Let's Make a Deal is a television game show which originated in the United States and has since been produced in many countries throughout the world. The show was based around deals offered to members of the audience by the host. The contestants usually had to weigh the possibility of an offer being for a valuable prize, or an undesirable item, referred to as a "zonk". The show was hosted for many years by Monty Hall, who co-produced the show with Stefan Hatos.
The original, most widely-known version aired from 1963 to 1976 on both NBC and ABC. A weekly nighttime syndicated version of the show aired from 1971 through 1977. Two more syndicated Let's Make a Deal series aired daily in the 1980s. The first, based in Canada, aired one season from 1980 to 1981. The second, called The All New Let's Make a Deal, aired for two seasons from 1984 to 1986.
The two most recent regular series of Let's Make a Deal have aired on NBC. The first, a daily daytime series, aired during the 1990-91 season. The second, a weekly nighttime series, aired for several weeks in 2003.
The weekly nighttime syndicated version, seen from 1971 to 1977, was distributed by ABC Films, and later by Worldvision Enterprises. The 1980 daily syndicated version was produced and distributed by Canadian production company Catalena Productions (Rhodes Productions was the U.S. distributor). The 1984 daily syndicated version was distributed by Telepictures.
Each episode of Let's Make a Deal
(which was billed by Jay Stewart as "The Marketplace of America") consisted of several "deals" between the host and a member or members of the audience as contestants. Audience members were picked at the host's whim as the show went along, and couples were often selected to play as "one" contestant. The "deals" were mini-games within the show that took several formats.
In the simplest format, a contestant was given a prize, and the host offered them the opportunity to trade for another prize; however, the offered prize was unknown. It might be concealed on the stage behind one of three curtains, or behind "boxes" onstage (large panels painted to look like boxes), within smaller boxes brought out to the audience, or occasionally in other formats. The initial prize given to the contestant might also be concealed, such as in a box, wallet or purse; or the player might be initially given a box or curtain. The format varied widely.
Technically, contestants were supposed to bring something to trade in, but this rule was seldom enforced. On several occasions, a contestant would actually be asked to trade in an item such as his or her shoes or purse, only to receive the item back at the end of the deal as a "prize". On at least one occasion, the purse was taken backstage and a high-valued prize was placed inside of it.
Prizes generally were either a legitimate prize, cash, or a "zonk". Legitimate prizes ran the gamut of what was given away on game shows during the era (trips, fur coats, electronics, furniture, appliances and cars). Zonks were unwanted booby prizes which could be anything from animals to large amounts of food, or something outlandish like a giant article of clothing, a room full of junked furniture, or a junked car. Sometimes zonks were legitimate prizes but of a low value such as matchbox cars, wheelbarrows, T-shirts, small food or non-food grocery prizes, etc. On the original series, zonks were often demonstrated by the show's announcer, Jay Stewart, and legitimate prizes were modeled by Carol Merrill (although Merrill, too, helped model the zonks).
Though usually considered joke prizes, contestants legally won the zonks; however, after the taping of the show, any trader who had been zonked would be offered a consolation prize instead of having to take home the actual zonk. This is partly because some of the zonks were intrinsically impossible to take delivery of: for example, if a contestant won an animal, he or she could legally insist that it be awarded to them, but chances are that the contestant did not have the means to care for it. In fact, a disclaimer at the end of the credits of later 1970s episodes read "Some traders accept reasonable duplicates of zonk prizes."
In addition, as the end credits of the show rolled, it was typical for Hall to ask random members of the studio audience to participate in fast deals. The deals were usually in the form of offering cash to one person in the audience who had a certain item on them; either offering a small cash amount each for however many the person had, or offering them cash for each time a digit occurred in the number on a dollar bill, driver's license, etc., or offering to pay the last check in the person's checkbook (up to a certain limit, usually $500 or $1,000.) if they had one. At first, there was no limit on the number of items that could be traded in, until a rumored incident occurred in which Hall offered a woman $100 for every dime she had -- whereupon she produced a roll of dimes.
