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High Rollers 1987 title card
|Based on||Shut the Box|
|Directed by||Jerome Shaw|
|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 network||NBC (1974–80)
Syndicated (weekly, 1975–76; daily, 1987–88)
|Original release||July 1, 1974
– June 11, 1976|
April 24, 1978 – June 20, 1980
September 14, 1987 – September 9, 1988
High Rollers debuted on July 1, 1974, as part of NBC's daytime lineup. In September 1975, an accompanying series was launched in syndication and aired once weekly on local stations. Both of these series ended in 1976, with the daytime series ending on June 11, 1976. Alex Trebek, referred to on air as "the man with the action", was the host for these series. On April 24, 1978, NBC brought High Rollers back with Trebek hosting and aired it until June 20, 1980, when it was one of three series cancelled to make room for The David Letterman Show. The series was produced by Heatter-Quigley Productions.
In 1987 Merrill Heatter, working solo since his production partner Bob Quigley retired, teamed with Orion Television and its subsidiary Century Towers Productions to revive High Rollers with Wink Martindale, this time referred to as "the man with all the action", as host. This series premiered in daily syndication on September 14, 1987, and aired new episodes until May 27, 1988. Reruns aired until September 9, 1988.
Two contestants competed. The object was to remove the numbers 1 through 9 from a game board by rolling an oversized pair of dice. 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/no. The first contestant to buzz in received the chance to answer, and answering correctly won control. If that player did not answer correctly, control went to the opposing player.
Once in control, a player was given the choice to either roll the dice or pass, forcing the other player. 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. If a player rolls a double, they receive an "insurance" marker to prevent them from ending the game, as the "insurance" marker allows the player to keep playing.
The object was to avoid a "bad roll", which happened when the value of the roll did not correspond with any of the numbers on the board and thus could not be cleared. Early in a game, a contestant would usually keep rolling as the odds against making a "bad roll" were in their favor. As the game progressed, it became more difficult to avoid such a fate and the contestant would be more inclined to pass control of the dice to the opponent.
If one of the contestants made a bad roll at any point in the game, he/she automatically lost. Otherwise, play continued until all numbers were cleared from the board and the player to eliminate the last number won the game. Winning the game also won the contestant any prizes that he/she was able to clear from the board, with $100 given if he/she did not.
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-hostess (Ruta Lee, daytime and Elaine Stewart, nighttime) 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, and could only keep the prizes by winning the game. 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.
Each column started out with one prize in it and for each new game, one additional prize was added to each column. Prizes would continue to be added to a column until it had five prizes in it, at which point nothing else was added to the column until someone cleared it and won the game. 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 the 1987 revival, the prizes available to the contestants changed in each game instead of carrying over to subsequent games if they were not won.
Frequently, a column would not be played for any prize at all. Instead, it would be played for the right to play a special bonus game if the contestant that cleared the column managed to win the game.
In each of these games, only one of the dice was used to accomplish the game's objective. These objectives varied, as seen below:
- Around The World: Each number on a die corresponded to one of five available trips; rolling a six 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. Later in the run, the $5,000 cash bonus was dropped.
- Diamond Mine: Each number from one through was worth some type of jewelry; rolling the corresponding number won that piece of jewelry.
- 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. The even horse carried a larger prize, which usually consisted of either a trip or a car, and the odd horse a smaller one such as a short vacation or $1,000.
- Driver's Test: The contestant controlled a game piece on a 12-position game board, arranged in a 4×4 ring of spaces. He/she had six 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.
- Full House: Each number on a die corresponded to a different room of a house. The player wins the room corresponded to the number rolled. However, if a player rolled a six, the player won all five rooms in the house.
- Island Hoppers: Each number 1–6 represented an island vacation of some sort, and the contestant who played won the trip represented by the number rolled.
- 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.
- 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. This game was offered but was never played on the air.
- 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. At least once, it was called the "Map and Money Game" where the trip won would come with some cash, but the Map and Money Game was never played.
- Millionaire Game: Each number 1–6 was worth a certain number of California Lottery tickets; rolling the corresponding number won that number of tickets.
- 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.
- Screen Play: Each number 1–6 was worth a TV set of some type; rolling the corresponding number won that TV.
- 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.
- Wild Wheels: The player rolls a die, if the contestant rolls 1, 3 or 5 the player wins a new car. If a player rolls a 2 or 4, the player wins a thousand gallons of gas. However, if a player rolls a 6, the player wins two cars.
- 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 round used the same dice table as the second daytime High Rollers series (complete with sound effects) and had the same rules, but instead of playing for a car the game was played for an accumulating prize package referred to as the Gambit Galaxy.
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.
As noted above, Alex Trebek and Wink Martindale served as hosts for High Rollers, and each was introduced as "The Man with (All) the Action." For the original series and its revival, Heatter-Quigley staff announcer Kenny Williams served as announcer. The 1987 series used Dean Goss as its announcer.
Actress Ruta Lee and Gambit card dealer Elaine Stewart were the prize models on the first High Rollers series, with Lee performing those duties on the daytime series and Stewart the weekly syndicated series. As noted above, both women were also the dice rollers for the players. Becky Price, Linda Hooks, and Lauren Firestone rotated as models during the 1978 revival 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 of home games 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. The status of the 1978–80 daytime episodes is unclear, as NBC was still wiping its daytime series at the time. Several episodes held by private collectors have resurfaced on YouTube in the past several years. 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 Masaru Doi, aired on TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) from 1980 to 1984.
- David Schwartz, Steve Ryan and Fred Wostbrock, The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows, 3rd ed., Checkmark Books, 1999, p. 92
- "High Rollers". "High Rollers". 1975-06-11. NBC.
- "Shows–CBS Television City". Retrieved 25 July 2011.
- David Schwartz, Steve Ryan and Fred Wostbrock, The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows, 3rd ed., Checkmark Books, 1999, p. 92.
- "High Rollers Image Gallery". BoardGameGeek.com. Retrieved 27 February 2014.
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