|This article relies on references to primary sources. (June 2008)|
High Rollers 1987 title card
|Based on||Shut the Box|
|Presented by||Alex Trebek (1974–80)
Wink Martindale (1987–88)
|Narrated by||Kenny Williams (1974–80)
Dean Goss (1987–88)
|Theme music composer||Stan Worth (1974–80)
Score Productions (1987–88)
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||559 (1978–80 version)
185 (1987–88 version)
|Executive producer(s)||Merrill Heatter
Burbank, California (1974–80)
CBS Television City
Hollywood, California (1987–88)
|Running time||approx. 26 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Heatter-Quigley Productions (1974–80)
Merrill Heatter Productions (1987–88)
Century Towers Productions (1987–88)
|Distributor||Rhodes Productions (1975–76)
Orion Television Syndication (1987–88)
|Original channel||NBC (1974–80)
Syndicated (weekly, 1975–76; daily, 1987–88)
|Original run||July 1, 1974
– June 11, 1976|
April 24, 1978 – June 20, 1980
September 14, 1987 – September 9, 1988
High Rollers is an American television game show based on the dice game Shut the Box which aired on NBC from July 1, 1974 to June 11, 1976 and again from April 24, 1978 to June 20, 1980. Two different syndicated versions were also produced: a weekly series in the 1975–76 season which ran concurrently with the daytime version, and a daily series in 1987–88. Heatter-Quigley Productions packaged all versions of the series except the 1987 revival, a co-production of Merrill Heatter Productions and Century Towers Productions.
Two contestants competed. The object was to remove the numbers 1 through 9 from a game board by rolling an oversized pair of dice. High Rollers was modeled on a traditional board game called Shut the Box.
In order to determine who gained control of the dice, the host asked a toss-up question. The answers were usually multiple choice, true/false, or "Yes" or "No". A contestant who buzzed in with the correct answer, or whose opponent answered incorrectly, earned the chance to either roll the dice, or pass and force the opponent to roll. The controlling contestant usually chose to roll only early in a game. All numbers were good on the first roll of the game. Passing to the opponent became more common as the game progressed, with fewer good rolls left on the board. A contestant who made a bad roll (one which could not be made with the remaining numbers) lost the game. However, if the odds of making a bad roll were low, such as if the only bad roll were 3 or 11, the contestant who won control of the dice often chose to take the gamble and roll.
Contestants removed numbers from the board based on the value of the roll of the dice, either the number by itself or in combinations that totaled the value rolled. For example, if a 10 was rolled, the contestant could remove any available combination that added up to that number: 1-9, 2-8, 3-7, 4-6, 1-2-7, 1-3-6, 1-4-5, 2-3-5, or 1-2-3-4, providing that none of the numbers within the combination had already been removed.
Play continued until a contestant either removed the last remaining digits from the board and won, or (more commonly) made a bad roll and lost. If the only remaining digit on the board was the number 1, a final toss-up question was asked and the contestant who answered the question correctly won the round (since it is impossible to make a roll totaling 1 with two dice). The winner of the game kept whatever prizes were in his or her bank, or won a house minimum of $100. A contestant who won two out of three games won the match.
The original series featured a prize hidden under every digit on the gameboard, revealed when that digit was eliminated and added to the bank of the contestant who removed it. Two digits each contained one half of a large prize, usually a new car or boat. To bank the car, both "1/2 Car" cards had to be uncovered by the same contestant. If the contestants each revealed one of the two cards, the car was taken out of play.
During the final seven weeks of the first daytime version (April 26 – June 11, 1976), the main game was known as "Face Lifters"; the digits were arranged in a 3x3 grid and concealed a picture of a famous person. A contestant won the game for correctly identifying the person in the picture. A contestant could take a guess after making a good roll. If a contestant made a bad roll, the opponent was allowed one guess for each remaining number in the picture; a successful guess won the game plus the prizes belonging to the numbers still on the board. If neither contestant guessed the identity correctly, Trebek gave clues until one contestant buzzed-in with the answer.
