Jackpot (game show)

Last updated
Jackpot '74.jpg
Created by Bob Stewart
Directed byMike Gargiulo, William G. Elliott, Bruce Burmester
Presented by Geoff Edwards
(1974–1975, 1989–1990)
Mike Darow (1985–1988)
Narrated by Don Pardo (1974–1975)
Wayne Howell (1975)
Ken Ryan (1985–1988)
John Harris (1985–1988)
John Harlan (1989)
Johnny Gilbert (1989–1990)
Music by Bob Cobert (1985–1990)
Country of originUnited States (1974–1975, 1989–1990)
Canada (1985–1988)
No. of seasons3 (1985-1988 version)
No. of episodes450 (1974–1975 version)
525 (1985-1988 version)
130 (1989–1990 version)
Production locations NBC Studios
New York, New York (1974–1975)
Global Television
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Glendale, California
Production company Bob Stewart Productions
DistributorPalladium Entertainment (1989-1990)
Sony Pictures Television
Original network NBC (1974–1975)
USA Network (1985–1988)
Global (1985–1988)
Syndicated (1989–1990)
Original releaseJanuary 7, 1974–September 26, 1975
September 30, 1985–December 30, 1988
September 18, 1989 
March 16, 1990 (1990-03-16)

Jackpot (also referred to as Jackpot!) is an American and Canadian television game show produced by Bob Stewart which saw contestants attempting to solve riddles in order to win cash and prizes.


Jackpot made its debut on the NBC television network on January 7, 1974 as part of their daytime schedule and ran until September 26, 1975. The show videotaped in New York City, where Stewart was based at the time, and was hosted by Geoff Edwards. In 1985, Stewart teamed up with USA Network and Global Television Network for a revival that aired in both the United States and Canada. This edition of Jackpot aired on USA and Global from September 30, 1985 until December 30, 1988 and was produced in Toronto, Ontario, with Mike Darow as host. After the Canadian-produced Jackpot ended, Stewart developed another series for American syndication, this time based in the Los Angeles area of Glendale, California (Stewart moved there in the early 1980s). That series (the only one to refer to the title with the exclamation point in it) debuted on September 18, 1989 with Edwards once again hosting, coming to an end on March 16, 1990 after its syndicator went out of business. [1]

The first series was announced by Don Pardo until early 1975, when Wayne Howell replaced him, marking Pardo's last announcing gig for an NBC game show (later in 1975, Pardo would settle in for his last announcing role in his career on the long-running NBC sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live ). The 1985 series saw announcing duties shared by Global announcers John Harris and Ken Ryan, the latter of whom was also the announcer on the USA/Global collaboration Bumper Stumpers . The 1989 series saw Johnny Gilbert and John Harlan split the announcing duties.

Elements of Jackpot's gameplay were later used in the GSN original game show Hollywood Showdown . Its producer, Sande Stewart (son of Jackpot! creator Bob Stewart), became a production partner of his father during the 1980s.


Sixteen contestants competed for an entire week, with one designated King/Queen of the Hill, who stood at a circular podium at stage-left. The other fifteen contestants, numbered 1 through 15, were seated in three-tiered bleachers. Each had a special wallet containing a riddle and a varying cash amount or the Jackpot Riddle. The King/Queen of the Hill selected a number and the contestant with that number asked a riddle to this player. If answered correctly, the King of the Hill continued picking numbers; if answered incorrectly, the two contestants switched places, with the contestant who stumped him/her becoming the new King of the Hill.

The value of the riddle increased the value of the Jackpot. If the King selected the contestant holding the Jackpot Riddle (one per game) and answered it correctly, those two contestants split the Jackpot.

In addition to building the Jackpot, there was a secondary objective for the King and the other fifteen riddle holders. Before each new game started, a three digit number, determined at random by the show's computers, was set as the "target number". If at any point in the game the last three numbers displayed in the Jackpot matched the target number, the King and the contestant whose riddle enabled the match were given a chance to win the Super Jackpot, which would be worth thousands of dollars.

