Harlan announces the contestants and categories and dollar amounts to
be played) on NBC's biggest money quiz, The 50 Grand Slam!"
Tom hosted this flawed but ambitious attempt to return to the good old days of
big money quiz shows.
Each episode consists of several rounds played about different categories. A
field of nine contestants competes in each category, and two contestants are
randomly selected to play the first game. Tom asks each contestant, one of whom
is seated in an isolation booth, the same four-part question. Whomever answers
the most parts of the question correctly wins and has the option of continuing
to the next money level, or quitting with the winnings they've accumulated so
far. If the two contestants in a game tie they both advance to the next level.
It took eight victories to win the $50,000 grand prize, and here are the values
of each level you had to win to earn it:
Contestants continue competing in the category until someone wins the $50,000
or until the field of contestants is completely exhausted.
From its isolation booths to its payoffs to even its consolation prizes (like “The
$64,000 Question,” contestants who went to the top and lost were consoled with
a new car), “50 Grand Slam” was an obvious attempt to determine if modern audiences
were ready to return to the good old days, only this time unrigged. The problem
was the audience was completely ready, but the show was not. The format's primary
flaw was that, after a given time of a certain category being played, it was
going to become obvious whether or not anyone was going to win the big money,
and if they weren't, and it showed, the audience was ready to change the channel.
If you could overlook that flaw, though,
the show was a reasonably entertaining game. It was certainly something different
in the field of game shows during 1976 (the previous year had more or less
marked the temporary death of the straight quiz show). That, and the show
had the right emcee.
booming voice and warm manner made him the ideal host for the show. This
show couldn't have been served well by, say, Allen Ludden or even Bill
Cullen, who were better suited to casual, friendly games. Tom, on the
other hand, was the man for the job. After three years of hosting the “don't
forget to take a breath” quiz “Split Second” and two seasons (at this
time) of asking contestants how many notes they would need on “Name That
Tune,” Tom was an expert in different category: “How to be suspenseful
without being cold.” He was affable and good-natured during contestant
interviews, but when the time came to play, Tom was truly all business.