Scrabble (game show)

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Genre Game show
Created by Robert Noah
Directed by Chris Darley
Presented by Chuck Woolery
Narrated by Jay Stewart
Charlie Tuna
(1985–90, 1993)[1]
Theme music composer Marc Ellis
Ray Ellis[1]
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 6
No. of episodes 1,230 (1984–90)
105 (1993)
Total: 1,335
Executive producer(s) Robert Noah[1]
Producer(s) Gary Johnson[1]
Location(s) NBC Studios
Burbank, California
Running time 22 minutes
Production company(s) Reg Grundy Productions
Exposure Unlimited
Original network NBC
Original release July 2, 1984 (1984-07-02) – March 23, 1990 (1990-03-23)
January 18, 1993 (1993-01-18) – June 11, 1993 (1993-06-11)

Scrabble is an American television game show that was based on the Scrabble board game. The show was co-produced by Exposure Unlimited and Reg Grundy Productions. It ran from July 2, 1984 to March 23, 1990, and again from January 18 to June 11, 1993, both runs 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.

Game play[edit]

Crossword Round[edit]

The first round of every game was the Crossword round, where two contestants competed to try to be the first to guess three words correctly based on clues given by Woolery. Originally there was only one Crossword played per match, with the winner facing the champion in the Scrabble Sprint (see below). On September 29, 1986, as part of a broader format change, a second Crossword round was added. The first Crossword was played between the show's reigning champion and a challenger, and the second Crossword was played between two different contestants.

Each Crossword round began with a word building on a letter revealed on the center square of a computer-generated Scrabble board, and depending on how many letters were in the word, a rack of numbered "tiles" were used corresponding to the letters. In addition to tiles representing the remaining missing letters appearing in the word, there were always three additional tiles representing letters which did not appear in the word, referred to as "Stoppers".

Originally the winner of a backstage coin toss started the match, but when the second Crossword game was added in 1986 the contestant challenging the reigning champion started (a coin toss determined the first contestant in the second Crossword at all times and was used in the first game if there was no champion). The contestant in control was given a chance to guess the word immediately, but if he or she could not, that contestant took two tiles from the rack and placed them in a slot on their desk; this displayed two letters from which he or she could choose to put in the word. The contestant then chose one of the two letters and tried to have it placed in the word. If successful, the contestant then had the choice of guessing the word or looking for the other letter displayed. If both letters were placed and the contestant still did not know the word, their turn continued. If a Stopper was chosen, that contestant lost control and play passed to the opponent. If there was a letter left in the display, the opposing contestant had to choose one tile; if not, he or she picked two. The last letter of any word was never revealed, and if neither contestant could come up with the correct answer at that point the word was thrown out and an alternate was played.

An incorrect guess at the word passed control to the opponent.

If all three Stoppers were revealed and no one could come up with the answer, the game moved into Speedword. Here, each remaining letter in the word was automatically placed at random (with the exception of the last letter) until one of the contestants buzzed in with the correct answer. If correct, the contestant won the word. If incorrect, the contestant was locked out, allowing the opponent to either guess the word immediately or see more letters. Speedword was also used if time was running short in a round or if the contestants tied at two words each (the latter was placed into effect in March 1985).


In the first two weeks of the show, a cumulative money pot was used in the crossword game. Each letter placed was worth $25, with blue squares adding $50 and pink squares $100. The first contestant to correctly guess three words won whatever money was in the pot and moved on to the Scrabble Sprint. After these two weeks, the winner of each Crossword won $500.

Bonus squares[edit]

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. Pink squares awarded $1,000, while blue ones awarded $500. 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, an immediate solve paid the bonus.

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 two weeks, 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.

Scrabble Sprint[edit]

The Scrabble Sprint round was the second part of the game and determined the show's champion. 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.

First format[edit]

In the first format, both the champion and the Crossword winner played separate sets of words. The Crossword winner played first and chose either a pink envelope or blue envelope and tried to set a time that the champion had to beat with the unpicked set. Three words were played and none of the words had any Stoppers in them, meaning all letters displayed were in the word. The clock started counting up when Woolery said "go" and each word started with two letters for the contestant to choose. The remaining letters appeared one at a time for the contestant to pick. In order to guess the word the contestant had to hit a plunger to stop the clock. If the contestant either guessed incorrectly or failed to come up with an immediate answer at any time, 10 seconds were added to the time as a penalty. If all the letters but the last one were revealed, a contestant had 5 seconds to hit the plunger and give a guess; guessing incorrectly or failing to guess resulted in the contestant being forced to play a make-up word.

After the challenger played their set of words, the champion played his/hers with the clock counting down. For fairness, the champion's word set featured three words that were the same length in letters as the challenger. A wrong answer or no answer now resulted in 10 seconds being deducted from the remaining time instead of being added to it. If the champion managed to complete their set of words within the set time, he or she won $1,500 (originally triple the pot from the Crossword round) and faced the winner of the next Crossword round. Otherwise, the challenger won and the champion left with whatever he or she had earned to that point. Winning five consecutive Scrabble Sprint rounds earned a champion $20,000 as a bonus, and if the champion managed to win five more he or she retired undefeated with a second $20,000 bonus; the minimum total for a retiring champion was $55,500.

In March 1985, both contestants began playing the same set of words. Again, the winner of the Crossword round set the time to beat while the champion was isolated offstage. The rules remained the same, with the champion having to beat the other contestant's time in order to win. Coinciding with the format change was a change in payouts, as five time champions had their winnings augmented to $20,000 while retiring champions had their final winnings augmented to $40,000. Also, the contestants had two letters to choose from each time a letter was called up until the last possible letter was put in the word, when only one letter would be displayed; this change remained in place for the remainder of the original series and the subsequent revival. A fourth word was later added to the Sprint round.

Second format[edit]

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 than 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. 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 advance 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 Thanksgiving), a wild card contestant was chosen for that week's quarterfinal matches.

During the final week, from December 22–25, the 12 winners, as well as 4 wild card contestants, competed in semifinals matches, with the 4 finalists competing in that Fridays' final matches for the grand prize of $100,000. Mark Bartos won the tournament and became the series' biggest winner with $114,500.

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 the champion played the first Crossword game. The winner of the first Crossword set the Sprint time to beat, and if it held up that contestant won $1,000. If the second Crossword winner managed to guess all four words within the limit, he or she won the $1,000.

The winner of the Sprint, as before, was the day's champion.

With this format change, Scrabble became a self-contained 30-minute program; before, play continued until time was called and episodes could straddle.

Bonus Sprint[edit]

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 ten seconds, he or she won the jackpot which started at $5,000 and had $1,000 added 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 were 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.

Theme weeks[edit]

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 NBC 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 (and earned $12,000 for a home viewer).

Licensed Merchandise[edit]

A board game based on this version was released by Selchow & Righter as TV Scrabble in 1987.

Episode status and reruns[edit]

All episodes still exist. FremantleMedia 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 to April 14, 1995). The short-lived 1993 revival has not been rerun since cancellation.

International versions[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Schwartz, David; Ryan, Steve; Wostbrock, Fred (1999). The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows (3 ed.). Facts on File, Inc. p. 195. ISBN 0-8160-3846-5. 

External links[edit]

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