Sale of the Century (U.S. game show)

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Sale of the Century
Sale of the Century.jpg
Created by Al Howard
Presented by Jack Kelly (1969–71)
Joe Garagiola (1971–74)
Jim Perry (1983–89)
Barbara Lyon (1969–71)
Kit Dougherty (1971–74)
Madelyn Sanders (undetermined; 1969–74 version)
Sally Julian (1983)
Lee Menning (1983–84)
Summer Bartholomew (1984–89)
Narrated by Bill Wendell (1969–74)
Jay Stewart (1983–88)
Don Morrow (1988–89)
Theme music composer Ray Ellis & Marc Ellis
(1983−89 version)
Opening theme "Mercedes"
(1983−89 version)
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 5 (1969–74)
7 (1983–89)
No. of episodes approx. 1,000 (NBC 1969–73)
approx. 39 (SYN 1973–74)
1,578 (NBC 1983–89)
270 (SYN 1985–86)
Location(s) NBC Studios
New York, New York (1969–74)
NBC Studios
Burbank, California (1983–89)
Running time 22–24 minutes
Production company(s) Al Howard Productions (1969–74)
Reg Grundy Productions (1983–89)
Distributor Screen Gems (1973–74)
Genesis Entertainment (1985–86)
Original network NBC (1969–73, 1983–89)
Syndicated (1973–74, 1985–86)
Picture format 4:3
Original release First Run
September 29, 1969 (1969-09-29)
July 13, 1973 (1973-07-13)
(NBC Daytime)
September 1973 (1973-09)
September 1974 (1974-09)
(Weekly Syndication)
Second Run
January 3, 1983 (1983-01-03)
March 24, 1989 (1989-03-24)
(NBC Daytime)
January 7, 1985 (1985-01-07)
September 12, 1986 (1986-09-12)
(Daily Syndication)

Sale of the Century is an American television game show which debuted in the United States on September 29, 1969, on NBC daytime. It was one of three NBC game shows to premiere on that date, the other two being the short-lived Letters to Laugh-In and Name Droppers. The series aired until July 13, 1973, and then aired in a weekly syndicated version for one additional year. Jack Kelly hosted the series from 1969 to 1971, then Joe Garagiola, Sr. took over for Kelly, who returned to acting.

The rights to Sale of the Century were purchased in 1980 by Australian TV mogul Reg Grundy, who turned the show into success in Australia (see Sale of the Century (Australian game show)), and eventually succeeded in selling NBC a new version of the format in 1983. The new version aired weekday mornings from January 3, 1983, to March 24, 1989. Again, it was one of three NBC game shows premiering on the same date, along with Hit Man and Just Men! (which both lasted only 13 weeks). This version of Sale originally aired at 10:30/9:30 AM Central and later moved to 10:00/9:00 Central. A concurrent daily syndicated version ran from January 7, 1985, to September 12, 1986. The 1980s versions were hosted by Jim Perry.

Al Howard was the executive producer of the initial 1969–73 version, and for a short time was co-executive producer of the 1980s version with Robert Noah.

A new version of the series entitled Temptation, like the recent Australian revival, debuted in syndication on September 10, 2007, following a September 7 preview on MyNetworkTV. This series ran for one year.

Game format[edit]

Contestants answered general knowledge questions posed by the host at a value of $5 per correct answer. However, any contestant who answered incorrectly lost $5, and—unlike most game shows—only one contestant was permitted to answer for each question.

At certain points during the game, contestants participated in an "Instant Bargain" and were offered the opportunity to purchase merchandise at a bargain price. The selling price for the item, generally the value of one or more questions, was then deducted from the contestant's score, and the prize was theirs to keep regardless of the game's outcome.

Depending upon the version, question values either remained at $5 or increased as the game progressed. Additional Instant Bargains were also offered. The contestant in the lead at the end of the game was declared the champion and used their final score to purchase a larger prize, or played a separate end game, which varied depending upon the version of the show.


From 1969 to 1973, the game featured three contestants, who all began with $25. Midway through the game, the question values doubled to $10. At first, the final round consisted of 30 seconds of $15 questions; later, this was replaced with five $20 questions (called "The Century Round," as the total value of the questions was $100). If a contestant's total was reduced to zero (or lower), that contestant was eliminated from the game.