Other deal formats
Deals were often more complicated than the basic format described above. Additionally, some deals took the form of games of chance, and others in the form of pricing games, similar to those used on The Price Is Right
- Choosing an envelope, purse, wallet, etc., which concealed dollar bills. One of them concealed a pre-announced dollar bill (usually $1 or $5), which awarded a car or trip. The other envelopes contained a larger amount of money as a consolation prize. The player had to decide whether to keep his/her choice or trade. (Note: In some playings, it was possible for more than one player to win the grand prize).
- Three unrelated traders acted as a team on deals. Sometimes, only one was allowed to speak for the team without consultation of the others; other times, a "majority rules" format was used. Usually after a series of deals, Hall broke up the team and each contestant could individually decide on one or more options on a final deal.
- At the start of the show, a contestant would be given a large grocery item (e.g., a box of candy bars), almost always containing a cash amount. Throughout the show, he/she was given several chances to trade the box and/or give it to another trader, in exchange for the box or curtain. Only after the Big Deal of the Day was awarded (or if the last trader with said item elected to go for the Big Deal) was the cash amount or prize given. Variant: A "claim check" was given to a trader at the start of the show for any prize shown during the regular deals and chances to trade throughout the episode. The prize ranged from cash and cars to zonks. The "claim check" was sometimes played as the very last regular deal, however, with one sure deal offered in lieu of its contents.
Games of chance
- Choosing four of seven envelopes, each containing $1 and $2 bills, whose contents they hoped added up to at least $7 for a grand prize.
- Monty's Cash Register, wherein a couple had to punch keys on a 15-key register. Exactly 13 of the buttons hid amounts of either $50 or $100, and getting to a stated amount usually $500-$1,000 (usually in the form of actual $500 and $1,000 bills) won a grand prize. The couple could stop at any time and keep what they have (always then being tempted with a follow-up keep-or-trade deal) but hitting "no sale" at any time ended the game. One twist involved the two "no sale" buttons; if an unlucky button were struck on the first try, hitting the second "no sale" button the very next time also won the grand prize. Otherwise, Monty allowed the couple to take home whatever dollar amount they hit with the next key punch, and on some occasions on the 80s version, that amount was doubled. On the 80s run, the cash register buttons sometimes had $100 and $200 instead of $50 and $100, with $1,000 needed to win. Hitting the other No Sale sign in this case usually won $500 or $1,000.
- A contestant or a couple was presented with a choice of three keys, one of which unlocked anything from boxes (containing money, trip tickets, etc.) to cars. This game gave rise to the Monty Hall problem of probability. Hall usually offered a sure-thing buyout consisting of a smaller prize package, which was offered once Monty demonstrated one of the "dud" keys. A variation of this game involved more than one contestant selecting a key (sometimes from four instead of three); in this case, more than one key would open the item, and contestants could trade in their key for an unknown behind a curtain/box or a cash amount.
- Deciding whether an announced prize was real or imitation, and choosing a cash amount or the box/curtain as a substitute.
- Beat the Dealer: three contestants would choose envelopes to start the game; two of them contained $500 cash, the other $50. The two dealers who chose the $500 continued on to try to win a middling prize by picking the higher-suited card out of nine off a game board. The one who won could then risk the prize and the cash by picking two more cards - one for themselves and one for Monty, winner take all. If the player picked the higher card for themselves, they added a new car (or another big prize); otherwise, they lost everything. Once during the 1984-85 season, three grocery items were shown for the final part of this deal. The trader picked one item for Monty and one for themselves, and if the contestant picked the more expensive item, they would win the third-tier prize.
- Deciding whether an egg given to a contestant was raw or hard boiled and choosing a cash amount or box/curtain as a substitute. A raw egg was typically worth $500 to $1,000.
These games were played for a grand prize, such as a car or trip and almost always involved grocery items. At certain stages of these games, Hall often offered a sure-thing deal (a box/curtain/etc. or cash amount) to quit before the answer was revealed. If all of Hall's offers were turned down and the grand prize lost, Hall would usually give the grocery items to the contestant as a consolation prize along with $50 or $100 in cash:
- Arranging small prizes (usually $5-50) in order of dollar value.
- Determining which item out of several was appearing on the show for the first time.
- Choosing which item was a pre-announced price, or added up to a certain amount
- Recalling which grocery items were concealed beneath the letters in the name of a car model or trip destination. This is generally considered the hardest of the games, since the traders would be more concerned about pricing than the name of the item.