The Super Jackpot Riddle was always read by the host from his podium and read twice. If the Super Jackpot Riddle was answered correctly, they split the prize.

Depending on the rules or the situation, the King could ask the Jackpot Riddle-holder to be seated and continue the game, perhaps with other bonuses, a larger Jackpot, or the Super Jackpot in mind.

Special riddles

NBC (1974–1975)

The King (or Queen) of the Hill was referred to as the Expert. Riddles on this version ranged in value from $5 to $200 in multiples of $5, and Target Numbers could go no higher than $995. After the selection of a Target Number, a Multiplier ranging from 5 to 50 was chosen at random (although 15 and 20 were twice as likely to appear) and was multiplied with the Target Number to determine the Super Jackpot (e.g., $500×30 = $15,000). If the Target Number was $995 and the Multiplier was 50, the Super Jackpot was automatically set to $50,000.

The Super Jackpot could be played for in one of two ways:

  1. Initially, if the Expert solved a Jackpot Riddle and last three digits of the Jackpot matched the Target Number, the players (whoever asked the Jackpot Riddle and whoever answered it) split the Super Jackpot. Later, the Expert had to answer a second riddle asked by Edwards after solving a Jackpot Riddle when the last three digits of the Jackpot matched the Target Number in order to share the Super Jackpot with the other player.
  2. The Super Jackpot could also be won if the Expert chose the player that had the Super Jackpot Wildcard and correctly answered the Super Jackpot Riddle, again asked by Edwards.

Originally, the player who answered the most riddles in the week won a car. This was later changed to awarding a car to anyone who answered all fifteen riddles in a single game. After a week-long experiment in February 1974 (when it was called "The Valentine Riddle"), most games had a "Double Bonus" riddle which, if answered correctly, won the two players involved a trip, usually to somewhere in Mexico or the Caribbean.

Beginning on June 30, 1975, the format was altered for the last 13 weeks of the run:

Canadian/USA Network (1985–1988)

The riddles and Target Number returned, but there was no multiplier; the Super Jackpot was set at random, ranging from $4,000 to $9,900 in $100 increments. There was no separate Super Jackpot Riddle in this series. Instead, if a riddle was worth enough to cause a target match, it won both players the Super Jackpot if answered correctly. For each game, the Jackpot started at $100, and riddles were valued anywhere from $50 to $300 (again in $5 increments). Also, if the Jackpot Riddle was not found until the last player, an extra $1,000 was added to the Jackpot. Once the Jackpot Riddle was found and attempted, the King/Queen of the Hill and the person with the Jackpot Riddle traded places no matter the outcome of the riddle's answer.

Starting in season two, any player who answered all fifteen riddles without a miss won a new car. Also added was a "$10,000 Riddler Contest" in which the player who answered the most riddles correctly in a single week over a period of ten won a bonus of $10,000, with tied players splitting the money. For the final six weeks of the second season, there was a second Riddler Contest where the player answering the most riddles correctly in a single week over a period of six weeks won a vacation package and $1,000 in spending money.

The final season featured "The $50,000 Riddle" during special weeks. These riddles were considerably harder than the ones usually asked, and all players who correctly answered them split $50,000 at the end of the week.

Syndicated (1989–1990)

In this version, the value of the riddle was only added to the Jackpot if the riddle was answered correctly. In addition the Super Jackpot Riddle returned, but now either the King/Queen of the Hill or the bleacher contestant who asked the riddle that brought the Jackpot amount to the target number could respond. The bleacher contestant would make a guess first, and if he/she was wrong, the King/Queen would make a guess himself/herself; this was later changed to having only one answer accepted from the first player to speak up. If either player was correct, they both split the Super Jackpot.

Also, if the King (or Queen) of the Hill answered all fifteen riddles without a miss, $1,000 was added to the Jackpot. Finally, Super Jackpots on this version ranged from $10,000 to $25,000 (in $500 increments), and riddles ranged from $50 to $200 (in $5 increments once again).