At certain points during gameplay, all contestants were offered the opportunity to purchase merchandise at a bargain price. The first contestant to buzz in after the prize was revealed purchased that prize, and the price was deducted from his or her score. The prices of all prizes offered were expressed much as one would hear in a department store (ending with "and 95 cents"), and the prices increased as the episode progressed (e.g., $7.95, $11.95, $14.95, $21.95). All prize values were rounded up to the nearest dollar before being subtracted from the score of the contestant who purchased the prize. Each Instant Bargain was hidden behind a curtain, and contestants could not buzz in before the curtain opened. A contestant who did buzz in early was penalized by having the cost of the Instant Bargain deducted from their score and being locked out of purchasing the prize.

The "Open House" round was played in early episodes of the original version, usually about halfway through a particular episode. Five prizes were presented to the contestants and each could buy as many of them as he or she wanted. Unlike Instant Bargains, multiple contestants could buy the same item. This was later replaced with an "Audience Sale" round in which three members of the studio audience guessed the "sale price" of an item. The one that bid closest without going over won the item. The three contestants could increase their score by correctly guessing which, if any, audience member would win.

During the last thirteen weeks of this series, and a follow-up weekly syndicated series that ran for one season in 1973-74,[1] two married couples competed instead of three individual contestants. Each couple was given $20 at the start of the game. On the syndicated version, the first round consisted of questions worth $5, and in the second questions were valued at $10. A series of five questions worth $20 each were asked to conclude the game. If either couple's score reached $0, both couples were given an additional $20.

The winning contestant or couple was given the opportunity to spend their score on at least one of several grand prizes at the "Sale of the Century". Contestants either purchased a prize with their winnings and retired, or elected to return the next day and try to win enough to buy a more expensive prize. Champions could buy more than one prize. Also, when contestants chose to return the next day, they were asked which prizes they were considering buying; as long as the contestant kept winning, those prizes remained while others were replaced by more expensive ones.

The 1970s syndicated version featured two different formats. Both offered three possible prizes (almost always a trip, a fur coat, and a car), only one of which the couple could win. Originally, each prize had a sale price, and Garagiola asked questions worth $100 each, which was added to the couple's score from the game. When the amount reached the sale price of a prize, the couple could buy the prize or keep playing for a more expensive prize. Later, this was changed to "The Game of Champions". The three prizes had sale amounts ($150, $300, and $600). The winning couple chose a prize and had to answer three questions (worth $50, $100, or $200 each, depending on the prize) in order to win.


Three contestants competed each day, usually consisting of a returning champion and two challengers. Each contestant was given $20 at the start of the game and all questions were worth $5. Any contestant whose score was reduced to zero stayed in the game at a score of $0, and any subsequent incorrect questions did not reduce their score below $0.

During an Instant Bargain, the player in the lead was the only person who could purchase the prize available. Three Instant Bargains were played per game, and, as before, the value of both the prize and the amount it cost to buy the item increased as the game progressed. Depending on the game situation, the host often reduced the cost and/or offered cash in order to entice the contestant to purchase. In case of a tie for the lead, a Dutch auction was usually conducted for the prize, although sometimes the price remained the same. Three separate Instant Bargains were played during each game.

Additional questions were asked after the first Instant Bargain, following which the first "Fame Game" was played. A "who-am-I?"-style question was posed to the contestants, with clues becoming more descriptive as the question continued. If one of the contestants buzzed-in and answered correctly, he or she played the second half of the round; if not, that contestant was locked out from the round (without penalty) and play continued until one of the remaining contestants either answered correctly or all three failed to answer.

The contestant who answered correctly was given a choice of nine spaces on the Fame Game board, each displaying the face of a celebrity. Eight of the spaces hid either small bonus prizes or various amounts of cash, and one hid a $25 Money Card, which added $25 to the contestant's score. The Fame Game was played three times per episode, with earlier spaces selected removed from subsequent available choices.

The contestant with the highest score at the end of the game became the champion. If the match ended in a tie, the tied players were asked one more question. Buzzing in and answering correctly won the game, while answering incorrectly resulted in a loss. In both cases, the losing contestants kept any and all cash and prizes won along the way, including their final scores in cash.

