The Magnificent Marble Machine

Last updated
The Magnificent Marble Machine
Created by
Presented by Art James
Narrated by Johnny Gilbert
Country of originUnited States
Running time30 minutes with commercials
Production company Heatter-Quigley Productions
Distributor MGM Television
Original network NBC
Original releaseJuly 7, 1975 (1975-07-07) 
March 12, 1976 (1976-03-12)

The Magnificent Marble Machine was an American television game show that featured a giant pinball machine as its centerpiece. The program premiered on NBC on July 7, 1975 at 12:00 pm ET, replacing the short-lived game show Blank Check . [1]


Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley packaged the program, with Robert Noah as executive producer. Art James served as host, and Johnny Gilbert was the announcer. This is one of the few Heatter-Quigley programs that Kenny Williams was not involved with.


Two contestants competed, one a returning champion, each paired with a celebrity partner. In the first half of the game, the teams answered general knowledge questions, frequently involving puns or other wordplay, that were displayed on a large electronic marquee, similar to one found on a pinball's backbox display. The players were shown blanks on the display's bottom line denoting the number of words and letters in the answer. A clue then crawled across the display's upper line. If no team buzzed in once the clue was revealed, letters of the answer then filled in at random as time progressed. For example, with the clue "He's center and he's square", and blanks displaying "#### #####", the correct answer is "Paul Lynde". James occasionally gave an additional clue before the main clue scrolled across the marquee.

For any given question, only the contestant or the celebrity was eligible to buzz in. This alternated with each question, and was indicated by lighted panels in front of the eligible player. Correct answers each scored one point. Five points won the game, and the winning team played "The Magnificent Marble Machine" in the bonus round.

Bonus round

The winning team played the show's centerpiece: a giant pinball machine measuring 20 feet high and 12 feet long.

Each team member manipulated one button, each of which controlled two flippers, and tried to keep the ball in play for as long as possible within a 60-second time limit. The team accumulated points by hitting bumpers, noisemakers and lights. Hitting any of the seven large numbered bumpers won the contestant a prize, with bumpers two and three together earning a larger prize, such as a car or trip. Play ended if the ball fell into one of the two "out holes" (one located below the main flippers, the other in the middle of the playing field). The flippers were disabled when 60 seconds expired, with the ball (still in play) usually entering an out hole within a few seconds.

At some point during the series, a bonus prize was added for hitting all seven numbered bumpers at least once.[ citation needed ]

Originally, each bumper scored 500 points while any noisemaker scored 200 points. Producers audited the score by watching the tape to ensure that each scoring feature had registered, but scoring errors increased week by week as the machine aged. The rules were eventually altered so that only the seven "thumper bumpers" added 500 points for each hit, with nothing else scoring.

Money ball

If a team reached a target score after playing two balls, the team played a bonus "gold money ball" in which the player earned $200 for each noisemaker and bumper. The goal was originally 15,000 points for each new champion, and lowered by 1,000 for each return visit. Later, the goal started at 13,000 points, and the money ball earned $500 for each bumper hit.

At some point in the run, this round was redesigned to be a multi-player "money ball marathon" rather than a bonus round any player might be able to achieve in any one play of the machine. The contestant achieving the top point score over a two-week period was awarded a money ball round. This format lasted for five marathons (ten weeks), after which the money ball was dropped from the game altogether.

After the money ball round was removed, the electronic point counters on the pinball machine were covered over. Contestants then only played for prizes obtained by hitting the seven bumpers.

Format change

In early 1976, game play changed to feature two teams of two celebrities each playing the front game. The winning team headed to the machine. One celebrity drew a name from the drum (filled out by the studio audience) and the lucky person played the bonus round with each celebrity.

Broadcast history

The Magnificent Marble Machine aired in its original time slot until November 28, 1975. On December 1, 1975, the series replaced Three for the Money at 12:30 PM so Wheel of Fortune could expand to an hour. With the move, Marble was reduced in length to 25 minutes as a national newscast anchored by Edwin Newman aired at 12:55.

After the January 2, 1976 broadcast, the show was pulled from the schedule for a two-week trial run of Take My Advice, a talk show hosted by KNBC news anchor Kelly Lange. When Marble returned on January 19, it changed to an all-celebrity format, which finally brought on its demise. While the last first-run episode aired March 12, its replacement, The Fun Factory, was postponed because of a technicians' strike, resulting in repeats airing through June 11.

A brief clip from The Magnificent Marble Machine is seen in the 1979 film The China Syndrome , as the "regularly scheduled programming" that the TV station interrupts to show the main character's report from inside the power plant. The clip shows celebrity guest Joan Rivers playing a normal ball on the machine, though the original audio is dubbed over with music [note 1] composed for the film. The film's credits do not mention the show, Rivers or Heatter-Quigley.

Related Research Articles

Pinball Type of arcade game

Pinball is a type of arcade game in which a player uses paddles to manipulate one or more balls inside a pinball machine. A pinball machine is a glass-covered cabinet containing a play field populated with lights, targets, bumpers, ramps, and various other objects depending on its design. The primary objective of the game is to score as many points as possible by hitting targets and making various shots with the flippers, before all balls "drain" at an exit usually situated at the bottom of the play field. Most pinball games are divided into turns. The game ends when all balls have ended.

<i>Rollerball</i> (video game)

Rollerball is a video game produced by HAL Laboratory in 1984 for the MSX. A Nintendo Entertainment System version of the game was released in 1988. It is designed to be played by one to four players, in turn. It is an emulation of a pinball machine.

