Treasure Hunt (U.S. game show)

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This article is about the American television game show. For the game show "Treasure Hunt" produced in the United Kingdom for Channel 4, see Treasure Hunt (UK game show).
(The New) Treasure Hunt
The New Treasure Hunt.jpg
Created by Jan Murray (1956–1959)
Chuck Barris (1973–1982)
Presented by Jan Murray (1956–1959)
Geoff Edwards (1973–1977, 1981–1982)
Narrated by Johnny Jacobs
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons ABC/NBC: 3
1970s Syn.: 4
1980s Syn.: 1
No. of episodes 1970s Syn.: 120
1980s Syn.: 85
Running time 30 minutes
Production company(s) Jantone Productions (1956–1959)
Chuck Barris Productions (1973-1977, 1981-1982)
Distributor Sandy Frank Film Syndication (1973-1977)
Firestone Program Syndication Co. (1981-1982)
Sony Pictures Television
Original network ABC (1956–1957)
NBC (1957–1959)
Syndicated (weekly, 1973–1977; daily, 1981–1982)
Original release September 7, 1956 – September 1982

Treasure Hunt, called The New Treasure Hunt for its 1970s run, is an American television game show that ran in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1980s. The show featured contestants selecting a treasure chest or box with surprises inside, in the hope of winning large prizes or a cash jackpot.

1950s version (Treasure Hunt)[edit]

The earliest version of the show first appeared in the U.S. from 1956 to 1959, first on ABC, then later on NBC. The original show was created, hosted and produced by comedian (and occasional game show panelist on other shows) Jan Murray. Two contestants played a quiz in which the challenger picked one of five categories (shown on a large anchor) on which Murray would quiz the contestants. Each contestant was asked five questions of the chosen category for $10 apiece on the daytime edition or $50 apiece on the primetime editions. The player who won the most money went on the treasure hunt. In the event of a tie, both contestants went on the treasure hunt.

In the treasure hunt, the champion picked one of thirty treasure chests, each filled either with a series of prize packages or a large cash prize. The ABC prime time version offered $25,000 as its top prize. On the NBC daytime edition, the grand prize started at $1,000 and went up $100 every time it was not won. On its prime time counterpart, the jackpot started at $10,000 and increased by $1,000 a week until won. There were also some booby prizes, such as a head of cabbage or a pound of onions. Before Jan would open the chest, the contestant would pick an envelope from a wheel-shaped board containing sealed cash amounts from $100 up. They were then given the choice of either taking the money or the contents of the treasure chest. No matter what the outcome, the winner got to play another game.

At the end of the show, Jan would select someone from the audience to draw a postcard from a home viewer that had a number from one to thirty written on it. If the cash jackpot was in the chest marked with the same number, the home viewer won the jackpot. If not, they were given a consolation prize. Also, the person who picked the postcard received a prize. Instead of looking in the treasure chest the viewer selected, Murray would open a safe, protected by a security guard, containing a folded piece of paper with the preselected number of the chest that actually held the cash prize.

The set of the 1950s version of Treasure Hunt had a pirate-influenced motif with treasure chests instead of big cardboard boxes used in the 1970s version. When the contestant picked a chest in the bonus round, the "Pirate Girl" (Marian Stafford), who acted as Murray's assistant, would put the box on a movable table that resembled a pirate ship.

On the occasions where Jan was on vacation, other comedians would fill in as emcee, including Buddy Hackett.[1]

1970s version (The New Treasure Hunt)[edit]

Producer Chuck Barris bought the U.S. Treasure Hunt format in the 1970s and revived the game in weekly syndication in 1973. This version, called The New Treasure Hunt, involved women competing to select one of 30 boxes (also known as "Surprise Packages"), with a top prize of $25,000 hidden in one of them. (The producers did not allow male contestants; see below for the reasons. However, men were allowed to sit in the audience for support.) Jan Murray received a "created by" credit during the show's closing credits.

Geoff Edwards hosted The New Treasure Hunt with Johnny Jacobs as the announcer. Models on the series included Siv Aberg (who would resurface, after the 1970s version's finale, on Barris's The Gong Show), Naome DeVargas, Jane Nelson, and actress Pamela Hensley. For a number of reasons, the studio maintained extremely tight security, and thus did not allow cue cards for Edwards to use. Therefore, Edwards, who had prior acting experience, was required to memorize every sketch.