The champion went shopping for prizes with their winnings. Six grand prizes were featured each week. If a new champion had not accumulated a score high enough to purchase the first level prize on his or her first day, the purchase price of that prize was reduced to the champion's winning score. A contestant who purchased a prize immediately retired from the game. However, the champion could also elect to bank his/her money and return the next day. Each time a champion won a match, his/her score was added to the total score accumulated from prior matches. The values and purchase prices of the shopping prizes increased accordingly, with a luxury car being the most expensive individual merchandise prize available.

For the first four months of Sale's run on NBC, if a contestant accumulated at least $510, he or she won all of the prizes on stage and enough cash to make the entire package worth exactly $95,000. Later, an accumulating cash jackpot was added as a seventh prize for $510, which began at $50,000 and increased by $1,000 each day it went unclaimed. If a contestant managed to accumulate at least $600 he/she won everything on stage along with the jackpot, which made the overall top prize worth over $100,000 in cash and prizes.

The syndicated series featured a similar shopping round when it premiered in January 1985. Like its parent series, eight prize levels were available and a champion could elect to buy a prize at any time and retire. The difference was that at the last individual prize level, the champion was offered the car. The next level a champion would reach enabled them to buy all of the prizes on the stage. If a champion banked enough money to reach the ultimate prize level, he/she not only received all six shopping prizes but also received the cash jackpot. For the first three weeks of episodes it took $830 to win the entire lot, with $720 needed for just the shopping prizes. Beginning on January 28, 1985 and continuing until the shopping format was discontinued, accumulating $640 won the prizes and $750 won them and the jackpot.

On rare occasions, a champion would enter a match needing a certain amount for one prize and finish with a high enough score that, when added to his/her current bankroll, would enable him/her to buy the prize that was on the next level; for instance, the champion could have been aiming for a fur coat but ended up accumulating a high enough score during the game to give he/she an opportunity to buy the next prize in line, i.e. the car.[2] When such a situation arose, the champion was allowed to buy either of the two prizes if he/she wished, but not both.[3]

All the shopping prizes were swapped out for different ones every five shows. If a contestant's reign was to continue past the Friday of a particular week, Jim Perry would offer a reminder that a different set of prizes would be offered beginning on the next show and would tell the champion where he/she stood and what else would be available.[4]

Later changes[edit]

Main game

By 1984, the Fame Game would undergo two changes. The first involved adding two more Money Cards to the board, worth $10 and $15. These cards would be added to the board one at a time, with the $10 card going on the board for the first Fame Game and the $15 for the second. With the change, the $25 card was no longer made available during the entire game and was only available during the third and final Fame Game. On occasion, a fourth money card worth $5 would be placed on the board with the $10 card. Later on, the famous faces on the Fame Game board were replaced by numbers. Even later, a randomizer was added to the Fame Game board and the player in control of the board selected a number by hitting their buzzer, which stopped the randomizer. When this change was made, the locations of the Money Cards were shown to the players and the $5 card was done away with.

The regular game format also underwent a significant change in the spring of 1984. After the third Fame Game, one more set of three questions was asked to close the game. In May of that year, a sixty-second speed round was instituted. Coinciding with the speed round's introduction came an increase in the value of the top level prizes; it now took $650 to win the cash jackpot, with $760 needed for all seven prizes.

Beginning in May 1984, a "Sale Surprise" was occasionally added to any one of the Instant Bargains, which consisted of a cash bonus of anywhere from $300 to $1,200. However, the bonus was not used for every show, and was only revealed after the contestant chose to purchase or pass on a prize.

In March 1986, the show added the "Instant Cash" game in place of the third Instant Bargain. The leading contestant (or, in case of a tie, the winner of an auction) was offered a shot at a cash jackpot for the cost of their entire lead over the second place contestant. Every time the game was played, the contestant was given the choice of one of three boxes. The selected box was then given to the contestant, and whatever was inside was his/hers to keep. Two of the three boxes had $100 bills in them. Selecting the correct box won the contestant the jackpot, which started at $1,000 and increased by that amount each day it went unclaimed.

Bonus round

The shopping bonus round was later replaced with a game called the "Winner's Board", which was introduced in October 1984 on NBC and on November 18, 1985 in syndication. On the episode before the switch was made on either series the champion was allowed to buy the shopping prize available to them based on their current bank and come back.[5]

Unlike before, where a contestant had to continue winning and build his/her bank to a certain amount to have a chance at one of the major prizes on the stage such as the car, the Winner's Board guaranteed that the contestant would have a fair shot at any of ten bonus prizes that were offered during that given week and all he/she had to do was match up numbers.

