High Rollers debuted on July 1, 1974, as part of NBC's daytime lineup. In September 1975, an accompanying series was launched in syndication and aired once weekly on local stations. Both of these series ended in 1976, with the daytime series ending on June 11, 1976. Alex Trebek was the host for these series. On April 24, 1978, NBC brought High Rollers back with Trebek hosting and aired it until June 20, 1980, when it was one of three series cancelled to make room for The David Letterman Show. The series was produced by Heatter-Quigley Productions.
In 1987, Merrill Heatter, working solo since his production partner Bob Quigley's retirement in 1981, teamed with Orion Television and its subsidiary Century Towers Productions to revive High Rollers with Wink Martindale as host. This series premiered in daily syndication on September 14, 1987, and aired new episodes until May 27, 1988. Reruns aired until September 9, 1988.
High Rollers 1987 title card
|Based on||Shut the Box|
|Directed by||Jerome Shaw|
|Presented by||Alex Trebek (1974–80)|
Wink Martindale (1987–88)
|Narrated by||Kenny Williams (1974–80)|
Dean Goss (1987–88)
|Theme music composer||Stan Worth (1974–80)|
Score Productions (1987–88)
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||559 (1978–80 version)|
185 (1987–88 version)
|Executive producer(s)||Merrill Heatter|
|Production location(s)||NBC Studios|
Burbank, California (1974–80)
CBS Television City
Hollywood, California (1987–88)
|Running time||approx. 26 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Heatter-Quigley Productions (1974–80)|
Merrill Heatter Productions (1987–88)
Century Towers Productions (1987–88)
|Distributor||Rhodes Productions (1975–76)|
Orion Television Syndication (1987–88)
|Original network||NBC (1974–80)|
Syndicated (weekly, 1975–76; daily, 1987–88)
|Original release||July 1, 1974 – June 11, 1976|
April 24, 1978 – June 20, 1980
September 14, 1987 –
September 9, 1988
Two contestants competed. The object was to remove the digits 1 through 9 from a game board by rolling an oversized pair of dice. In order to determine who gained control of the dice, the host asked a toss-up question. The answers were usually multiple choice, true/false, or yes/no. The first contestant to buzz in received the chance to answer, and answering correctly won control. If that contestant did not answer correctly, control went to the opponent.
Once in control, a contestant could either roll the dice himself/herself or pass them to the opponent. After rolling, the contestant had to remove one or more digits from the board that added up to the total on the dice. For example, if a 10 was rolled, the contestant could remove any available combination that added up to that number: 1-9, 2–8, 3–7, 4–6, 1–2–7, 1–3–6, 1–4–5, 2–3–5, or 1–2–3–4, providing that none of the digits within the combination had already been removed. Contestants banked prizes by removing individual numbers or combinations of them, depending on the rules.
A "bad roll" occurred if the total showing on the dice did not correspond with any combination of the digits still in play. A contestant making a bad roll immediately lost the game unless he/she had an insurance marker (see below). A contestant clearing the last digit from the board won the game. The winner of each game received any prizes that were banked, or $100 if no prizes had been banked. The first contestant to win two games won the match and advanced to the Big Numbers bonus round.
The original series featured a prize or cash amount hidden under every digit on the gameboard, revealed and added to a contestant's bank only when that digit was removed. Two digits each contained one half of a large prize, usually a new car, boat, or a luxury vacation. To bank this prize, both cards had to be uncovered by the same contestant. If the contestants each revealed one of the two cards, the prize was taken out of play for that game.
During the final seven weeks of the first daytime version (April 26 – June 11, 1976), the main game was known as "Face Lifters". Digits were arranged in a 3×3 grid and concealed a picture of a famous person. A contestant won the game by correctly identifying the person in the picture. A contestant could take a guess after making a good roll. If a contestant made a bad roll, the opponent was allowed one guess for each remaining digit in the picture. A successful guess won the game plus the prizes belonging to the digits still on the board. If neither contestant guessed the identity correctly, Trebek gave clues until one contestant buzzed-in with the answer.
A co-hostess (Ruta Lee, daytime and Elaine Stewart, nighttime) rolled the dice for the contestants. The contestants sat along the long side of the dice table opposite from Trebek. No insurance markers were given in the main game; a bad roll meant an automatic loss.
A syndicated version with almost identical rules ran weekly in 1975–76. Each episode featured the same two contestants competing for the entire show. After the first few episodes the rules were changed so that rather than requiring contestants to win a two-out-of-three match, the winner of each game played the Big Numbers, and the losing contestant returned for another game. The contestants played as many games as possible until time was called. If this happened during a game, the one who had removed more digits won the final game and any prizes accumulated. Under the two-out-of-three game format used in the first few episodes, the contestant also had another chance at the Big Numbers. Like other weekly nighttime game shows at that time, this version had no returning champions.