Each episode would begin with all studio lights off except the ones lighting the stage with the gift boxes. The TV viewer saw a silhouette of Emile Autuori, and then Johnny Jacobs would announce (against a "heartbeat" background sound effect), "Ladies and gentlemen, this bonded security agent (referring to Autuori) has just placed a certified check for $25,000 in one of these 30 surprise packages. Tonight, someone may win any one of our fabulous prizes, or that grand prize of...$25,000 on..." as Autuori exited the stage. Once Autuori was gone, the lights would come on and Jacobs would end in an excited tone with, "...The New Treasure Hunt!"

The opening theme, closing theme, and the klunk cue were composed by Chuck Barris himself; Barris was an accomplished songwriter. However, the melodic closing theme of the 1970s Treasure Hunt, also occasionally used as a winners' cue, is formally credited to Elmer Bernstein. Some of Barris's other music used on previous game shows, such as the unsold pilot for Cop-Out!, was recycled in order to save money; this was a common practice among packagers in the 1970s.


Contestant selection[edit]

Before taping began, production staff gave 10 female members of the studio audience small gift boxes. Three of these boxes contained cards with the numbers 1, 2, and 3 inside them. As Edwards instructed them to open their boxes, the three contestants with numbers came down to the table at the center of the stage. These three women then picked one of three jack-in-the-boxes, the contestant with the number 1 getting first choice, and so on. The one who chose the pop-up surprise (e.g., flowers, dolls) earned the right to go on the Treasure Hunt. Unlike the original 1950s version, the show did not use a question-and-answer method of determining contestants; The New Treasure Hunt did not require special skills or knowledge at all, with contestants relying entirely on luck.

The Treasure Hunt[edit]

After being shown two or three of some of the prizes hidden among the 30 packages, the contestant was asked to select one of the boxes, which one of the models would then bring down to the table. Once the box was chosen, and after a commercial break, the contestant had the option of taking a cash payoff (ranging from $500 to $2,000 originally; later in the run, up to $2,500), or keeping the box instead and winning whatever was inside. Possible prizes included a package of several items, vacations, automobiles, checks for anywhere between $4,000 and $14,000, or booby prizes which Edwards nicknamed "klunks." When a contestant ended up with a "klunk," the total price of all items was almost always announced at the conclusion as "forty bucks." One box contained a check for the grand prize of $25,000.

The sketches[edit]

Upon making her selection, the contestant was not immediately shown what she had won; like with most of the other Barris-packaged shows, the entire premise of this program was to display (and exploit) the female contestants' emotions. Edwards would engage the contestant in a comedic sketch, usually using props, to intentionally mislead the contestant as to what she had finally won. Very often, a contestant would be shown a "klunk," only to have this lead to the actual prize, which could be just another klunk, but was often much bigger.

Producers had to devise nearly 30 sketches per episode (66 on the 1980s version). Due to the lack of cue cards, the taping would be stopped after a box was chosen so that Edwards could be briefed on what he was supposed to do. Aside from his hosting and radio work, Edwards was also an actor and the producers encouraged him to build the tension as he saw fit, even to unbearable levels. The only time no sketch took place was when the contestant won the grand prize. The common method of the reveal would entail Edwards suggesting to the contestant she should have kept the money in the envelope, before revealing that "all you have ... here (or "what you have won") ... is...TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!" Hysterics occurred following the revealing of the check; shrill sirens went off, confetti and balloons dropped from the ceiling, and, on a few occasions late in the run, the contestant was swarmed onstage by Barris staff members and humorously given roses. The show sometimes played the sirens so loud the audience could not be heard over the noise.

Two games were played per show, each involving one half of the studio audience (the two halves faced each other, similar to seating at a sporting event, and unlike most conventional television studios). If the contestant found the check during the first half of the show, another was hidden for the second half.

Grand prize reveal[edit]

At the end of each episode, if the top prize was not won, Edwards ritually asked Autuori if he hid the $25,000 check, to which Autuori's response would always be "Yes, I did." Autuori would then hand Edwards a slip of paper with the correct box number before retrieving the box which contained the grand prize. In an ongoing gag, Edwards would occasionally attempt to banter or joke with Autuori before the reveal; however, Autuori always remained completely silent.


The new version began life as a Pilot with, among other differences, different music, and a trivia main game. Unlike the series, men were allowed to be contestants. Also unlike the series, the person responsible for hiding the $25,000 check was a mystery celebrity; in this case, it was actor James Brolin. This pilot was taped at CBS Television City Studio 43 on October 15, 1972.[2][3][4]

1980s version (Treasure Hunt)[edit]

Treasure Hunt returned to television in 1981 as a daily series, with Edwards returning to host. Johnny Jacobs also returned to announce, but in late 1981, he left the series due to suffering from a terminal illness and Tony McClay took over. Jan Speck served as the prize model and assistant and Emile Autuori resumed his role as the show's security agent. Chuck Barris remained as the executive producer, but this time, he did not have any involvement with the series other than packaging it. Instead, Barris's co-executive producer Budd Granoff oversaw the proceedings, as Barris remained in a largely self-imposed exile that he had gone into in 1980.

