NBC Daytime


January 23-June 29, 1984


Charlie O'Donnell


Jack Barry & Dan Enright Productions


"Here are the champions, they're three of a kind! And here are their challengers, who are also three of a kind! And they're all here to play Hhhhhot (hssssssss) Potato!"

Hot Potato was a short-lived but fun game that marked the end of Bill's career on network television.

Two teams of three, whose members had a common bond (all dentists, all left-handed, etc.) play a best two-out-of three game. Round One starts with the champions in control. Bill asks a question with as many as twelve possible answers. The first teammate is asked to answer or toss the potato.

 IF THEY CHOOSE TO ANSWER: If the contestant chooses to answer and gives a right answer, control passes to the next teammate in line. If a wrong answer is given, the contestant has to sit on the bench for the remainder of the round and control passes to the opponents.

IF THEY CHOOSE TO PASS: a member of the opposing team (chosen by the passer) must give an answer. If the challenged contestant gives a right answer, the challenger has to sit on the bench. Otherwise, the challenged contestant is knocked out.

This continues until either (a) all three members of a team are knocked out, giving the round to the opponents or (b)somebody gives the 7th correct answer to the question, winning the round to their own team.

Round Two was indentical, except control began with the challengers, and if a third round is necessary, the champions begin.

If at any point in the game, a team can give seven correct answers without giving a wrong answer or tossing the potato, they win the round plus the 7-Straight Jackpot, which began at $500 and increased $500 a day until won.

The winners of the game get $1,000 and play the "Big Bonus Round."

For the bonus round, Bill announces a subject usually involving numbers; the team is asked the same question five times over, with a different pair of choices each time. Every right answer is worth $500, and the team can take the money and run at any time. They are allowed to pass on one question only. If they answer five questions correctly, the payoff is $5,000 plus $5,000 for each previous bonus round not won. (A new team always started at $5,000, though, so exceptionally high jackpots were rare.)

Game show fan opinions are, at best, sharply divided on this one. Most are prone to write it off as a "Family Feud" ripoff, which, admittedly, it is. (Bill's cue card explanation of the game's rules even included the phrase "What makes this game different is...") To their credit, Barry & Enright did what they could to make this a unique ripoff, if such a thing is possible. General knowledge and word games frequently found their way into the show; the option of passing at any point in the question, and the ever-present threat of "going to the bench" gave this game an element of strategy that was lacking in "Feud."

The journey to a new game show begins with an unaired pilot. Click the slate graphic to read all about the pilot for "Hot Potato!"

Bill Cullen made the cover of TV Guide for the seventh (appropriately) and final time the week that Hot Potato premiered. Here's a look at that cover, and the full-page ad that NBC placed to tout the new addition to their line-up.

Bill shares the cover with Pat Sajak, Monty Hall, Bob Barker, Jack Barry, and Wink Martindale.

What's the big selling point that we can use to get viewers tuning in? Is it the back-and-forth playing? Is it the cash jackpots up for grabs? No, it's the fact that Bill will be there. Hot Potato's full-page ad in TV Guide focuses entirely on the fact that the man himself is hosting.

This series was my first exposure to Bill Cullen. I grew up watching the  reruns of this series on USA Network and took a liking to the man right away, and over a decade before I got into game show memorabilia hoarding as a hobby, the show was an indicator of things to come for me. His sense of humor, his low-key approach to suspense-building, and his slick professional style all stood out to me even as a five-year-old. This site's existence can be traced to watching Hot Potato, so if it really is a weak game...maybe that's why I'm so nice to it.

 Well, a game show can only struggle in the noon timeslot for so long before the network and the production company realize that it wasn't as good a timeslot as they thought. Realizing that Hot Potato was faltering, the decision was made to attach a big ugly neon word to the show's logo. That word was "Celebrity."

Celebrity Hot Potato was a disaster, as one might predict. First, the celebrities simply had to squeeze in all the funny things that came to mind, which meant the show came to a screeching halt sometimes. Sometimes celebs would actually intentionally give wrong answers just to be funny!

Also, to keep the celebrities from actually costing the contestants any money, the 7-straight jackpot was eliminated, which took out a big chunk of the excitement factor.
Worse yet, the since the show's "three-of-a-kind" gimmick was lost, the producers decided that to keep part of the concept alive, the contestant should still wear whatever uniform or costume they had for their occupation. This worked well when you had three people dressed in their outfit of trade, but a contestant dressed as a Dolly Parton impersonator looked especially awkward with no actual teammates or co-workers.

Well, that qualifies as a rant. Just let this be a lesson to you. If you ever become a game show producer, reserve celebrity participation for sweeps week only.

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