April 12- July 23, 1976


 ABC Daytime


 Ernie Anderson, Johnny Jacobs


Jack Barry & Dan Enright

“Three of these boxes will break the bank, worth $N,N00 in cash. Is this one of them? Or is it this one? Or this one? We'll find out in this game of hide-and-seek, as these nine celebrities...join us in playing...”

Tom hosted this short-lived but popular knockoff of “The Hollywood Squares.”

Two contestants, always man vs. woman, compete. The challenger goes first and selects one of 20 numbered boxes on the game board; the two celebrities representing the box (the celebrity above the box in the horizontal row and the celebrity next to it in the vertical row) are asked the same question. One gives a true answer, the other gives a bluff, and the contestant decides which celebrity to believe.

A correct choice captures the box (if the man claims it, a moustache appears on the box; if the woman claims it, a pair of lips appears on it). Being correct also allows the contestant to select the next box and play the next question. A wrong decision returns the box to its neutral position and gives the turn to the opponent. Later in the run, to move the games faster, the opponent won the box on a wrong answer unless it would give a default win.

So how do you win? There are three of each dollar amount, and observe that each set of dollar amounts touches its “brothers” on at least one side. A game is won when a contestant claims all three of a dollar amount; their prize is the combined total (three $200 boxes wins $600) plus a bonus prize. To make things easier, there is also a wild box (the rainbow box with the “W”) that can be used for any amount the claimant wants. There are also five blank spaces spread across the board that cost the contestant their turn when uncovered.

To make things interesting, there are five money bags spread all over the board, and when one is uncovered, the contestant can either (a) return the box to its neutral position and select again, or (b) take the box without having to answer a question, but lose their turn. Claiming three money bags breaks the bank, which starts at $5,000 and goes up by $500 after each game it isn't won.

Judging from the show's 15-week run, you'd never know it was the #3 game show on television. Well, at the time, ABC's head of daytime programming, Fred Silverman, was expanding the network soaps from 45 minutes to a full hour, and, despite its popularity, “Break the Bank” disappeared when the expansion went into effect. The premature cancellation didn't sit well with packagers Jack Barry & Dan Enright, who immediately re-launched the show in primetime syndication, hosted by Barry (since Kennedy's "Name That Tune" contract wouldn't allow him). Because of the hasty launch, not enough affiliates signed on, and the show died after one season.

Tom said in an interview that he was most relaxed on shows with celebrities, and it shows here in his easy-going manner and interaction with the panel. He's great at controlling the celebrities, acting as a straight man for the nutty answers, policing what could potentially make for a confusing game, and building excitement as soon as two money bags are found. No small feat, but then Tom is no small emcee.

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