Chain Reaction (NBC, 1980)
It’s time to look back at another original American version of a game show that would later come to British TV. One of my favourite game shows that was shown in the 9:25am weekday slot on ITV was Lucky Ladders. I wonder how many people know that it was based on an American show called Chain Reaction. There have been several versions of this show in America, but I’ll concentrate on the original one that was shown on NBC back in 1980.
Chain Reaction (“the show where one word leads to another”) was hosted by Bill Cullen, who hosted a lot of US game shows over the years, including the original version of Blockbusters around the same time which I also reviewed as part of this series. Although the basic idea of word association was the same, there were several differences to Lucky Ladders. Firstly, two teams of three (not two teams of two) took part, and they consisted of one non-celebrity along with two celebrities.
In the first round, the word ladder (or “chain” as it was called here) with the top and bottom word filled in appeared (consisting of eight words instead of seven), and the contestants had to guess the linking words inbetween. Unlike Lucky Ladders the same contestant chooses what letter they want and then they have to guess the word. If they get it right, the team keeps control of the chain and play passes to the next contestant in line. Get it wrong and play passes to the other team. One thing the two versions did have in common is that there were a lot of somewhat embarrassing incorrect guesses.
The scoring system was also different. Teams scored one point per letter for each word that they solved, and words on the chain that featured a “+” sign meant that they were worth double points. Play carried on until a team reached 50 points, at which point the contestant won $250 and then their team would go on to play the bonus round, which was completely different from Lucky Ladders and called Instant Reaction (not the more familiar Jackpot Ladder, which wasn’t introduced until the first revival in 1986). This was the chance to win $10,000 in 90 seconds! That’s something of a contrast to the UK version which had no cash prizes on offer.
The two celebrities had to describe something against the clock, but they could only give one word at a time and alternated, sort of a more intense The Pyramid Game. A bell would then ring and the contestant had to answer. If they got it right, they would win some money, all the way up to $10,000 for ten correct answers. They would then stay on to play another game against a new contestant, and they could play up to ten games.
This version of Chain Reaction didn’t do very well and it only lasted for about six months in a daytime slot on American TV, although it was revived in more recent years with a few rule changes. I must admit that after watching this I prefer Lucky Ladders (which ran for almost five years on ITV), but it was still rather interesting to discover where the idea originally came from.