Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Blockbusters (game show)
The original US version of Blockbusters, hosted by Bill Cullen, ran from October 27, 1980, to April 23, 1982. A second version, hosted by Bill Rafferty , ran from January 5 to May 1, 1987. Both versions aired on NBC, and reruns of both versions have aired on GSN in recent years.
Blockbusters had a more successful run in the UK, where it was shown from 1983 to 1993 on the ITV network with Bob Holness hosting. The show, made by Central Independent Television, was played by sixth form students with prizes accrued for the students and their colleges. The theme music for this version was by Ed Welch . After finishing on ITV, the show continued for a few years on the satellite channel Sky One, though some ITV regions continued to show the series. Reruns from 1992 were shown on Challenge between October and December 2004, and were shown again throughout March 2005.
Subsequent series have been made for adult contestants, broadcast by BBC Two in 1997 (presented by Michael Aspel) and Sky One again in 2000 (presented by Liza Tarbuck). These versions failed to capture the same degree of popularity as the Holness incarnation.
A solo player competed against a "family pair" that consisted of two related contestants (married couples were not allowed), thus setting out to prove if two heads really were better than one.
The game board consisted of 20 interlocking hexagons, arranged in five columns of four. Each hexagon contained a letter of the alphabet. A contestant would choose one of the letters, and would be asked a general-knowledge trivia question whose correct answer began with the chosen letter. (A typical question was something like, "What 'P' is a musical instrument with 88 keys?" The answer would be a piano.) In the UK, the phrasing that contestants would use to ask for a letter has entered the language, and is frequently heard to this day. It is also the source of a mildly amusing pun - "I'll have a 'P' please, Bob". In the US, such nonsense might not have even been considered.
The game began with a toss-up question to play for control of the board, starting with a letter that was chosen at random. The first contestant to buzz in with the correct answer gained control of that hexagon and was given the chance to choose another one. If the contestant answered incorrectly, the opposing team or player was given a chance to answer it. If nobody answered it correctly, the host asked another question whose answer began with that same letter.
The object of the game for the solo player was to complete a vertical connection from the top of the board to the bottom; that required at least four correct answers. The object for the family pair was to make a horizontal connection from the left side of the board to the right; that required at least five correct answers. The first player or team to win two games won the match.
For the 1987 NBC revival, a major change was made by dropping the "family pair" concept; instead, each game was played by one champion playing against one challenger. However, the gameboard was not structurally altered. While this would seem to give one player an unfair advantage, as he or she would have a shorter minimum path to win the game, the producers solved this problem by alternating which player had that advantage in each game. In this version, the challenger played the shorter top-to-bottom route in the first game, while in the second the champion took over that route. A third tie-breaker round, if necessary, was played on a smaller 4x4 gameboard that gave neither player an obvious advantage.
The winner of the match went on to play the Gold Run bonus round; if the family pair won, only one player on the team could play. The board consisted of a pattern of hexagons similar to that of the main game, but the hexagons had multiple letters inside them; those letters were the initials of the correct answer. (For instance, if a contestant chose "ARC" and the host said "Organization founded by Clara Barton", the correct answer would be "American Red Cross.") If a contestant guessed incorrectly, that hexagon became a "block" and it was up to the contestant to work around it. The object was to horizontally connect the left and right sides of the board within 60 seconds (or before blocking off all possible horizontal connections).
When the original NBC version began, the Gold Run was called "Gold Rush," and was played after every game (instead of after a best-of-three match). Under these rules, the round was played for $2,500 after winning the first game of a match, and for $5,000 after a match win (the $5,000 attempt was called "Super Gold Rush"). If time ran out for a player, each gold hexagon on the board was worth $100. Champions could return to the Super Gold Rush eight times, for a potential $60,000. Shortly thereafter, each win in the main game was worth $500 (originally the only reward for a game win was the right to go to the Gold Rush/Run) and only the "Super" version of the Gold Rush/Run, with its $5,000 payoff, was played. Contestants could stay on the show until they won ten matches; that was later changed to 20 matches. The maximum possible winnings was still $60,000, and $120,000 after the 20-win rule. Previous retired champions were invited back after the rule change to try and win more money.
The 1987 NBC version's Gold Run was originally played for a flat $5,000, but towards the end of its run it became an accruing jackpot that started at $5,000 and increased by that amount after each unsuccessful attempt until won by that player. New champions would start with a fresh $5,000 jackpot.
In the UK, the winner of three games played the Gold Run, and won a special prize, usually a holiday, for completing the run. For every unsuccesful attempt, money was awarded for each correct answer. Defending champions could keep going for up to five sets of three games undefeated, in order to win an even bigger prize. In later series, so they could get through more contestants over the course of a series, presumably, this was reduced to three consecutive successes.
Blockbusters was created by Steve Ryan, who also created the rebuses for Classic Concentration. He also co-authored the Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows with David Schwartz and Fred Wostbrock.
The game appears to be influenced greatly by the game Hex.
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