There were three prizes on the board at all times: $3,000 cash, $10,000 cash, and a car. The other seven prizes were random and ever changing, as they were reset every five shows along with the car. A champion's reign started with a full board of twenty numbered squares to choose from. Behind each of the numbers was a card, displaying either the name of a prize or the word "WIN". The latter cards were wild cards and if one was uncovered, the champion chose one more number and won whatever was on the card behind it. A "WIN" card was necessary for the champion to win the car or the $10,000 cash prize; there was only one card for both of these prizes while every other prize had a matching pair of cards. The first prize the champion matched was his/hers to keep.

For each consecutive appearance a champion made at the Winner's Board, there were two less squares to pick from as each prize and the "WIN" cards remained on the board for as long as they were needed. If the champion made it to the Winner's Board nine consecutive times, only two squares were available to choose from and the champion won whatever he/she picked automatically with the sole remaining prize, whatever it was, awarded to him/her if he/she won the next match. As noted above, each prize the champion was able to match on the Winner's Board was theirs to keep and if he/she was defeated before clearing the board, the champion left with whatever prizes were won to that point and the player that defeated him/her started with a brand new board.

If the champion managed to clear the board, he/she faced two choices. The first was to take all ten prizes, which usually totaled at least $50,000, and retire as champion. The second was to put the Winner's Board prizes at risk and play an eleventh match on the next show. If the champion chose to return and was defeated in that match, the champion also lost all ten prizes and left only with what he/she was able to win in the main game. Winning the match secured the Winner's Board prizes and the champion won an additional $50,000 in cash, retiring undefeated.

After the Winner's Board was done away with in late December 1987, a small change in format was made. The winner of the match automatically won a bonus prize to go with whatever he/she had won during the game. After that the champion advanced to play a new bonus round that the show called the "Winner's Big Money Game", where he/she could win several thousand more dollars in cash.

The champion was given a choice of three envelopes (red, yellow, blue) before the start of the round. Inside each of the envelopes was a series of six-word puzzles that served as clues to lead to a famous person, place, or thing. The champion was originally given 25 seconds to solve five puzzles, but the requirement was later reduced to four puzzles in 20 seconds. The clock began when the first word of a puzzle was revealed and only stopped when the champion hit a plunger to stop the clock and give an answer. Passing was allowed, as was one incorrect guess; a second incorrect guess ended the round. The contestant won a cash award for solving all puzzles before time expired. Every new champion started by playing for $5,000 in their first Winner's Big Money Game. Regardless of whether or not the round was won, the champion played for $6,000 the next day if he/she won the match. The money kept increasing for each subsequent day after to a maximum of $10,000 if the champion managed to win a sixth consecutive match.

If the champion won a seventh consecutive match, he/she played the Winner's Big Money Game for a car. The champion's performance here determined his/her overall fate, as a loss in this round resulted in the champion retiring immediately with all prior winnings. If the champion managed to win the car, he/she returned to play one final match and, if he/she won again, played the Winner's Big Money Game one last time for $50,000. From Winner's Big Money Games alone, a successful champion had a chance to win over $100,000 in cash and prizes ($95,000 of which would be strictly cash, if the round was won every time an undefeated retired champion played it).


Jim Perry Hosted Sale of the Century from 1983 to 1989.

The 1969–73 version began with Jack Kelly as host, who was replaced by Joe Garagiola in 1971. Bill Wendell, then on the staff of NBC, served as announcer for the entire 1969–73 version. Madelyn Sanders, an African-American model, served as hostess for most of the run.

The 1980s version was hosted by Jim Perry, who was initially joined by Sally Julian as co-host. Two months later, Lee Menning replaced her until December 1984, when Summer Bartholomew joined the program and remained as co-host until the 1989 finale. Jay Stewart announced until his retirement in January 1988, when he was replaced by Don Morrow.