During the 1974–76 version of the show, the co-host rolled the dice for the contestants. The contestants sat along the long side of the dice table opposite from Trebek.
A syndicated version with almost identical rules ran weekly in 1975–76. Each episode featured the same two contestants competing for the entire show. After the first few episodes the rules were changed so that, rather than requiring contestants to win a two-out-of-three match, the winner of each game played the Big Numbers for $10,000, and the losing contestant returned for another game. The contestants played as many games as possible until time was called. If this happened during a game, the one who had removed more numbers won the final game and any prizes accumulated. Under the two-out-of-three game format used in the first few episodes, the contestant also had another chance at the Big Numbers. Like other weekly nighttime game shows at that time, this version had no returning champions.
When the series was revived in 1978 (and originally titled The New High Rollers), the digits were randomly arranged in three columns of three digits apiece, with each column containing a prize. Contestants only banked prizes when the last digit from each column was eliminated, regardless of who eliminated other digits in that column. If a contestant banked prizes but did not win the game, the banked prizes were returned to the board and a new prize was added to each of the three columns, up to a maximum of five prizes in any one column. The prizes on this version ranged from the usual game show gifts (e.g., furniture, appliances, trips, etc.) to offbeat, unusual prizes, such as a collection of musical dolls, African masks and fully catered banquets.
One (or sometimes two) of the columns were called "hot columns", meaning that all three digits could be taken off by a single roll of the dice at the beginning of the game, thus claiming the prize(s) in that column. Contestants who rolled doubles in the main game earned an "insurance marker" which could be turned in for a second chance if a contestant made a bad roll. However, if the doubles roll itself was a bad roll, the contestant received no marker but rolled again. Contestants on this version rolled the dice themselves rather than being rolled by the hostess.
On this version, each game featured a single prize or prize package in each column, which did not carry over to subsequent rounds if the prizes went unclaimed. In some games, one of the columns contained the right to play one of several mini-games, including the following:
- Around The World: Each number on a die corresponded to one of five available trips; rolling a 6 won all five trips (i.e., a trip around the world). Regardless of the outcome of the game, the winner also received $5,000 in spending money.
- Dice Derby: This game mimicked a horse race; one horse was designated with even numbers (2, 4 and 6); the other odd numbers (1, 3 and 5). The contestant rolled the die and the appropriate horse moved one space depending on the outcome. The first horse to move four spaces on the track would win the race and a prize for the contestant. If the even horse won, the grand prize was a new car (or sometimes a trip or $10,000). If the odd horse won, the contestant received a moderately priced trip or pocketed $1,000.
- Driver's Test: The contestant controlled a game piece on a 12-position game board, arranged in a 4x4 ring of spaces. He/she had four rolls of a die to make the piece land exactly on the "CAR" space (which was seven spaces away from the starting position). The piece always moved toward the "CAR" space; if a roll caused it to overshoot the target, the next roll would have the piece reversing direction. Failure to win the car won the cash amount on that space, up to $2,500.
- It Takes Two: A different prize was assigned to each number on the die. The contestant continued to roll the die until he/she repeated a number, winning the prize corresponding to that number. Frequently, the prize associated with the 6 was the "kitchen sink", meaning that the contestant would win all five other prizes if they rolled a 6 twice.
- Love Letters: The contestant rolled a die up to six times to reveal letters in a six-letter word. Solving the word at any time won a new car; otherwise, the contestant won $100 for every letter that was revealed.
- Lucky Numbers: The contestant chose a number between 1 and 6, and then rolled the die. A correct hunch won the contestant a new car.
- Map Game: An earlier version of "Around The World", played on the pilot and the series premiere. It was played identically to "Around The World", except in this game a 6 did not win all five trips but rather a sixth, more expensive trip.
- Rabbit Test: The models wore fur coats, one fake, worth $600, while the other was real rabbit fur. If the contestant could "feel out" the real $6,000 fur, they won it.
