove it!", forcing them to fulfill the contract. Upon giving a correct answer, the question just played turned into a "happy face", but an incorrect answer or no answer whatsoever flipped the question back to its neutral position in Season 1, and turned into an "X" in Season 2. If the controlling player completed the contract, the money was subtracted from that player's debt. If the player was unable to fulfill the contract, their opponent's debt was reduced. The winner of each category earned the right to place the first bid for the next. Five categories were played in this round, with values of -$300, -$400, -$500, -$750, and -$1,500 respectively.
The player with the higher debt was eliminated at the end of the round and received a $500 savings bond in addition to the piggy bank, while the player with the lower score won the game and advanced to the bonus round. If at any point in the round it became mathematically impossible for a player to catch up, even if he/she were to win every remaining category, that player was "mathematically eliminated" and automatically received the consolation prize.
The most money a player could eliminate from their debt in the General and Gambling Debt rounds was $7,650 in Season 1 and $7,951 in Season 2.
The show's bonus round was played in two stages. They were called "Get Out of Debt" and "Bet Your Debt".
Get Out of DebtEdit
The winning player was given an "expiration date" (time limit) of 60 seconds to answer 10 questions in a particular category. Doing so won cash in the amount of their original debt. Losing the bonus round meant the player kept whatever money they earned in the first two rounds.
Bet Your DebtEdit
After the first part of the bonus round, the player was given the option to "Bet [their] debt". A category selected by the contestant (prior to the show) on their particular favorite subject in the world of pop culture was presented as a one-question double-or-nothing gamble. The player could elect to keep what they had won up to that point, or risk all of their winnings to add an amount in cash equal to their original debt or their main game winnings, based on how well they fared in the first part of the bonus round.
If the player decided to go for it, he/she had 10 seconds to answer the question once Wink asked it. If the player answered the question correctly, their winnings were doubled, and the player received the equal amount of money to their original debt if they won the first part of the bonus round or the money the player earned in the first two rounds if they didn't. If the player failed to answer the question correctly, they lost the money they had won, and received a savings bond worth $1,500 if they won the first part of the bonus round or $1,000 if they didn't. If the player decided to walk away, Wink still asked the player the question and they were given a chance to respond, in order to find out what would have happened.
During the second season, one week of the show was devoted to celebrities who are all playing for up to $15,000 for their favorite charities.
This week employed the following alterations:
- Rather than starting off with an average debt amount (since there were no debts to average with), all celebrity players started off with $7,500.
- Eliminated celebrities left the game with $500 for their charities.
- In the final round, answering all ten questions correctly in the Get Out of Debt portion won the winning celebrity $7,500; the Bet Your Debt question (which was about his/her career) was played for no risk, a correct answer doubled the winnings to $15,000.
When Debt debuted on June 3, 1996, the show's logo resembled a Visa card with three stripes in green, white and red from top to bottom with the word "DEBT" in teal across the white stripe. It was revised on July 8, 1996 with a white box surrounded by a green frame which included the underlined title in red letters inside the white box.
Chat with WinkEdit
Debt Piggy BankEdit
The Debt piggy bank awarded to eliminated players in the first season was actually Hamm from the Disney/Pixar movie Toy Story (voiced in the film by Cheers star John Ratzenberger). In the second season, a more generic piggy bank with the Debt logo was used.
In Season 2 whenever a contestant was eliminated in the first two rounds, the words "BYE-BYE", "GOODBYE", "SO LONG" and "SEE YA" were displayed in their eggcrate podium.
For the first season, the end game board was shown in the style of the Visa-style logo, with light up overlays above and below the word "DEBT". The "Get Outta Debt" category was shown on the top part above the word "DEBT", and the "Bet Your Debt" category was shown on the bottom part below it. In season 2, it was changed so that the Debt logo appeared as a video wall which now showed both categories on it, plus additional graphics in which the word "Paid", in the style of a marking by a rubber stamp, would appear if the contestant was out of debt, and the total of money the contestant would take home at the end of the show.
In Season 2, in the Bet Your Debt Round, if the contestant answered the Double or Nothing question correctly, the big word "WINNER" was displayed in that eggcrate bonus board revealing that grand total on that board.
In 1997, Merv Griffin Enterprises sued the creators of Debt due to similarities to the gameplay that was on Jeopardy!
Shortly after Lifetime cancelled the series (for the reason that more men were watching the series than women, the network's target audience), reruns were sold to only a handful of local stations, also short trial runs were aired on broadcast TV stations in preparation for a potential syndication run (plans for the show included paying off people's mortgages), but the show was never revived.
Some local syndication stations (like KTLA) reran all the episodes of the show with a different opening which consists of still images of various moments from the show zooming in and out and panning, similar to the intro to the show The Rockford Files staring the late James Garner. The theme to Debt stayed the same.
Two game show hosts appeared as contestants on Debt: Larry Toffler, who had hosted the syndicated version of Finders Keepers in the late '80s, and Frank Nicotero, who later went on to host Street Smarts. Toffler would later win $100,000 on the FOX game show Greed.
In one episode, a victorious contestant celebrated a $16,000+ win by ripping off his toupee, throwing it on the floor, then dancing around the hairpiece.
Sarah Jane West
Pay it Off - Show on BET airing in 2009 with a similar format.
Early episode with a "Visa"-esque logo