When the series was revived in 1978 (and originally titled The New High Rollers), the board consisted of three columns with three randomly assigned digits apiece. Each column contained one or more prizes, which were only banked by the contestant who removed the last digit from a column (regardless of who removed the others). The prizes ranged from typical game show gifts (furniture, appliances, trips, etc.) to more unusual items such as a collection of musical dolls or one year's worth of Sunday fried chicken dinners. Prizes that were banked but not won during a game were returned to their columns. One new prize was added per column at the beginning of each game, to a maximum of five. When the prizes in a column were won, a new one was placed in that column for the next game.
At least one column in each game was designated as a "hot column," meaning that all three of its digits could be cleared with a single roll of the dice. Insurance markers could be earned by rolling doubles in the main game. If a contestant made a bad roll while holding a marker, he/she turned it in and rolled again. Making a bad roll without a marker lost the game. Markers earned in the main game did not carry over to the Big Numbers or to the next match.
Contestants on this version rolled the dice themselves, instead of having a hostess roll for them.
This version followed the rules of the 1978–80 version, but with only one prize available in each column. If any prizes were not won during a particular game, they were replaced for the next one. Frequently, one column offered a chance to play a special game if the contestant claimed it and won the round. For the special games described below, only one die was used.
The champion rolled the dice and attempted to remove the digits 1 through 9 from the board, with a large prize awarded for clearing them all. A larger game board was used, except on the 1978–80 series, which used the same board as the main game. Insurance markers were awarded for rolling doubles, with each marker giving the contestant another roll of the dice after making a bad roll. These markers did not carry over to the main game.
Contestants were awarded $100 for each digit removed from the board. In the earliest episodes of the 1974–76 version, contestants could stop and take this money after a good roll. A bad roll with no insurance markers, or eliminating all digits except for the 1, ended the game and forfeited the money. The contestant won a car for removing eight digits, and $10,000 for all nine. The rules were soon changed to eliminate the car bonus and allow the contestant to keep any accumulated money even after making a bad roll.
The 1978–80 version offered three top prizes at different times: a car plus $5,000 cash, the car alone, and the $5,000 alone. The 1987–88 version offered a prize of $10,000 and was played using a pair of gold-colored dice.
The Big Numbers bonus round was also used on Las Vegas Gambit, which was hosted by future High Rollers host Wink Martindale and was also produced by Heatter-Quigley Productions, in 1981. The round used the same dice table as the 1978–80 version (complete with sound effects) and had the same rules, but the top award was an accumulating jackpot of prizes known as the Gambit Galaxy.
Champions stayed on the show until they were defeated or until they won five matches (seven on the 1978–80 version). On the 1987–88 version, winning five matches originally won a new car but was later dropped by the time a contestant finally retired undefeated, which led to more cars being awarded in some of the mini-games played during the main game.
Alex Trebek and Wink Martindale served as hosts for High Rollers. Heatter-Quigley staff announcer Kenny Williams served as announcer for the Trebek versions. The 1987 series used Dean Goss as its announcer.
The 1970s editions of High Rollers were recorded at NBC's Burbank studio complex while the 1987 series taped at Studio 43 at CBS Television City in Hollywood (though the 1986 pilot was filmed instead at ABC Television Center [now The Prospect Studios]).
Actress Ruta Lee and Gambit card dealer Elaine Stewart were the prize models on the first High Rollers series, with Lee performing those duties on the daytime series and Stewart the weekly syndicated series. As noted above, both women were also the dice rollers for the contestants. Becky Price, Linda Hooks, and Lauren Firestone rotated as models during the 1978 revival while Martindale was assisted on his version by models Crystal Owens and KC Winkler.
Stan Worth composed the theme for the 1974–76 and 1978–80 versions. In 1985, Score Productions composed a theme titled "Bubble Gum," originally for a failed Heatter pilot called Lucky Numbers (intended as somewhat of a revamp of this show with altered gameplay mechanics), which was reused for the 1987–88 version.
Two editions of home games were released in 1975, as Big Numbers: The High Rollers Game. The first edition was released by E.S. Lowe, while the second edition was released by Milton Bradley. Both versions have Trebek on the cover. A board game based on the 1987 version was released by Parker Brothers in 1988. The cover shows Martindale and two contestants during a game.
A computer game also based on the 1987 version was released for the Commodore 64, Apple II, and DOS by Box Office in 1988. The cover has Martindale holding a pair of Golden Dice in his left hand while pointing to them with his right.
An Australian version aired on the Seven Network for a brief period in 1975, hosted by Garry Meadows with Delvene Delaney and Suzanne Fox as the dealers. The announcer was Max Rowley. A Japanese version called SuperdiceQ, hosted by Masaru Doi, aired on TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) from 1980 to 1984.
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