The $1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime was an American game show which offered a $1 million (annuitized) grand prize to winning contestants. Based on a late 1970s unsold game show pilot titled "The Letter Machine," the show aired in syndication from January 6, 1986 until September 11, 1987. The show was hosted by Jim Lange, and he was joined by Karen Thomas as co-host during the second season. Marc Summers was the show's announcer for its first few weeks; Johnny Gilbert announced the remainder of the series. The show was produced and distributed by Lorimar-Telepictures, the first show ever to be distributed by them after Telepictures purchased Lorimar Productions in 1985.
The show's $1,000,000 top prize was, at the time, the largest ever prize offered by a game show, and nine couples won the prize.
The game begins with a toss-up puzzle, similar to that of Scrabble's Speedword, usually a one-word puzzle, but sometimes can be two or on rare occasions, three words. With host Jim Lange saying "Go", the letters are put in place one at a time, except for the last letter. The player who buzzed in with the right answer earned money in their team's bank, and the right to pick two letters from a giant computer keyboard on stage in an attempt to fill in blank spaces in a puzzle (similar to Wheel of Fortune). If a player buzzed in and did not come up with the correct answer, his/her opponent would be shown the rest of the puzzle, except for the last letter. Each speedword served as a clue to the solution of the puzzle.
The keyboard contained all 26 letters, plus a star representing punctuation marks or numbers. At the beginning of the round, letters appearing in the puzzle were highlighted on the keyboard, plus one additional letter not found in the puzzle known as "The Stinger" (similar to the "Stopper" on Scrabble). If the star was lit, Lange would mention it before the round began. The star was almost never the Stinger. For each letter revealed in the word, money equivalent to the value of the speedword was added to a bank.
If a couple solved the puzzle correctly after selecting two letters, they won the money in the bank. If they could not solve the puzzle, or if they chose the Stinger, another speedword was played.
A minimum of three rounds were played, sometimes more if time permitted. The team in the lead when time expired won the game and advanced to the bonus round. In the event of a tie, a tie-breaking speedword would be played to determine a champion, with the player buzzing in and answering correctly winning the game; while buzzing in and answering incorrectly lost the game.
The winning team won whatever money was in their bank, while the losing team left with parting gifts, plus any cash earned in previous shows if they were returning champions.
The couple entered an isolation booth, wired so they could only hear Lange. After choosing one of three possible categories, the couple had 60 seconds to guess six words or phrases pertaining to that category. For each word, a letter was randomly filled in once every 1.5 seconds. There were no plungers or buttons to stop the clock; once a word or phrase was guessed, the next word or phrase was immediately put into play. Getting all six words or phrases before the clock hit zero won the following take-it-or-leave-it cash prizes on their first two appearances:
A couple successfully completing the bonus round could retire with their winnings, or give back the prize (front-game winnings were safe) and compete against another couple on the next program. A third successful attempt in the bonus round won the couple a $1,000,000 grand prize, paid out as follows:
Should the couple fail to guess all six words or phrases within 60 seconds, their championship ended and the couple left with any previous front-game winnings.