Scrabble (game show)
|Created by||Muriel Green|
|Directed by||Chris Darley|
|Presented by||Chuck Woolery|
|Narrated by||Jay Stewart|
|Theme music composer||Marc Ellis|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||7|
|No. of episodes||1,230 (1984–90)|
|Executive producer(s)||Robert Noah|
|Production location(s)||NBC Studios|
|Running time||22 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Reg Grundy Productions|
|Original release||July 2, 1984 – March 23, 1990|
January 18, 1993 –
June 11, 1993
Scrabble is an American television game show that was based on the Scrabble board game. Muriel Green of Exposure Unlimited came up with the initial concept for a television game show based on the Scrabble board game. During 1983 Green convinced Selchow and Righter, who at that time owned the Scrabble board game, to license Exposure Unlimited the right to produce the television show. Exposure Unlimited hired and co-produced the show with Reg Grundy Productions and licensed the show to NBC. It ran from July 2, 1984, to March 23, 1990, and again from January 18, 1993, to June 11, 1993, with both runs airing on NBC. A total of 1,335 episodes were produced from both editions; Chuck Woolery hosted both versions of the series. Jay Stewart was the announcer for the first year and was replaced by Charlie Tuna in the summer of 1985, who announced for the remainder of the original version and the entirety of the 1993 revival.
The original 1984–90 version was the very first successful "board-game-turned-game-show" in history, the second was Family Game Night on The Hub (now Discovery Family) from 2010 until 2014 and the third was Celebrity Name Game (based on the board game Identity Crisis) from 2014 until 2017.
All words used in the game were between five and nine letters in length. For each word, Woolery gave a clue that often involved a pun or play on words (e.g., "Some people want him to get off their case" for "detective"). Viewers could win a Scrabble T-shirt by submitting a word and clue and having them selected for use in the show's opening title sequence.
The first round of every game was the Crossword round, in which two contestants competed to guess words as they were laid out on a computer-generated Scrabble board. Originally, two new contestants played each Crossword, with the winner advancing to the Scrabble Sprint to face the reigning champion (see below). On September 29, 1986, as part of a broader format change, episodes were re-structured to include two Crosswords. The first Crossword was played between the show's reigning champion and a challenger, and the second Crossword was played between two new contestants. Each Crossword was played as a best-of-five match, with the first contestant to score three correctly identified words winning the Crossword and advancing to the Scrabble Sprint to try and become champion.
A horizontal or vertical row of squares was outlined to indicate the number of letters, with one already filled in and referred to as the letter the contestants were "building on". Each subsequent word built on one of the letters in the previous word and was played in the opposite direction; i.e., the first word was played horizontally, the second vertically, and so on. Each word was accompanied by a clue designed to aid the contestants in solving it.
Initially, the winner of a backstage coin toss got to start each gane. When the second Crossword was introduced and the champion was inserted into the first game, his/her opponent started; the second game still employed the coin toss to determine who would begin.
At the beginning of each contestant's turn, he/she was either allowed to guess the word or draw from a series of blue numbered tiles. Each tile represented one letter, and when placed in a slot in front of the contestant the letters would be displayed on a screen ready to be placed in the word.
Not every letter was in the word, however. For instance, if the contestants were playing a nine letter word, there would be a total of eleven tiles to select. Eight of the tiles represented the remaining letters in the word. The other three were decoys referred to as "stoppers".
After a letter was placed properly, the contestant could opt to place the other letter or guess the word. As long as he/she kept correctly placing letters, a contestant retained control. Finding a stopper or guessing incorrectly passed control to the opponent. If there was a letter displayed when the opponent got control, he/she selected a tile before taking the turn.
Play continued on a word until there was only one letter left unrevealed. If the contestant in control failed to guess it, the opponent got a chance. If neither one correctly identified the word, the answer was given and the word thrown out.
If a contestant uncovered the third stopper for a word, the opposing player was given one final chance to guess. After that, the game entered Speedword. In Speedword, the unrevealed letters were placed in the word one at a time until there was only one blank space left. The contestants used their signaling devices to attempt to guess. If either contestant guessed incorrectly, they would be locked out of the rest of the word while the other contestant could ring in whenever he/she desired. If neither contestant correctly identified the word in Speedword, it was thrown out.
