Airdate(s):
October 27, 1980-April 23, 1982
Network(s):
NBC Daytime
Announcer(s):
Bob Hilton
Produced By:
Mark Goodson/Bill Todman Productions

This is the battlefield for our game of speed and strategy! These are the letters that lead to victory, on...





"Blockbusters" was a moderately successful show that tried to answer the age-old question, "Are two heads really better than one?"



Three contestants compete. One is a solo player, represented by red. The other two comprise the family pair, and are represented by white. (The family pair could be of any relation to each other except married couple.) The contestants face a twenty-hexagon grid, each hexagon containing a letter that represents the first letter of the one-word correct answer.


A letter is randomly selected to begin the game, and Bill reads a toss-up. The first contestant to ring in gives an answer; If correct, the hexagon turns their color and the contestant selects the next letter; if incorrect, the opponent(s) can give a guess.


The goal is to make a connection from one side of the board to the other. The family pair has to connect from left to right and can do so with as few as five correct answers. The solo player has to connect from top to bottom and, since there is only one of them, they have a shortened path and can win with as few as four correct answers.
But much of the time, it isn't as easy as that. Frequently, a contestant would make part of their connection, only to be blocked in by their opponent, forcing them to take a longer path. This led to many instances where both sides would need the same hexagon to win.


The first side to make the connection wins the game and the right to play Gold Rush for $2,500. Two games wins the match and the right to play Super Gold Rush for $5,000. Losers received whatever money they earned and, later in the show's run, a lovely copy of the official home game. Click the image above to find out more about the home game.



Now, here's the neatest part about the game. If you've never seen the show before, you may, at this point, be asking, "What happens when there's a tie?" (which always comes up when I watch this with somebody who's never seen it before) Neat answer to that--it's not possible. The way the board is designed, there has to be a winner in every game. Go ahead, stare at the board above and figure it out. You can never have a tie.




One of the questions that Blockbusters was written to about several times was regarding just whether or not the format led to either the solo player or the family pair having an advantage. Bill told the stats on games won from each position on the finale - and son of a gun, there was only a marginal difference that could easily be accounted for. Solo players won a few more games, while family pairs tended to win a bit more money.




In (Super) Gold Rush, the contestant (only one could play if it was the family pair) faces another 20-hexagon grid, except that each hexagon may contain from one to five initial letters. (IGAS for "I've Got a Secret," HP for "Hot Potato", etc.) The contestant calls out the initials, Bill reads a clue, and the contestant either answers or passes. A right answer turns the hexagon gold, while a wrong answer or pass turns it black and creates a block that the contestant must go around to build the path. The contestant has 60 seconds to make the connection, from gold to gold, with $100 awarded for each correct answer given or $2,500/$5,000 for a completed path.

Early in the series run, the rules changed. The game was played largely the same way but cash was awarded differently. Winning a game now was worth $500 straight up but no bonus game. Winning two games & $1,000 won the match and the right to play the renamed Gold Run for $5,000.

Contestants were allowed to continue playing until defeat or until winning 10 matches. In the wake of Thom McKee's incredible run on "Tic-Tac-Dough," this limit was later expanded to 20 matches, meaning that a solo player or family pair who played the game perfectly would win up to $120,000 ($20,000 for winning 20 matches, $100,000 for winning every Gold Run).




For anybody who has a copy of the Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows 3rd Edition and wondered why the "Blockbusters" pilot set had scoreboards on the contestant podiums, here's your answer...

In the pilot, it took $500 to win the match. A regular game of Blockbusters was played, with the first side to make the connection winning $250. That player/team then played a game called Shortcut to Victory. Bill asked three Gold Run-style questions. If the contestant could answer all three questions correctly, it paid $250, ending the match immediately. If the contestant stumbled along the way, the opposing side received the $250, and a second game of Blockbusters was played to determine the winner of the match.

For Gold Run, the four gold bars on the right-hand side of the board concealed money amounts, $1000, $2000, $5000, or $10,000. If the contestant connected gold to gold, the payout was the amount hidden behind the bar adjacent to their last correct answer.


 

THE HALL OF CHAMPIONS

LaRAE DILLMAN was a first in a couple of ways. She was the series' first solo champion, dethroning a successful family pair on the sixth episode. She went on to become the first undefeated champion. With a Sacred Cross picture & lucky penny bringing her luck, she went on to win $48,000 in her first ten matches, and returned nearly a year later to bring her total to $65,000.

JOHN HATTON was a former "Split Second" contestant, and under normal circumstances, I'd have nothing to point out other than that his opponents included a former "Match Game PM" winner and a man named Jimmy Carter. John ended up having much more of a story to offer than that.

After winning six matches and $36,000, John discovered that his house had burned to the ground during the taping, and that his family had been keeping the news from him. He rejected Goodson-Todman's offer to stay away from the show for a few weeks and come back later, instead competing until he had won ten matches and a perfect total of $60,000. He returned in the final weeks of the series in April 1982, maintained his perfect streak, retiring on the third-to-last episode of the series with $120,000.

