$ale of the Century

From Academic Kids

Missing image
The logo for $ale of the Century.

$ale of the Century was a television game show format that has screened in several countries in various incarnations since 1969.

It was originally screened on the NBC network from 1969 to 1973, and a UK version produced by Anglia Television was shown on ITV from 1971 to 1983.

Probably its most prominent incarnation occurred after the Australian Grundy Television organisation bought the rights to the concept for a version that screened in Australia from 1979 to 2001. At its close it was Australia's longest-running gameshow, though the local edition of Wheel of Fortune has now exceeded that, running continuously from 1981.

Grundy's later licensed the format to a number of other countries, including the United States, where it had a second run on NBC from 1983 to 1989, and the UK, where it also appeared again on Sky television in 1989 and then on Challenge from 1998.

In mid-2005 a revamped version of $ale of the Century returned to Australian screens under the name of Temptation: The New $ale of the Century (commonly referred to as just "Temptation").


Game format

The game format varied in its details over the years and in various nations, however the core remained unchanged. The format of the Australian version is presented below.

The host read a trivia question to the three contestants (one of which was usually the winner of the previous show) who had to activate a buzzer to answer the question. Correct answers provided within about 4 seconds of buzzer activation were awarded $5, while incorrect answers were penalized the same amount. If a player answered incorrectly, the answer was revealed and the game went on to the next question - other players could not subsequently answer the question if the first player to activate their buzzer failed to answer correctly.

Once in each of the three standard rounds, a longer-format question, the "who am I", was asked, where a succession of increasingly larger clues were given to the identity of a famous person, place, or event. In this round, players could activate their buzzers and answer at any time, without penalty for an incorrect answer. However, they only had one chance to answer. If one of the players buzzed in and answered correctly, they had an opportunity to play the "famous faces" subgame, where players got to choose randomly from a game board with nine squares featuring the faces of celebrities, mostly performers on the network's shows. Once chosen, the face selected would be spun around to reveal either a relatively small prize (typically appliances or furniture valued at around a weekly wage) or a $25 money card, which awarded $25 to the player's score. Later series added additional smaller bonus amounts to the gameboard.

Once per round, the highest-scored player was offered the chance to sacrifice some part of their score to "purchase" a prize. The prizes, and the cost, increased in each round. Contestants were allowed to haggle with the host, who, depending on the game situation, could reduce the cost and offer inducements including actual cash to make the purchase. If two or more players had the same score at this point, a Dutch auction was conducted for the prize. In later series of the Australian version, the final prize sale was replaced with "cashcard" where the player instead had the opportunity to spin the "cashcard", where they had the opportunity to either win a cash prize of several thousand Australian dollars (equivalent to perhaps a month's average wages for a middle-class Australian at the time), earn the opportunity to win a car later in the game (see section on major prizes), receive the score they sacrificed back, or reduce the score of a competitor slightly.

The later series also added a "fast money" section for the final round (known as the "speedround" in the United States), where the host would ask the questions in a particularly quick-fire manner, attempting to fit in as many questions as possible in 60 seconds. Most of the more successful players proved themselves particularly adept at this section.

The winner of the game was the person at the end with the most points. If there was a final tie, the tied players answered a tiebreaker "Who am I" question, where a correct answer won the game, an incorrect answer lost.

American Format

The contestants were spotted $20 at the start of the game. The Q&A format of the previous versions were used, like the one above.

After six questions had been asked, the leading contestant would have a chance to buy a prize with his/her merchandise (called "Instant Bargain"). Host Jim Perry would do pretty much anything to get a contestant to buy, even drop the price to as low as $1.

Some of the instant bargains contained a "Sale Surprise," which was a cash bonus that was revealed only after the bargain was taken or passed on (usually announced by a series of bells).

After six more questions were asked, a "Fame Game" was played, similar to "Who Am I?" was played. The rules for this were the same, however, the American format underwent changes. Originally, the famous faces were used, with a $25 money card hidden behind one of the 9 faces on the board (this later was changed). Later on, the faces were replaced by numbers (1-9), and in 1986 the board became randomized. A flashing light would bounce around the board, with the contestant in control using their buzzer to stop the light (similar to Press Your Luck, another '80s game show hit). Whatever the contestant picked or hit was theirs to keep, money cards were added to their score.

This cycle repeated two more times. The prices of the Instant Bargains would go up, and the Fame Game would add more money cards ($10 for first, $15 for second, $25 for third; they were revealed for the player once the show went to a randomized board).

In 1986, the third instant bargain was replaced with the "Instant Cash." The player in the lead, as always (auction if there was a tie) would be given the opportunity to play for a cash jackpot, which started at $1,000 and went up by that amount every day until it was won. To play, a contestant would have to give up their lead. Many times, a contestant would have a fairly substantial lead, so they would pass. As a result, many times the pot would grow fairly high. The pot reached as high as $16,000 several times.

After the last Fame Game, Perry would ask three final questions, worth $5 each like they were throughout the game. In 1984, realizing that most games were decided before this set of questions, the producers reworked the format to incorporate a final speed round, similar to the one used on the Aussie version. Originally 90 seconds, the round was later reduced to 60 seconds. The leader at the end of the day was declared the champion. All other contestants got their scores in cash plus whatever bonus prizes they may have picked up along the way.

Major Prizes

The winner of the episode was then given the opportunity to win one of a selection of much larger prizes, usually including international first-class holidays, expensive jewellery, and the like, the most valuable of which was one or two luxury automobiles.