Broadcast History

NBC (1974–1975)

The network's head of daytime programming, Lin Bolen, placed Jackpot! at Noon eastern (11:00 AM Central), where the venerable Jeopardy! had run for nearly eight years. Jeopardy! brought in audiences who did not ordinarily watch daytime television, such as businessmen and college students, primarily due to its intellectually challenging game play; these people often watched the show during their lunch hour on TV sets at restaurants, college student centers, or bars rather than at home. The move of Jeopardy! to 10:30/9:30 would cause an audience loss that Jackpot!, aimed at a more traditional female audience, was unable to replace.

Jackpot replaced The Who, What, or Where Game via a scheduling shuffle with the aforementioned Jeopardy! and Baffle. The breakout popularity of CBS' youth-oriented serial The Young and the Restless led to an erosion of Jeopardy!'s audience, and the new show inherited the ratings problems. Still, Jackpot! managed to earn respectable ratings throughout 1974; it looked at one point to be more promising than its sister show, The $10,000 Pyramid, during the latter's final month on CBS (but before its move to ABC in May, where it became a hit). Nonetheless, Y&R would break into the daytime Nielsen top ten by early 1975.

Edwards hosted Jackpot at the same time he was hosting the Chuck Barris-produced game show Treasure Hunt . Jackpot taped in New York City while Treasure Hunt was taped in Los Angeles. Not only was Edwards one of the first hosts to host more than one game show simultaneously, he also was one of the first to work bi-coastally, a practice that became much more common for celebrities in the future.


In reaction to the show's slumping ratings, Bolen decided to revamp Jackpot by making use of a "focus group", a then-new audience analysis technique. Geoff Edwards stated that Bolen's group participants expressed a strong dislike for the show's foundational riddle format. Bolen accepted this judgment and gave Stewart an ultimatum – replace the riddles with a straightforward question-answer format or be canceled. In addition, Edwards was told to not question this decision or he would be replaced.

This was one of several changes instituted beginning on June 30, 1975. On July 7, the show moved back one half-hour, but the new time slot brought much stronger competition in the form of Search for Tomorrow on CBS and ABC's All My Children , the latter already a big hit with younger audiences. The show was further hampered by a five-minute news program airing at 12:55, forcing Jackpot! to also shrink to 25 minutes.

The combination of strong competition and the forced change in format led to the end of Jackpot! after a 21-month run on September 26, 1975. NBC's replacement, Three for the Money, did even worse, running only nine weeks. Jackpot's cancellation also marked the first time in NBC daytime history that no games originated from Rockefeller Center (with all other game shows taping at NBC's West Coast studios in Burbank, California instead). Only one other NBC game show afterward, the Stewart-packaged Shoot for the Stars (which was also hosted by Edwards), was taped in New York. In fact, the only other NBC daytime show to tape at Rockefeller Center for the remainder of the 1970s was the serial The Doctors. ( Another World and Somerset recorded at off-site studios in Brooklyn.)

The series marked Don Pardo's final appearance as a regular game show announcer, having done games since the pioneering Winner Take All in 1952 (also the first network TV game hosted by Bill Cullen and the first TV series by Goodson-Todman). On October 11, 1975 – fifteen days after Jackpot!'s demise – Pardo emerged on NBC's new weekly comedy-variety series Saturday Night Live . With the exception of one season for the latter show, he would be the announcer for the series until his passing in 2014. Pardo would also not appear on another game show until November 1988, when he was the announcer of the nighttime syndicated version of Wheel of Fortune for two weeks of episodes at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

CBS Pilot (1984)

In 1984, Stewart produced a new version for CBS with Nipsey Russell hosting and Johnny Gilbert announcing, which did not sell. Unlike the earlier or subsequent versions, there was no Target Number or Super Jackpot. The Jackpot started at $150, with that amount going into it for each riddle solved. If the Jackpot riddle was found but was not attempted immediately, the value for each correct answer doubled to $300. If the Jackpot riddle was not found until the last player, $5,000 would be automatically added to the Jackpot.