- Pricing successive items within a predetermined amount from the suggested retail prices (SRP) (on the West coast). The first item was always easy while the last item was always more difficult. This is because the earlier items were significantly less expensive than the last one, which was usually missed by as much as $10.
- Pricing items with the total of all guesses within a predetermined amount from the total of the SRPs; a similar concept would be used for the game Check-Out on The Price Is Right.
- The contestant is given a dollar amount (often $5), and is asked to price several items. The difference between the contestant's guess and the actual SRP of the item was deducted from the contestant's money. If the contestant had even a penny left, they won the grand prize. The last item was always more difficult, so the object was to come as close as possible to the MSRP on each of the previous items. This concept is somewhat similar to Cliff Hangers and Lucky $even on The Price Is Right.
- Two traders competed against each other to price a series of four grocery items or small prizes. The first contestant gave a price, and the opponent gave one; the one who was closer got a cash prize (e.g., $100). Each succeeding item was worth more (e.g., $200, $300 and $400), with the players alternating turns going first. The first trader (or team) to collect a pre-set amount (usually $700) won a grand prize, such as a car or a trip (and got to keep any leftover money). The losing contestant was offered a regular take-it-or-leave-it deal in exchange for any cash accumulated; the consolation deal was also played for both teams if both obtained less than the required amount. Usually this grocery deal had the winners of each item winning $100 for the first, $200 for the second, $300 for the third, and $400 for the fourth. However, in the 1984-86 run, the progression was $200-$200-$200-$300, and on at least one occasion, five items were used worth $100 for the first two, $200 for the second two, and $300 for the fifth.
Door #4 (1984-1986 only)
Played every few days, and announced with siren and quick-zoom fanfare, a contestant was chosen by a computer at random based on a number which now appeared on the contestant's tag (1 to 36). A contestant who had previously been chosen for a deal earlier in the show had their number called on on a few occasions. This contestant was chosen to play a special deal, which had four incarnations:
- Version 1 - The contestant was offered a prize in exchange for a mystery cash amount ranging from $1 to $5,000, which was concealed behind "Door #4" (in actuality another curtain).
- Version 2 - A 20-space carnival wheel was brought out from behind Door #4, which contained cash amounts from $100 to $5,000. The contestant spun the wheel, and could keep the amount won or spin again in hopes of winning a higher amount. If a lesser amount was spun, all winnings were lost. One space on the wheel read Double Deal, and if it was hit on either spin, doubled the winnings up to a maximum of $10,000. Hitting Double Deal on both spins also earned the top $10,000 prize.
- Wheel configuration: $5,000, $750, $600, $200, $3,000, $350, $700, $150, $1,000, Double Deal, $500, $2,000, $400, $250, $800, $4,000, $300, $450, $900, $100.
- Version 3 - The contestant could keep $750 or risk it by spinning the wheel, which now contained spaces that earned $1,500 (by landing on a space marked DOUBLE), $2,250 (landing on TRIPLE), $3,000, a new car, or win less ($100 to $500, or perhaps even a zonk). The zonk was a T-shirt that read "I was ZONKED by Monty Hall". If the contestant kept the money, Monty would let the player spin the wheel just for fun to see what was passed up. In this format of Door #4, the car was always a Chevy Chevette. Also, instead of the car being displayed behind one of the doors, they used a film clip of it.
- Wheel configuration: Car, $200, Double, $100, $1,000, $250, $200, Zonk, $500, $100, Car, $250, $300, Double, $400, $300, Triple, $500, $400, $3,000. (The $400 and $3,000 spaces were switched after a few playings.)
- Version 4 - Played the same as Version 3, except the contestant was given $1,000 to start, and fewer small money possibilities. The spaces on this wheel were modified after a few playings of this version to include more Double spaces.
- Wheel configuration #1: Car, $100, Triple, $200, Zonk, Double, $100, $4,000, $200, $100, Car, $200, Triple, $100, Zonk, Double, $200, Triple, $100, $200.
- Wheel configuration #2: Car, $100, Triple, $200, Zonk, Double, $100, $4,000, $200, Double, Car, $200, Triple, $100, Zonk, Double, $200, Triple, $100, Double.
