Classic Concentration (NBC, 1987-1991)
Here’s a look at another original version of an American game show that later came to the UK. Concentration was originally on American TV for 20 years from 1958-1978, and there was a British version as early as 1959. This piece will focus on the revival (which was renamed Classic Concentration) that launched in 1987, a British version of this version launched on ITV in 1988 and ran for two series. There are plenty of editions on YouTube, so let’s do a comparison.
Classic Concentration was a daytime game show (the ITV version was in primetime) hosted by Alex Trebek, who is best known for hosting Jeopardy! for 35 years. I didn’t realise that Trebek had hosted so many other game shows over the years, but his style was more relaxed than on Jeopardy! and there weren’t so many difficult questions (or indeed, answers) for contestants to face. There was also some marvellous knitwear on display and the glamorous assistant Marjorie was available to show off some of the prizes.
Two contestants took part and they had to match the pairs on the 5×5 board (which was identical to the one used on the British version) that would reveal the famous phrase hidden behind the squares. The show was a test of memory. There were also plenty of prizes on offer, but were they better than the British version? The prizes included fridges, pool tables, cameras, holidays, not too bad really.
Contestants picked two squares, if they found a match, they won the prize, the squares were removed, and they could have another go. Also hidden on the board were Wild squares. If they find one of the three of those along with a prize, the other square with the prize is removed. If they match two Wild squares, they win a bonus of $500 and can have another pick. The odds of finding all three Wild squares is very small, but a contestant did that with their very first pick on the very first edition!
A further twist was that there were also green and red Take squares hidden. Find those and you could steal one of your opponent’s prizes. If a contestant thought that they knew the answer, they often would say “I’d like to solve the puzzle, Alex” (I thought that was a phrase used on another game show?). If they are right, they keep their prizes. It’s a best-of-three, if it goes to a third and deciding game, the puzzle is revealed square-by-square from top to bottom. Whoever buzzes in first with the correct answer goes into the final.
In the final, the contestant must make seven matches from the 15 squares in 35 seconds to win the car, the leftover square being the make of car that they win. If they don’t succeed, they can return as a defending champion, and are also given an extra five seconds if they make the final again to give them a better chance of winning. There were also themed editions including college students and a tournament of champions.
There were over 1,000 editions of Classic Concentration made, it was repeated in this country on satellite channels Lifestyle and Sky One, and there was also a board game and a book released. It was fairly similar to the British version, with one big difference being the deciding round, and the prizes on offer were better as this was long before cars and huge cash prizes could constantly be given away on game shows in the UK.