When the Jackpot riddle was solved, the winning King/Queen and Riddler would play a bonus round called "Riddle-grams," which was played similar to another Stewart-produced show, Shoot for the Stars . Two clues would be shown. The clues, when answered in the order they were read, would make a two-word phrase. One player would guess the first half of the phrase, and the other player would guess the second half. If either contestant made a mistake at any time, they would lose their chance at the big money, but could still go for all the other phrases, because at the end of the round, the contestants split $100 for each phrase solved. If the contestants could solve all seven phrases without making a mistake, they split $5,000. This was the only version of the show to have a bonus round.

Although this format did not sell in the United States, it was used (albeit with slight changes) on the Welsh version in the 1990s (see below).

Canadian/USA Network (1985–1988)

The program was recorded in Toronto for the Global Television Network and aired in America on USA Network. The 1980s Jackpot was able to avoid the nation's "CanCon" quota system of requirements as host Mike Darow, whose previous hosting positions ( The $128,000 Question and the original Dream House ) were on American productions, was born in Canada and had worked on Toronto radio in the 1960s.

All cash awards to contestants were paid in Canadian dollars, which at the time was considerably weaker than the U.S. dollar. The resulting financial advantage lured packagers such as Stewart to produce games in Canada. Ken Ryan and John Harris, Global staff voice-over artists, served as announcers on this version.

Syndicated (1989–1990)

Jackpot! (with an exclamation point in the title) returned in American syndication in the fall of 1989. The program was a production of Bob Stewart Productions and Reeves Entertainment Group with Palladium Entertainment distributing.

However, the show met its demise before the end of a full season, not because of low ratings, but because the distributor, Palladium Entertainment, had serious financial problems. As a ploy to try to generate sponsorship cash as quickly as possible, the company forced the staff to record over 10 episodes per day for a period of over two weeks. Under normal circumstances, half-hour weekday "strip" shows taped only three to five episodes per day, depending on the studio's schedule. By spring 1990, the company shut down its operations after declaring bankruptcy, and the remaining stations pulled Jackpot! from their schedules immediately.

Despite this, much like he did almost 15 years earlier by hosting bi-coastal game shows, Geoff Edwards became the third game show host in the industry to simultaneously emcee a game show on both sides of the Canada–US border, joining Jim Perry and Alex Trebek. Edwards also hosted the Canadian-produced Chain Reaction and the Sacramento-produced The Big Spin, the weekly California Lottery program, at that time.

Two veteran announcers, John Harlan and Johnny Gilbert (both of whom have also assumed announcing duties for the subsequent NBC/syndicated revivals of Jeopardy!), provided the voice-over for this version. Jim Perry's daughter, Erin, served as the series' associate producer.

Welsh Version

A Welsh version was produced from 1993 to approximately 1999. As mentioned above, the rules of this version were based on the 1984 pilot, with some slight changes. It was eventually revived in 2012 as a segment on Friday night magazine show Pen8Nos.

Other information

Home version

Milton Bradley made only one edition in 1974, but with two different covers one with just the logo, and one with a drawing of a female contestant. Other than the cosmetic difference, the game is the same in both boxes; the gameplay more closely resembles the 1980s Darow format, with the Target Number randomly established and Super Jackpots of only four-figure amounts.[ citation needed ]


Jackpot! used several different themes during its runs; the NBC version used the instrumental theme music "Jet Set", composed by former Manfred Mann member Mike Vickers. The piece was later used as the opening theme for This Week in Baseball . The USA and syndicated runs used the Shoot for the Stars theme composed by Bob Cobert. The Bebu Silvetti song "Spring Rain", itself previously used as the theme for Stewart's The Love Experts , was used for the unsold 1984 pilot.

Episode status

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