In early seasons, the cumulative scores over several nights of the contestant were kept, and they would add prizes to their collection as their cumulative score exceeded the required amount. Later seasons changed this, instead the prize to be won on any particular night was determined by randomly choosing boxes off a game board until a pair of matching prizes was revealed. The cars were only placed on the game board if the player had won the opportunity on the "cashcard" game, or had a final score of $100 or more (which only the best players achieved).

Once the player's major prizes had been determined, the player had an opportunity to decide whether they would like to stop playing, and leave with the major prizes they had won, or continue playing on subsequent nights, risking the major prizes they had won thus far but offering the opportunity to win more.

Utimately, once the player had won all the major prizes on offer, they had the opportunity to play for one more night to win a large cash jackpot. This started at 50,000 AUD and increased by $2,000 per night until somebody won it. The largest jackpot ever won on the Australian version of the show was 508,000 AUD, by contestant Robert Kusmierski, whose total winnings were 676,919 AUD.

American Format

For the first two seasons of the American NBC version (plus the first half-season of a 1985-86 syndicated version), the shopping format was used. Several prizes were offered, ranging from motorcycles/tent trailers (first prizes usually offered) to cars. A contestant could take their cumulative winnings, buy a prize, and retire at any point as long as they continued to win.

The goal for this was to get to the big prizes of a car, every prize on stage, and a growing cash jackpot. How to get there differed from show to show. On the NBC version, after reaching the car, the next prize level is the cash jackpot (which began at $50,000 and increased by $1,000 each day until won), and then every prize on the stage including the cash jackpot. On the syndicated version, $530 bought the automobile, $640 bought every prize on the stage, and $750 or more bought every prize plus the cash jackpot.

One contestant in 1983, Barbara Perkins, won over $150,000 in cash and prizes on the NBC version, making her the first contestant ever to win more than $100,000 on a network daytime game show.

In 1985 on NBC and 1986 in syndication, the shopping format was done away with. Instead, the contestant would face a 20-square board, called the Winner's Board. The game was similar to the Australian version again, but the car was placed on the board with no restrictions. And like the Australian version, once the board was cleared by the champion, they faced a final decision. On the American version, the decision was this: either leave with all the prizes you earned off the board, or risk them and play one final game. A loss cost the player all their prizes from the board, a win netted them an extra $50,000 in cash. Other prizes won during the main game from instant bargains, cash bonuses and fame game prizes were not at risk.

The format for the final round changed once again in January 1988. Away went the Winner's Board, and in its place came a bonus game that had absolutely nothing to do with the game itself. The winner of the day would receive a bonus prize, and then would join Perry to play the "Winner's Big Money Game". The contestant would choose a colored packet (red, yellow, or blue) containing the puzzles for the game, and host Perry would read the 6-word puzzles one word at a time. The contestant's job was to buzz in once they thought they knew the answer. Only one incorrect answer was allowed, two ended the game. The contestant could pass at any time by buzzing in and saying "pass." 4 correct answers in 20 seconds (originally 5 in 25 seconds) won the bonus round. Although the new bonus game was worlds apart from the main game, it did provide the famous Jim Perry suspense that he was known for during his early days on Card Sharks...especially when a player is going for an automobile or $50,000.

The first trip to the bonus round was worth $5,000. The second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth each added $1,000 to the previous day's pot. On day seven, if the contestant was lucky enough to make it that far, they would play for a new car. If the contestant failed to win the car, they would retire with all their winnings to that point. A car win meant the contestant would come back for one more show. If they won that game, they would play the Winner's Big Money Game for $50,000 and retire (accomplished only once). The most a contestant can win in cash during this final round was $95,000 and the car, for total winnings of about $125,000.


Typically, the game's main host was a middle-aged male, "assisted" by an attractive young woman who introduced the contestants and many of the prizes.

The hosts for the Australian version were Tony Barber and Glenn Ridge. Some of the much more frequently replaced co-hosts were Victoria Nicholls, Alyce Platt, Nicky Buckley, Delvene Delaney, Jo Bailey, and Karina Brown. The Temptation version is hosted by Ed Phillips and co-hosted by Livinia Nixon.

Jim Perry hosted the entire American version of the show in the 1980s; he was assisted for the first few months by Sally Julian, whom was replaced by former Las Vegas Gambit co-hostess Lee Menning. Summer Bartholomew, who auditioned for the co-hostess job on Wheel of Fortune following the departure of Susan Stafford, was named the new co-hostess in late-1984, and remained with $ale of the Century for the remainder of its run. Jay Stewart was the announcer, who made occasional on-screen appearances and actually co-hosted with Perry for a time when Menning was on maternity leave. Stewart left the series in 1988 and was replaced by Don Morrow.

In the UK, the original Anglia series was presented by Nicholas Parsons from Norwich (perhaps best remembered for the introductory credit voice-over from John Benson: "From Norwich ... it's the quiz of the week!" This caused a good deal of amusement, since Norwich was not considered a very exciting place). The less-well-known 1989 Sky and the Challenge versions were presented by Peter Marshall and Keith Chegwin respectively.

In New Zealand, the host of the show was ex-radio DJ Steve Parr (assisted first by Judith "Jude" Dobson (nee Kirk) and then later by Julie White). The show ran on TVNZ from 1987-1993.

The hosts for the German version (Hopp Oder Top) included Thomy Aigner and Hermann Toelcke, and has run on Tele 5 from 1990-1992 and a few months in 1993 on DSF. A selection of the old shows was repeated from 1996-1999 on tm3 five times.

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