The first contestant to three words won Crossword and a cash prize. Initially, games were played to their conclusion and matches could and often did straddle episodes. Following the 1986 restructuring of the format, each Crossword was played to time. Speedword was played if time was running short.
In the first week of the show, a cumulative money pot was used in the Crossword round. Each letter placed in a normal square was worth $25, with blue squares adding $50 and pink squares $100. The winner of the round collected all the money in the pot. After that week, the Crossword winner received a flat $500.
Beginning in October 1984, contestants could win a cash bonus with the colored squares by placing a letter in one of them and immediately solving the word. Blue squares awarded $500, while pink squares awarded $1,000. Beginning in 1986, the bonus rule was added to Speedword, provided a contestant guessed the word right after a letter was placed into a bonus space. Also, if a word was being built on a letter in a bonus square, the contestant who started the word could win the bonus with an immediate solve. In the event that the last letter that could be placed was placed in a bonus square and the contestant that placed the letter could not guess the word, the other player could win the bonus if he/she gave a correct guess. Both contestants kept any bonus money they won, regardless of who won the Crossword round.
For the 1993 version, money won from bonus squares was added to the Bonus Sprint jackpot instead of being awarded directly to the contestant.
For three months in 1985, contestants not only had to guess each word correctly, but also had to spell the word one letter at a time. Similar to the format used during the first week, each correct letter added money to a pot: Regular squares added $50, blue squares added $100, and pink squares added $200 (later $500). In one episode, two contestants repeatedly failed to spell the word MOSQUITOS correctly, despite knowing it was the correct answer. This rule was abandoned by the fall of 1985.
The Scrabble Sprint round was the second part of the game and determined the show's champion. In this round, the goal was to solve a set of words of increasing length as quickly as possible. There were two different formats.
From the premiere until September 26, 1986, the Crossword rounds were played to determine who faced the reigning champion in the Sprint Round. If there was no champion, two Crossword rounds were played and the winners of those rounds faced off to become the champion.
In the first format, both the champion and the Crossword winner played separate sets of words. The Crossword winner played first and chose one of two envelopes, leaving the other for the champion. A row of blanks would be shown, and Woolery would read a clue. Once the contestant indicated that he/she was ready, a timer began to count up and two letters were displayed, which he/she called one at a time to place in the word. Additional letters then appeared one at a time, but as in Crossword, the last letter would not be given. No stoppers were in play during the Sprint round.
The contestant stopped the clock by hitting a plunger before guessing. A 10-second penalty was added to the clock for either an incorrect response or a failure to respond immediately, after which he/she continued to play the current word. If he/she did not hit the plunger for five seconds after the next-to-last letter was placed, the word was revealed and thrown out and a make-up word was played. The round continued until the contestant solved three words.
When the champion took his/her turn, the clock was set to his/her opponent's total time and began to count down instead of up, and any penalties he/she incurred were deducted. If the champion completed the words before time ran out, he/she won the Scrabble Sprint; if not, the opponent became the new champion. The prize for winning was originally three times the pot from the preceding Crossword round, but was changed to a flat $1,500 after the first week. A contestant received a $20,000 bonus if he/she won five Sprint rounds in a row. If he/she reached ten consecutive Sprint victories, the contestant was awarded an additional $20,000 and retired as champion.
In March 1985, both contestants began using the same set of words. The champion was placed in isolation while the Crossword winner played, then tried to beat the time set. In addition, after a contestant called one of the two displayed letters, the other one disappeared and two new letters were presented as long as there were at least three blanks left in the word. The contestant was shown only one letter when there were two blanks. This change remained in place for the remainder of the series run, and a fourth word was later added to the Sprint.
In addition to the contestants now using the same set of words, the Sprint payoff rules changed. Five consecutive wins resulted in champions having their total winnings augmented to $20,000. If any champion reached the ten-win limit, they retired with $40,000.
On September 29, 1986, Scrabble began a 13-week-long tournament called The $100,000 All-American Scrabble Tournament. This tournament was conducted with a different format from usual Scrabble matches, and these changes were eventually made permanent.