Big Deal of the Day
Each show ended with the Big Deal of the Day. Beginning with the day's biggest winner, and moving in order to the winner of the lowest prize value, the host would ask each contestant if they wanted to trade their winnings for a spot in the Big Deal (whose value was usually revealed at that point). He would continue asking until two contestants agreed to participate.
The big deal involved three doors, famously known as "Door number 1", "Door number 2" and "Door number 3", each of which contained a prize or prize package. The top winner of the two was offered the first choice of a door, and the second contestant was then offered a choice of the two remaining doors. One door hid the day's Big Deal, which was usually more than the top prize offered to that point. It often included the day's most expensive prize (a luxury or sports car, a trip, furniture/appliances, a fur, cash or a combination of two or more of said items). The other two doors concealed prizes or prize packages of lesser value. Zonks were never included in the Big Deal, although there was always the possibility that a contestant could wind up with less than his or her original winnings. Sometimes one of the doors would have "Monty's Cookie Jar", "Monty's Piggy Bank", or a "LMaD Claim Check", all of which represented a straight cash prize (which usually amounted to less than $1,000).
Value in different incarnations
During the classic era (1963-1977), the daytime Big Deal of the Day was typically worth $1,500-$5,000; the nighttime and syndicated
show's Big Deals were worth $7,000 to $15,000 or more, with cars often being part of the runner-up door.
During the 1975-1976 syndicated season, a new "Super Deal" was offered for Big Deal winners. At this point, Big Deals were limited to a range of $8,000 to $10,000. The contestant could risk his Big Deal winnings on a 1-in-3 shot at adding a $20,000 cash prize. The other two doors caused the player to lose the "Big Deal," but he/she took home a $1,000 or $2,000 consolation prize. Given this scenario, a Super Deal winner could win as much as $30,000 in cash and prizes (in fact, the first-ever Super Deal won the $30,000 maximum). Later, the consolation prize was changed to $2,000 and a mystery amount (between $1,000 and $9,000). The Super Deal was discontinued when the show permanently moved to Las Vegas for the final season (1976-1977), and the value of "Big Deal" returned to its previous $10,000-15,000 range.
In the 1980-1981 syndicated series, Big Deals were worth around $5,000 (which meant regular prizes were also cheaper). Also, instead of offering cash in actual currency, cash was given in the form of "Monty Dollars" (a/k/a "Let's Make a Deal Money"). As explained in the show, this was due to the fact that the show was seen in Canada and the U.S., and contestants could take home money in US or Canadian currency, with a likely preference for the American greenback because of its relative strength.
For the All New syndicated series, Big Deals ranged from $6,000 to $8,000 from 1984 to 1985, and from $8,000 to $11,000 from 1985 to 1986. On the 1990-1991 NBC daytime version, Big Deals could be worth up to $20,000. On the 2003 NBC primetime revival, the Big Deal on each show added up to over $50,000. On the 2005 Univisión series, Big Deals were worth around $3,000-5,000 on the regular show and around $26,000 during the primetime specials.
When the series began, studio audience members wore suits and ties or dresses. Over time the show gradually evolved into the costume-wearing menagerie it became. In 2003, GSN
featured the long-lost 1963 pilot episode of LMaD, hosted by Hall himself. In the special, Hall mentioned that two weeks into the series an audience member had brought in a small placard that read:
"Roses are red, violets are blue,
I came here to deal with you!"
The placard caught Hall's attention and he chose the player to be a contestant. On later tapings more people began bringing signs. Again to get Hall's attention another audience member showed up at a taping wearing a crazy hat, which also eventually caught on with others. The costumes and signs just became a part of the show itself and got crazier and crazier as the show went on.
The most frequently asked question was if the show provided the zany costumes for the studio audience. The standard response was that all contestants came "dressed as they are", in the words of Jay Stewart.
Many of the show's estimated 4,700 episodes exist:
- The NBC daytime version is unknown, though it is very likely that the original tapes were wiped as they were recorded over by NBC with new programming in an era when videotape was an expensive commodity. The 1963 pilot exists, with Wendell Niles as announcer and contestants in normal business attire (typical of its first season). The final 1967 primetime version however exists in its entirety in the Library of Congress, as well as a few scattered daytime episodes.