<i>Chain Reaction</i> (game show) American television game show

Chain Reaction is an American television game show created by Bob Stewart, in which players compete to form chains composed of two-word phrases.

Double Talk is an American game show that aired on the ABC network from August 18 to December 19, 1986. The show was a Bob Stewart-produced word game which borrowed elements from Stewart's previous show Shoot for the Stars and his then-current editions of Pyramid.

A glossary of terms, commonly used in discussing pinball machines.

Time Machine is an American game show where contestants compete to answer trivia questions about popular culture and recent history to win prizes. The show aired on NBC from January 7 through April 26, 1985, and was hosted by John Davidson. Charlie Tuna was the announcer, with Rich Jeffries as his substitute. Reg Grundy Productions produced the series, and upon its premiere Time Machine was one of three Grundy series airing on NBC.

Heatter-Quigley Productions was an American television production company that was launched in 1960 by two former television writers, Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley. After Quigley's retirement, the company became Merrill Heatter Productions.

<i>The Addams Family</i> (pinball) 1992 pinball machine adaptation of the 1991 film of the same name and the titular fictional family both are based on

The Addams Family, released in March 1992, is the best selling pinball machine of all time. Designed by Pat Lawlor and Larry DeMar and manufactured by WMS Industries, it is a solid state electronic pinball arcade game. It was based on the 1991 film of the same name, and features custom speech by the stars of the film, Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston. More than 20,000 units have been sold as of 2008.

<i>Star Trek: The Next Generation</i> (pinball)

Star Trek: The Next Generation is a widebody pinball game, designed by Steve Ritchie and released in November 1993 by Williams Electronics. It was part of WMS' SuperPin series, and was based on the TV series. It is the only pinball machine that features three separate highscore-lists. Apart from the regular highscore-list and the buy-in-list, it also features a reminiscence to The Machine: Bride of Pin*Bot billionaires club. It is also the third pinball game overall based on the Star Trek franchise, following the 1979 pinball game by Bally, and the 1991 game by Data East, and preceding the 2013 pinball game by Stern.

<i>Twilight Zone</i> (pinball)

Twilight Zone is a widebody pinball machine, designed by Pat Lawlor and based on the TV series of the same name. It was first released in 1993 by Midway. This game is part of WMS' SuperPin line of widebody games alongside Star Trek: The Next Generation and Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure.

PDQ and Baffle are American television game shows created by Heatter-Quigley Productions. Both shows' objective was to guess a given word or phrase in the shortest amount of time with the fewest letters given as possible.

<i>Demolition Man</i> (pinball)

Demolition Man is a Williams pinball machine released in February 1994. It is based on the motion picture of the same name. It is part of WMS' SuperPin line of widebody games.

<i>The Flintstones</i> (pinball)

The Flintstones is a pinball game released by Williams in 1994 and based on the movie of the same name. This machine is not to be confused with another pinball machine, a redemption game, based on the TV series and also released in 1994, manufactured by Innovative Concepts in Entertainment (ICE).

<i>Space Jam</i> (pinball)

Space Jam is a 1996 pinball machine released by Sega Pinball. It is based on the film of the same name.

"300" is a pinball machine designed by Ed Krynski and produced by Gottlieb with a bowling theme. The title is a reference to a perfect game in the sport, in which a bowler scores 300 points. A two-player version of this four-player game was released as Top Score.

<i>Three for the Money</i> American game show

Three for the Money is an American game show produced by Stefan Hatos-Monty Hall Productions that aired on NBC from September 29 to November 28, 1975. Dick Enberg was the host with Jack Clark announcing. Enberg was also hosting Sports Challenge at the time and had just joined NBC's sports division.

<i>Who Dunnit</i>

Who Dunnit is a Midway pinball machine with a 1940s style and a murder mystery theme. The playfield features up to five different murder mysteries by revealing clues by sending the ball to an elevator, phone, or slot machine. The machine accepts up to four players, and features four-ball play.


Pointless is a British television quiz show produced by Endemol Shine UK subsidiary Remarkable Television for the BBC. It is hosted by Alexander Armstrong with assistance from Richard Osman. In each episode four teams of two contestants attempt to find correct but obscure answers to four rounds of general knowledge questions, with the winning team eligible to compete for the show's cash jackpot. All questions used on the show are factual in nature, and are asked of a panel of 100 individuals in a pre-conducted public survey. Contestants seek to find correct answers that were given by as few of the survey subjects as possible ("points"); each round is won by the team with the fewest points. "Pointless" answers, given by nobody, score zero points, the best score. Every pointless answer given during the main game increases the jackpot by £250, and one such answer must be given in the final round in order to win it.

<i>Central Park</i> (pinball)

Central Park is a pinball machine that was released by Gottlieb in 1966. The game was sold in 3,100 units. It was designed by Ed Krynski and the art was done by Roy Parker.

25 Words or Less is an American television game show based on the board game of the same name. Hosted by Meredith Vieira, this show is produced by Dino Bones Productions, Is or Isn't Entertainment, Regular Brand, and distributed by Fox First Run. It first aired in summer 2018 as a three-week summer trial run on nine Fox Television Stations and premiered as a regular series on September 16, 2019.


  1. Hyatt, Wesley (1997). The Encyclopedia of Daytime Television. Watson-Guptill Publications. pp. 276–277. ISBN   978-0823083152 . Retrieved 22 March 2020.


  1. written by composer Michael Small and included on the film's soundtrack release ("Source Suite #1")