A total of 188 contestants were selected via a nationwide search, with four competing on each episode in preliminary matches from Monday through Thursday over the first 12 weeks. Two Crossword rounds were played (with the typical $500 and $1,000 bonuses for blue and pink squares, respectively), and each was followed by a Scrabble Sprint round. The winner of the first Crossword round won $500, and played four words of six, seven, eight, and nine letters to try to set a time for the winner of the second Crossword round between two other contestants. That contestant attempted to beat the time set by the first contestant, and if successful, he or she won $1,000 and advanced to the next round. On Friday, the four winners competed in two quarterfinal matches, and whoever won the second Sprint round won $5,000 and advanced to the semifinals round, for the final week of the tournament.
Because only four episodes aired during the week of November 24–28 (no episode aired that Thursday, due to the Thanksgiving holiday), a wild card contestant was chosen to advance to that Friday's quarterfinals alongside the three preliminary match winners.
During the final week, starting on December 22, the 12 quarterfinal winners and four wild card contestants competed in semifinal matches on Monday through Thursday. The four winners advanced to the final matches that Friday, with a grand prize of $100,000 for the winner. In the end, contestant Mark Bartos won the grand prize.
With slight adjusting, this tournament format became the new permanent Scrabble format on December 29, 1986. As noted above, each episode now featured four contestants and two Crossword games worth $500 each. The champion played in the first Crossword, whose winner set a Sprint time for the second winner to beat, and the Sprint winner received $1,000 and took or retained the championship. With this format change, Scrabble became a self-contained 30-minute program. In the previous format, play continued until time was called and episodes could straddle.
With the adoption of the new format came a new final round. Called the Bonus Sprint, this round enabled the champion to win a cash jackpot.
The champion faced two final words, the first with at least six letters and the second with at least seven. If the champion correctly guessed both words within 10 seconds, he or she won the jackpot which started at $5,000 and increased by $1,000 for each unsuccessful playing. All of the Sprint rules were in effect, meaning that any incorrect answer resulted in an automatic loss as the penalty wiped out the remaining seconds.
Champions competed until either winning five Sprint rounds or being defeated.
When the series returned in 1993, the Bonus Sprint jackpot began at $1,000. Additional money was only added to the jackpot if a contestant landed on a blue or pink square in the Crossword game and solved the word immediately, adding either $500 or $1,000, respectively. No cash bonuses were given directly to contestants in this version; all bonuses went into the Bonus Sprint jackpot.
Over the years, Scrabble had several special weeks, including Soap Week (which featured some soap opera stars from Days of Our Lives, Santa Barbara and other soaps), Teen Week, College Week, and others, as well as two Tournaments of Champions (February 1985 and May 1986), at least one Tournament of Teen Champions (1986) and a $100,000 All American Tournament (1986; see above).
Once in 1987, and again in 1988, the series aired "Game Show Hosts Week". Participants for the first such week were Peter Tomarken, Marc Summers, John Davidson, Tom Kennedy, Bill Rafferty, and Jamie Farr (who was the host of a pilot for syndication from Dick Clark Productions and MCA TV called Double Up which was not picked up). The latter two returned in 1988, joined by Vicki Lawrence, Jim Lange, Wink Martindale, and Jeff MacGregor.
Summers hosted during the 1987 week when Chuck Woolery played segments of the game.
A board game based on this version was released by Selchow & Righter as TV Scrabble in 1987. It was the only home version which was originally a board game itself until Trivial Pursuit: Game Show released by Parker Brothers in 1993 and Celebrity Name Game released by Playmonster (formerly Patch) in 2016.
Episode status and reruns
All episodes still exist. Fremantle North America, which is a direct successor to Reg Grundy Productions, and Hasbro, which owns the Scrabble board game in the United States and Canada, currently own the rights to the series as well as any future revivals. Reruns aired on USA Network from September 16, 1991, to October 13, 1995 (with the exception of a brief period from February 6, 1995, to April 14, 1995). The short-lived 1993 revival has not been rerun since cancellation.
An unsold pilot with Los Angeles TV personality Steve Edwards, taped for an intended syndication run via Group W Productions, was taped in 1990, clips from this pilot were posted on YouTube in 2014.
- RTL plus (as phone-in quiz show.)