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deprived wits

The Cross-Wits

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.

The show was created by Jerry Payne, who first developed the show in 1966 as Crossword, an unsold game show pilot.

Main Game

This show pits two teams of three (two celebrities and one contestant) in a game of filling in crossword puzzles. Each word in the crossword puzzle is a clue to a master puzzle. The first aired week starting on December 15, 1975 featured Ron Masak, Meredith MacRae, Conny Van Dyke and Greg Morris as guests; the celebrities on the first aired show in 1986 were Kelsey Grammer, Leslie Charleson, Richard Moll and Cheryl Ann Wilson.

1975 Version

At the beginning of each round host Clark announced the subject of the master puzzle. The contestant captain chose which position in the crossword puzzle to identify, and which star to play that position. Next, host Clark read a crossword clue to that word. If the star couldn't answer the clue (the celebrity had seven seconds to answer), then the contestant could answer it, but if neither one answered it correctly then control went to the opposing team. Each correct awarded 10 points for each letter in the word (example: if the word was "SCIENTIST", then the word would be worth 90 points). After each correct answer (except for the last word), the contestant could either choose another position or solve the master puzzle (which only the civilian contestant could solve), in which case the team would be allowed a "7-second conference" before doing so.

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.

1986 Version

The game was played the same way as the previous version except for these changes:

  • The game is played in three rounds with this scoring format:
    • Round 1 & 2 - 5 points per letter, 50 points for the solution
    • Round 3 - 10 points per letter, 100 points for the solution

This version's gameboard was totally computer generated.

The Crossfire Round (Both Versions)

The winning contestant played a bonus round called the Crossfire Round along with his/her choice of celebrity partner (a choice of only the winning player's partners in 1975 & a choice of all four in 1986). They were shown one last crossword puzzle with 10 words, none of which were clues to a master puzzle. The host read rapid-fire clues to each of the 10 words. If they could solve all ten in 60 seconds or less, they won the grand prize.

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.

Car Round ('86 Version)

The three celebrities who did not play the Crossfire Round were given boxes, each with the logo of one of three cars available to win. After choosing which car to play for, the contestant then chose a celebrity. If the chosen car matched that held by the chosen celebrity, the contestant won the said car.

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.

Episode Status

There is at least one studio master and one recorded off of television for the 1975 version, but the episodes of the 1975-80 run are assumed to be in the hands of the owners of the show, Warner Bros., which owns Ralph Edwards Productions. An episode from 1979 has also been posted to Youtube The 1986-87 version exists in whole and has been seen on both The Family Channel and the now-defunct American Independent Network (AIN).

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.

Foreign Versions

There was a United Kingdom version of Crosswits which premiered in 1985 (a year before the US revival debuted) and ran until 1998. Hosted first by Barry Cryer, then by Tom O'Connor, it was produced by Tyne Tees and aired on ITV. (See Crosswits for more details).

In Poland, the show was called Krzyźówka Szczęścia. This version even had a live band playing the theme tune. It aired on TVP2 in the mid 90s.

Similar Shows

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.

External links

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