JOHN SHANNON & KATHY THOMAS were a brother & sister who redefined "happy holidays." With a championship reign that spanned Christmas 1980 and the New Year's Day 1981, John & Kathy won ten matches and pocketed $51,200, becoming the first undefeated family pair of the series in the process. They returned a year later and added to their winnings for a final total of $59,300.

LELAND YUNG had a lot going for him. A former "Password Plus" champion who arrived as soon as John & Kathy departed, Leland introduced himself as "an unemployed sports producer answering phones" and trying to break into the production end of broadcasting. I'm not sure if he ever had any luck in that business, but with his success as a game show contestant, he may not have needed any. He amassed $106,600 in 20 matches on "Blockbusters," bringing his career game show winnings to $122,600.

KANDI DOYLE arrived as soon as Leland Yung left and continued the solo player dominance on the series. During her initial ten-match run on the series, she celebrated her 7th wedding anniversary, and odds are her husband enjoyed the $50,800 she won far more than he would have enjoyed the traditional wool. Her ten-time run also marked the end of an improbable 26-episode run of episodes featuring undefeated champions.

Kandi was the first ten-time champion invited back when the series' rules changed in late 1981, won two more matches, and brought her total winnings to $62,800.

SHERRY LUCAS, a former "army brat" and Merrill-Lynch employee at the time of her appearance, escaped a potentially embarassing situation at work by correctly answering the question, "What B is Merrill-Lynch's animal mascot?" She went on to accomplish a bit more. She became the series' second perfect champion, racking up $60,000.

Like LaRae Dillman, she had a good luck charm of sorts, always insisting of shaking Bill's hand before each shot at the Gold Run. By the end of her initial reign, they almost seemed like buddies, with the host even giving her a tour of his podium after her final win.

She returned a year later to add a little bit more to her winnings, going home with $66,500.

JEFF & ALAN DENNIS were identical twins from Wisconsin who had just arrived in California during their initial run. Alan ("the one with the girlfriend," as Bill classified him) and Jeff plugged along over ten matches despite the fact that their father didn't believe they had actually won when they called with the good news after their first three wins. They won $37,700 and were granted a chance to offer "last words" before retiring. Alan offered "Live long and prosper," while Jeff offered "Dreams can come true." Both seemed to apply to their success on the series.

GENE VISICH was in a league of her own...Seriously, ever seen the movie "A League of Their Own"? Gene was a member of the real-life Rockford Peaches during the 1940s, a fact that she & Bill spoke of frequently during her interviews, and probably a partial explanation for why she was so quick to ring in on sports questions.

She departed after ten matches with $46,700 and returned for another go. Unfortunately, her return coincided with the final episode of the series, and bittersweetly, she won $5,000 shortly before "Blockbusters" rode into the sunset.

PAT & LIZ McCARTHY were a mother & daughter who arrived only 9 days after the series changed their rules to allow champions 20 matches instead of 10, and immediately took full advantage of it by becoming the only 20-time undefeated family pair, winning the perfect $120,000.

They were quite a lethal combination; Liz was a Harvard economics major, while mother Pat was singled out by Bill as the best player ever on the series. Their successfully performances on the show included seven games where they shut out their opponents, and an astonishing episode where they were the only contestants to give correct answers for the entire half-hour.

 

 


"Blockbusters" was a fun show, no doubt augmented by Bill's witty attitude. Hearing older fans talk about his performance on "Eye Guess," a show lost forever due to tape erasure, the survival of this show almost feels like the loss of that show is being made up to us.  Bill enjoyed pursuing new knowledge and was particulary fascinated by any obscure facts mentioned in a question, and occasionally putting a question in his pocket so he could "take it home to Ann." He's a perfect host, cracking up contestants and the audience throughout, but always making sure the contestants (and the game) remain the star of the show.

 






Weird prototype logo aside, this is one of my favorite photos of Bill, an NBC promotional shot done before the set was built.

Wouldn't you watch a show hosted by a guy who smiled like this?

Bill looking like he's up to something.

This is a little weird. The photo stamp on the back says "Blockbusters" all right, but Bill's hair and suit are a little, uh, groovy for 1980. My guess- either NBC had this photo from "Winning Streak" or Goodson-Todman had this photo from Bill's time on "To Tell the Truth" and just used it as generic publicity.

In the days before flashy graphics packages, this is how local TV stations would do promos. NBC would send the affiliates this picture, and if desired, the station's art department would stencil in a logo and day/time info. Then, they'd fix a camera on the photo and just shoot that for a brief promo.

The finished product might look something like this.

Here's one with Bill sans logo.

Now that the set is finally built, here's a shot of Bill at his podium.

 

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