The gameplay remained the same, but there were some notable differences. There were now 66 surprise packages on stage, and the top prize check was a progressive jackpot. The jackpot check started with a value of $20,000 and increased by $1,000 every day until someone claimed it. If the jackpot reached $50,000, it was frozen at that amount until someone picked the box with the check inside it.

After the first jackpot was won on the fourth show, the jackpot was eliminated and the top prize was changed to a flat $20,000 for a brief period on this version. However, the jackpot was later reinstated and won four times: $23,000; $20,000; $50,000 and $21,000.[citation needed]

The show featured an entirely new closing theme by Milton DeLugg as well as the reuse of some of the music cues from the earlier version.


Again, two games were played per show, one with each half of the audience. In this version, the female members of the studio audience were given balloons. One of these balloons contained a card with a star on it. On Edwards's cue, the contestants popped the balloons; the player with the star came down to center stage where she then faced the previous game's winner. There were now only two jack-in-the-boxes, with the newcomer receiving the choice between them. As in the 1970s version, the contestant who had the pop-up surprise in her jack-in-the-box went on the Treasure Hunt.

The player selected from one of the 66 boxes, and again was given the opportunity to sell the box back to Edwards for a cash payoff, now worth only between $500 and $1,000. In this version, the prizes were also of much lesser value than the 1970s series; however, winning the right to go on the Treasure Hunt also guaranteed a contestant the opportunity to play the next game for the possibility of going on another one. Winning contestants frequently only won one or two prize packages (such as home appliances, a trip, or a small room package); the cars were scaled back to inexpensive models (especially the Chevrolet Chevette); there were also no longer checks worth less than the grand prize. However, a 52-day cruise valued over $18,000 was offered regularly, and was won at least once. The klunks, of course, remained.

There were at least two occasions from this version in which the contestant gave up the box for the cash payoff, only to find that she had sacrificed the jackpot check. One contestant would have won $46,000; several weeks later, another contestant lost out on the maximum of $50,000.

Grand prize reveal[edit]

At the end of the show, if the check was not won, Edwards again visited with Emile Autuori to find out where the check was hidden. On this version, Edwards would also bring small children up to try to get Autuori to crack a smile, but still to no effect. Autuori, however, did play on to Edwards's teasing several times, once pretending to fall asleep while Edwards was talking to him. Finally, near the end of the series, Autuori broke character and asked for a cue card, catching Edwards totally off guard.

Episode status[edit]

The 1950s series is believed to have been wiped as per network practices. The March 20, 1958 and April 24, 1959 episodes are the only two known to exist of the original series.

The syndicated versions remain intact and are held by Sony Pictures Television (as they own the Chuck Barris library). GSN has aired sporadic episodes from the 1970s version and nearly all of the 1980s version. CBN also reaired both versions in 1983-84.


An incident often talked about regarding The New Treasure Hunt concerned a contestant on an September 1974 episode (Episode #36) named Vera Augenbach, who fainted on-stage upon being told that she had won a 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom convertible. This incident was replayed on 60 Minutes as part of an exposé on the series; producer Chuck Barris expressed pride in the incident, given the show's premise.

In addition to playing on the presumed emotionalism of female contestants, the decision of Barris to only allow women in the game was reportedly a safety precaution—he was concerned that a male contestant might become angered by the show's antics (presumably including being led by a sketch, which typically ran for around five minutes or so, into a Klunk) and physically attack Edwards or other staffers. However, in an interview on Blog Talk Radio, Edwards said that men would most likely not show as much enthusiasm as the women, even if they won the grand prize.

During the 1970s run, Barris told Edwards during the fourth season (1976–1977) that he wanted to make The New Treasure Hunt even more sadistic for the upcoming fifth season (1977–1978) – an example being that the contestant would be shown a very expensive car (such as a Rolls-Royce, Ferrari, or Mercedes-Benz) but, after the excitement subsided, revealing that the prize was only a small part of the vehicle (such as the rear-view mirror). Edwards refused and was initially fired, but Barris quickly went back on that decision and Edwards did not miss any episodes. Instead, Edwards left on his own after the season and Barris, unwilling to replace him, canceled the series shortly thereafter.

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