April 3-June 30, 1978


CBS Daytime


Bob Clayton


BASADA, Inc. (Bob Stewart)

"Ladies and gentlemen, these four players are about to make instant decisions under pressure. Only the last survivor will win the game and all the money on Pass the Buck!"

"Pass the Buck" went virtually unnoticed during its initial 13-week run on CBS, but GSN reruns and tape trading have given it a cult following in years since.

Four contestants, one a returning champion, compete to win a bank of money. Bill starts the game by announcing a category, which might be based in fact ("Games played with a ball") or dependent on the offstage judge's opinion ("What you do when you're sick"). The bank starts at $100, and the contestants, one at a time, give an answer. Every acceptable answer adds $25 to the bank. Play continues with a question until one contestant gives an unacceptable answer or repeats an answer already given. The next player in line can "knock out" that player by giving an acceptable answer. If that contestant gives a wrong answer, the next contestant can knock out both players with an acceptable answer. If that contestant gives an unacceptable answer, the last remaining contestant can knock out all three opponents with a right answer. If all four contestants give consecutive wrong answers, the question is thrown out.

The eliminated contestant(s) move to the "bullpen" next to Bill's podium for the remainder of the game. The remaining contestants continue playing the game with a new category. The last contestant standing wins all the money in the bank and plays "Fast Bucks" for $5,000.

"Fast Bucks" is played with four levels. The first level hides four answers. Bill reads a subject, and the contestant has 15 seconds to give as many items as possible that fit the subject. If s/he guesses any of the four hidden answers on the board, it pays $100 per answer; revealing all four pays $5,000. If the contestant fails to reveal all four answers, s/he moves to the second level, with a new category and only three items hidden. If the contestant can't reveal all three answers, there is a third level with two hidden answers and a fourth with one hidden answer. If the contestant fails to reveal any answers on a level the game stops immediately.

If the "Fast Bucks" round is won, the contestant faces three new challengers. If not, the three losing contestants come back for the next game; the same four contestants will continue competing against each other until one of them wins "Fast Bucks" (so theoretically, a player could amass a small fortune without ever winning the bonus).

The talk-back-to-your-TV was ever present in this game, perhaps moreso than your average game show. It was simple, and quick-moving; the occasional "desperation answer" to avoid the buzzer gave it opportunities for humor...and yet, it was a dud. Some fans have objected to depending on the judge's personal opinion to determine what was right or wrong for many questions, when sticking to factual lists would have been far more fair. Some have opined that with another Stewart creation, "The $20,000 Pyramid," having such a superior take on the items-in-a-list concept, "Pass the Buck" simply looked like a weaker format.

Even in a format that didn't quite work, Bill would find a way to make it work for him. Offering joke answers when the contestants had run out of ideas, laughing along with the contestants at those times when they gave bad answers and knew they had given bad answers, and just keeping the game rolling along the way you'd expect him to keep it rolling. Bill wrapped up his New York television career with "Pass the Buck," and perhaps fittingly, did so in the Ed Sullivan Theater. The complex had been home to so many visible, well-known moments in television history. "Pass the Buck" was the end of a long chapter in the career of a man who had walked through that history far more quietly, but who had left his fingerprints all over it. As the host of the most famous game show in history, as a regular panelist on its most influential panel game, as an innovator in radio broadcasting, and as the measuring stick for all emcees to follow.


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