- Smiling Wink's Car Lot: In this game each number on a die represented a new car, except number 6, which represented a "clunker," a used but operational car. The contestant rolled the die and won the car corresponding to the number rolled.
- Wink's Garage Sale: Six prizes, including a worthless gag gift, were available. Rolling a 6 won the junk prize; the others were worth thousands of dollars.
The Big Numbers
In the bonus game, called the "Big Numbers", the champion rolled the dice and attempted to remove the numbers 1–9 from the board, with a large prize awarded for clearing the board. A bigger gameboard was used, except on the 1978–80 series, which used the same board as the main game. Insurance markers were awarded for doubles, giving the contestant the opportunity to roll again after a bad roll; this was the only time insurance markers were used during the 1974–76 version.
Contestants were awarded $100 for each number removed from the board. In the earliest episodes, contestants could stop and take this money after a good roll. A bad roll with no insurance markers, or eliminating all numbers except for the 1, ended the game and the contestant lost the bonus money accumulated. The contestant won a car for removing eight numbers, and $10,000 for all nine. The rules soon changed so that the car bonus was removed, but a contestant who continued to roll did not risk the accumulated money.
The 1978–80 version offered a prize of $5,000 for eliminating all nine numbers. For a certain period the contestant also received a car in addition to $5,000 for winning. The 1987–88 version offered a prize of $10,000, and used a pair of "golden dice" for this segment of the game.
The Big Numbers bonus round was also used on Las Vegas Gambit, which was hosted by future High Rollers host Wink Martindale and also produced by Heatter-Quigley Productions, in 1981. The gameplay was unchanged (though the "Big Numbers" name was not used), and even incorporated the same dice table and sound effects from the 1978–80 High Rollers.
Champions stayed on the show until they were defeated or until they won five matches (seven on the 1978–80 version). On the 1987–88 version, winning five matches originally won a new car but was later dropped by the time a player finally retired undefeated, which led to more cars being awarded in some of the mini-games played during the main game.
The first three versions were hosted by Alex Trebek and announced by Kenny Williams, while Wink Martindale hosted and Dean Goss announced the 1987–88 version. The Trebek versions were taped at NBC Studios (Burbank), while the Martindale version was taped in Studio 43 at CBS Television City.
On the 1974–76 versions, actress Ruta Lee served as the model and dice roller on the daytime edition while Elaine Stewart filled that role on the nighttime edition. Becky Price, Linda Hooks, and Lauren Firestone rotated as models during the second NBC version, while Martindale was assisted on his version by models Crystal Owens and KC Winkler.
Stan Worth composed the theme for the 1974–76 and 1978–80 versions. In 1985, Score Productions composed a theme titled "Bubble Gum," originally for a failed Heatter pilot called Lucky Numbers, that was reused for the 1987–88 version of High Rollers.
Two editions were released in 1975, as Big Numbers: The High Rollers Game. The first edition was released by E.S. Lowe, while the second edition was released by Milton Bradley. Both versions have Trebek on the cover. A board game based on the 1987 version was released by Parker Brothers in 1988. The cover shows Martindale and two contestants during a game.
A computer game also based on the 1987 version was released for the Commodore 64, Apple II, and DOS by Box Office in 1988. The cover has Martindale holding a pair of Golden Dice in his left hand while pointing to them with his right.
A studio master copy of the June 11, 1975 episode and the Warhol collection copy of the July 4, 1975 show are available for viewing at The Paley Center for Media. All episodes of the 1987–88 version exist in their entirety, and were rerun on USA Network from September 19, 1988 to September 13, 1991.
An Australian version aired on the Seven Network for a brief period in 1975, hosted by Garry Meadows with Delvene Delaney and Suzanne Fox as the dealers. The announcer was Max Rowley. A Japanese version called SuperdiceQ hosted by Doi Over aired on TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) from 1980 to 1984.
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