Blockbusters (NBC, 1980-1982, 1987)
Blockbusters is one of my all-time favourite game shows, it wasn’t until long after I first watched the show on ITV that I discovered that it was based on an American format. I always wondered what that was like, and thanks to the magic of YouTube, I have now been able to see some for myself. The American version of Blockbusters launched in 1980 and was shown on NBC on weekday mornings, replacing The David Letterman Show in the schedules.
Blockbusters was originally hosted by Bill Cullen, who was a TV presenter veteran in America who hosted a wide variety of game shows throughout his long career. The first thing to notice is that although the basic idea of the game is the same, featuring a team of one taking on a team of two and questions with one-word answers, some notable differences to the British version become clear. First of all, the contestants taking part are adults instead of students.
Also, the 5×4 gameboard (which wasn’t computer generated at first) featured the single team playing with red hexagons, and the double team playing with white hexagons, and it took a while for me to stop thinking that the white team were going the wrong way across the board. Also, there was no money on offer for each correct answer, but teams won a bonus amount of money if they did win a game.
The winning team then went on to the Gold Run (originally called the Gold Rush), and just like the UK version, they had to get from one side of the board to the other in 60 seconds, and if they did, they would win a cash prize, usually $5,000. By the end of the series, contestants could play up to 20 Gold Runs, meaning that they could take part on the show for a very long time and win a lot of money.
Blockbusters wasn’t a big success in America, it ended in 1982 after a couple of years, and launched on ITV a year later where it would run for about a decade, and that’s not including the later revivals. There was also a brief revival of Blockbusters on NBC in 1987. This time Bill Rafferty was the host and a computer-generated board was used. One major change was that the show was now one against one which looks rather odd and if they went to a third deciding game the board was redesigned to be 4×4 to make it a little more equal.
Discovering American versions of classic game shows definitely has been an enjoyable experience for me, it’s always interesting seeing how shows started out and how they developed in other countries, and when I decided to look for other American game shows that would become a bigger success in this country, and I found a couple more that I liked the look of, and I’ll review those here soon too.