The Cross-Wits was an American syndicated game show which premiered on December 15, 1975 and lasted for five seasons until its cancellation on September 12, 1980. It was hosted by Jack Clark, with Jerri Fiala as hostess (during several weeks when she played the game as a celebrity, game show veteran Bob Hilton's then-wife Kitty would fill in). Announcing duties were handled by John Harlan, Jay Stewart, and Jerry Bishop. The show was produced by Ralph Edwards Productions and distributed by Metromedia Producers Corporation.
A second version aired in 1986 (without the hyphenated title of the earlier version, so it was known as "Crosswits") and was hosted by David Sparks, who also worked as a male model on the Reg Grundy-produced game show Sale of the Century.
Both versions were produced as daily shows, but the original Cross-Wits aired in many markets as either a weekly series or a bi-weekly series.
A correct solve earned the player 100 points, and if the puzzle was solved on the very first clue (in which case, for reasons unknown, the conference time was shortened to 5 seconds), the contestant won a new car; originally, it could be won in any round when that round's first word was put on the board (and after the "seven-second conference"); later, it was changed so only the second game each day had the car, and the rules were changed so that a player going for the car had "five seconds to think it over" without talking to the celebrities, and instead of the player being behind going first in each round, whoever solved the first puzzle went first in the second one (so no one intentionally missed just to have a better shot at the car).
The game was played in an unmentioned time limit, and the contestant with the most money when time expired won the game. If a team reaches 1,000 points, the contestant won $1,000 cash, and in the final season, a player also won a prize for each puzzle solve.
This version was taped before the era of computerized graphics. As a result, the gameboard was manually operated by the hostess (Jerri Fiala), and used back-lit tiles which illuminated to show the letters in each word.
This version's gameboard was totally computer generated.
In the 1975 version, each correct answer won increasingly valuable prizes, and solving all ten won the contestant the grand prize, which was usually a car, but sometimes a trip or a fur coat. In the 1986 version, winning was worth a trip and a chance to win a car. Failure to win the bonus round on this version won a consolation prize package.
For a time, the fourth celebrity was also a participant in the car round, and a corresponding fourth box was added to the mix; if chosen, it was worth $1,000 to the contestant.
For the first two taped episodes, the car round was staged differently: rather than holding boxes containing the names of the three cars offered, the celebrities held the keys to each of the three cars, and after one was chosen, that celebrity attempted to start the chosen car with his/her key.
The two Crossword pilots with George Fenneman exist, and have been traded amongst collectors after being made available thru a video sale online. The first pilot from 1966 featured Carolyn Jones (who later appeared on the show in 1977) and Michael Landon, while the second pilot featured Tippi Hedren and Paul Lynde. Another pilot was produced in 1971, with Bob Hastings as host, but it is unknown if that pilot still exists.
As mentioned at the top of the article, Jerry Payne created a 1966 pilot similar to The Cross-Wits entitled Crossword. That show was to be hosted by longtime You Bet Your Life sidekick George Fenneman and packaged by Payne-Hitman-Official Films. It did not sell, and would've most likely been for NBC.
In 1984, Scrabble premiered on NBC. It was based on the board game of the same name, but played differently. It was hosted by Chuck Woolery. It aired from 1984-1990 and again in 1993, albeit for just six months.
In 2007, Merv Griffin, legendary television personality and creator of the game shows Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, created a similar game show format comparable to Cross-Wits called Merv Griffin's Crosswords. However, it is played like an actual crossword puzzle. Griffin died of prostate cancer on August 12 during the show's first week of production.