The Magnificent Marble Machine

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The Magnificent Marble Machine
Created by
Presented byArt James
Narrated byJohnny Gilbert
Country of originUnited States
Running time30 minutes with commercials
Original networkNBC
Original releaseJuly 7, 1975 (1975-07-07) – March 12, 1976 (1976-03-12)

The Magnificent Marble Machine was an American television game show that featured a giant pinball machine as its centerpiece. The program premiered on NBC on July 7, 1975 at 12:00 pm ET, replacing the short-lived game show Blank Check, which had its time slot taken over by Jackpot.

Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley packaged the program, with Robert Noah as executive producer. Art James served as host, and Johnny Gilbert was the announcer.


Two contestants competed, one a returning champion, each paired with a celebrity partner. In the first half of the game, the teams answered general knowledge questions, frequently involving puns or other wordplay, that were displayed on a large electronic marquee, similar to one found on a pinball's backbox display. The players were shown blanks on the display's bottom line denoting the number of words and letters in the answer. A clue then crawled across the display's upper line. If no team buzzed in once the clue was revealed, letters of the answer then filled in at random as time progressed. For example, with the clue "He's center and he's square", and blanks displaying "#### #####", the correct answer is "Paul Lynde". James occasionally gave an additional clue before the main clue scrolled across the marquee.

For any given question, only the contestant or the celebrity was eligible to buzz in. This alternated with each question, and was indicated by lighted panels in front of the eligible player. Correct answers each scored one point. Five points won the game, and the winning team played "The Magnificent Marble Machine" in the bonus round.

Bonus round[edit]

The winning team played the show's centerpiece: a giant pinball machine measuring 20 feet high and 12 feet long.

Each team member manipulated one button, each of which controlled two flippers, and tried to keep the ball in play for as long as possible within a 60-second time limit. The team accumulated points by hitting bumpers, noisemakers and lights. Hitting any of the seven large numbered bumpers won the contestant a prize, with bumpers two and three together earning a larger prize, such as a car or trip. Play ended if the ball fell into one of the two "out holes" (one located below the main flippers, the other in the middle of the playing field). The flippers were disabled when 60 seconds expired, with the ball (still in play) usually entering an out hole within a few seconds.

At some point during the series, a bonus prize was added for hitting all seven numbered bumpers at least once.[citation needed]

Originally, each bumper scored 500 points while any noisemaker scored 200 points. Producers audited the score by watching the tape to ensure that each scoring feature had registered, but scoring errors increased week by week as the machine aged. The rules were eventually altered so that only the seven "thumper bumpers" added 500 points for each hit, with nothing else scoring.

Money ball[edit]

If a team reached a target score after playing two balls, the team played a bonus "gold money ball" in which the player earned $200 for each noisemaker and bumper. The goal was originally 15,000 points for each new champion, and lowered by 1,000 for each return visit. Later, the goal started at 13,000 points, and the money ball earned $500 for each bumper hit.

At some point in the run, this round was redesigned to be a multi-player "money ball marathon" rather than a bonus round any player might be able to achieve in any one play of the machine. The contestant achieving the top point score over a two-week period was awarded a money ball round. This format lasted for five marathons (ten weeks), after which the money ball was dropped from the game altogether.

After the money ball round was removed, the electronic point counters on the pinball machine were covered over. Contestants then only played for prizes obtained by hitting the seven bumpers.

Format change[edit]

In the fall of 1975, game play changed to feature two teams of two celebrities each playing the front game. The winning team headed to the machine. One celebrity drew a name from the drum (filled out by the studio audience) and the lucky person played the bonus round with each celebrity.

Broadcast history[edit]

The Magnificent Marble Machine aired in its original time slot until November 28, 1975. On December 1, 1975, the series replaced Three for the Money at 12:30 PM so Wheel of Fortune could expand to an hour. With the move, Marble was reduced in length to 25 minutes as a national newscast anchored by Edwin Newman aired at 12:55.

After the January 2, 1976 broadcast, the show was pulled from the schedule for a two-week trial run of Take My Advice, a talk show hosted by KNBC news anchor Kelly Lange. When Marble returned on January 19, it changed to an all-celebrity format, which finally brought on its demise. While the last first-run episode aired March 12, its replacement, The Fun Factory, was postponed because of a technicians' strike, resulting in repeats airing through June 11.

In popular culture[edit]

A brief clip from The Magnificent Marble Machine is seen in the 1979 film The China Syndrome, as the "regularly scheduled programming" that the TV station interrupts to show the main character's report from inside the power plant. The clip shows celebrity guest Joan Rivers playing a normal ball on the machine, though the original audio is dubbed over with music[note 1] composed for the film. The film's credits do not mention the show, Rivers or Heatter-Quigley.


  1. ^ written by composer Michael Small and included on the film's soundtrack release ("Source Suite #1")

External links[edit]

  • The Magnificent Marble Machine on IMDb
  • ("The Magnificent Marble Machine". Archived from the original on 2016-03-30.) at the (Curt Alliaume. "Game Shows '75". Archived from the original on 2016-03-30.)
  • Episode #4 at the Television Production Music Museum