Production information[edit]

Broadcast history[edit]

Sale of the Century premiered on September 29, 1969 on NBC's daytime schedule at 11:00 AM (10:00 Central), replacing the three-year-old Personality, which was hosted by Larry Blyden. It aired at that time slot for the whole of its initial three-and-a-half years on the network, ending its first run on July 13, 1973, after which The Wizard of Odds, the first American program hosted by Alex Trebek, would make its debut.

The 1983 revival debuted [6] on its original network, NBC, in January of that year at 10:30 AM (9:30 AM in markets outside the Eastern Time Zone) and remained there until January 5, 1987, when the network moved the show back thirty minutes to 10:00 AM (9:00 AM CT/MT/PT). Sale of the Century stayed in that timeslot for the remainder of its run, enjoying respectable ratings and airing its 1,578th and final episode on March 24, 1989. Its place on the schedule was taken by Scrabble, which had been airing in the afternoons for several years, in a shuffle that also saw Super Password leave the air and the soap opera Generations inherit its place and Scrabble's old timeslot.

The revival series spawned an accompanying daily syndicated edition that premiered on January 7, 1985 and was distributed by Genesis Entertainment. The syndicated Sale of the Century ran for one and a half seasons and came to an end in September 1986.

Episode status[edit]

Most episodes of the original 1969–73 series are believed to have been destroyed, but nine episodes of that run are held by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.[7]

USA aired reruns of the entire 270–episode 1985–86 syndicated series, and 120 episodes (August 1988–March 1989) of the NBC daytime series from September 14, 1992 to July 29, 1994,[1] for a total of 390 episodes.[8] GSN carried the series from April 1, 2013[9] until March 27, 2015. The network initially started out by airing the final sixty-five episodes of the NBC series. As part of the weekend beginning with that year's Black Friday, the network aired a four-hour marathon of episodes from the first season of the syndicated series to pay tribute to many retailers offering sales. GSN added the syndicated episodes to its daytime lineup in place of the network episodes that Monday and aired most of the run before dropping Sale from their schedule.

On October 18, 2015, Buzzr began airing the syndicated version starting in 1985 on Sunday nights.

A version of the 1980s episodes was shown in a scene in the movie Rain Man.

Theme music[edit]

The original 1969–74 theme was composed by Al Howard and Irwin Bazelon.[10]

The main theme on the 1980s version, titled "Mercedes",[11] was composed in 1982 by Ray Ellis and his son Marc, and was more or less a reworking of Jack Grimsley's original 1980 recording for the Australian version of the show. Both Ray & Marc have composed music for other American Reg Grundy game shows as well, including Time Machine and Scrabble. In late December 1987, which coincided with the debut of the "Winner's Big Money Game", Ray and Marc Ellis composed a new music score for the series and an updated version of the main theme.

Licensed merchandise[edit]

Milton Bradley released two home editions based on the 1969–74 version.[12] A version based upon the 1983–89 version of the show - made by American Publishing Corp., and featuring the Quizzard game - was released in 1986.[13]

As part of their "Game Show Greats" lineup, IGT released a video slot machine in 2003.[14]


  1. ^ a b Schwartz, David (1999). The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows. Checkmark Books. ISBN 0816038473. 
  2. ^ Sale of the Century syndicated episode aired May 21, 1985. Champion Jan Robes was faced with this specific situation.
  3. ^ Sale of the Century 5/21/85.
  4. ^ Sale of the Century syndicated episodes airing February 4, 1985 and May 17, 1985.
  5. ^ Sale of the Century syndicated episode broadcast on November 15, 1985.
  6. ^ Chance, Norman. Who Was Who on TV: Volume III. Vol. 3. N.p.: Xlibris, 2011. 158-59. Print.
  7. ^ "UCLA Library Catalog". 
  8. ^
  9. ^ "GSN acquires new series Sale of the Century and new episodes of Press Your Luck to launch April 1". 
  10. ^ David Schwartz, Steve Ryan & Fred Wostbrock, The Encyclopedia of TV Game $hows, Checkmark Books, 1999, pp. 192
  11. ^ "Post from Museum of Television Production Music Facebook page". Retrieved 30 November 2013. 
  12. ^ "The Sale of the Century Home Game Home Page". Retrieved 30 November 2013. 
  13. ^ "Sale of the Century Quizzard". Board Game Geek. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
  14. ^ "IGT - Games: Sale of the Century™ Video Slots". Retrieved 30 November 2013. 

External links[edit]