- One episode from the 1969 ABC daytime version was found recently, which features a gaffe that Monty himself rates as his most embarrassing moment on LMAD : at the end of the show he attempted to make a deal with a woman carrying a baby's bottle, and (noting that it had a removable rubber nipple) offered the woman $100.00 if she could show him another nipple. Fortunately for everyone involved, she didn't. This clip was restored utilizing the LiveFeed Video Imaging kinescope restoration process, and was re-aired in 2008, as part of NBC's "Most Outrageous Moments" series.
- More than 500 episodes of the ABC daytime version exist. A clip from the first ABC daytime episode was used on Monty Hall's Biography, which aired during Game Show Week on A & E.
- The 1969-1971 ABC prime-time and 1971-1977 syndicated nighttime seasons exist almost in their entirety. GSN is currently airing the syndicated nighttime shows on weekend afternoons. ABC nighttime shows from 1970 and 1971 have also aired on GSN in the past. The Family Channel also aired the syndicated series as part of a continuous run with the 1984-86 series, doing so up until 1995.
- The 1980-1981 Canadian version is intact and was seen in reruns on the Global Television Network for much of the 1980s.
- The syndicated 1984-1986 revival exists in its entirety and has been rerun in the past, the first season last airing on GSN in the early 2000's. GSN has returned this version to its weekday daytime lineup on June 9, 2008 and is airing the first season episodes as of today. The second season last aired on The Family Channel in the mid-1990s.
- The 1990 NBC revival exists. The episodes, however, have not aired in reruns since cancellation. A recent episode has turned up on Youtube.
- The 2003 NBC prime-time series still exists. Only three of the five taped episodes have aired, with no current plans to air any of them in the future.
- The 2005 Univision series still exists.
- FremantleMedia holds international rights to the show, and has licensed the show to 14 countries.
- An Australian version aired in 1976 and 1977 on Channel Nine.
- The French version of the show was called Le Bigdil and aired weeknights from 1998-2004 on TF1
- A German version called Geh aufs Ganze! ran from 1992-2003. The show began on Sat.1 and later moved to kabel 1. The show was initially hosted Jörg Draeger, who was later succeeded by Elmar Hörig. The German version of the Zonk was a always a red and black plush mouse the trader got to take home.
- The show is scheduled to air on Alpha TV in Greece. 140 60-minute episodes have been ordered.
- A Spanish-language US version called Trato Hecho aired on Univision in 2005. Guillermo Huesca was the host.
- The Turkish version of the show is called Seç Bakalım. Erhan Yazıcıoğlu was the host and Spice Girl Geri Halliwell was a model on it.
- An Indonesian Version of Let's Make a Deal debuted on the Antv network April 2006, as Superdeal 2 Milyar (The 2 Billion Rupiah Superdeal).
- An Indian version was aired on Star Plus for two seasons and was called "Khul Ja Sim Sim"
In the late summer of 2006, a new DVD Let's Make a Deal
game was released, which along with a playable game features classic clips from the Monty Hall years of the show.
References in other media
- Many of the elements of game play from Let's Make a Deal were later used on the 1972 revival of The Price Is Right, including pricing games, contestants being selected from the audience, prizes revealed behind large doors, and a showcase round in which the top winner of the show gets to bid on a showcase or pass it in hopes of a better deal in showcase #2. Hatos and Hall apparently did not object, even going as far as to loan a clip of Let's Make a Deal sub-hosted by their friend Dennis James for the Price pitchfilm.
- Sesame Street had a sort-of spoof of the show, called "The Trading Game", featuring Sally Screamer and Oscar the Grouch.
- An episode of Inspector Gadget also featured a spoof of the show, called "The Quizmaster Show", in which the game show was rigged by MAD and Dr. Claw to make the unsuspecting contestants later be hypnotized into criminal actions. The show's host was himself a MAD agent.
- An episode of Garfield and Friends featured a leprechaun hosting a similar show called "End of the Rainbow" to a starstruck Roy Rooster. Roy Rooster passes up a new car as well as fame and fortune, only to get zonked with a dirty sock.
- Jimmy Buffett's song "Door Number Three" tells the story of an audience member's visit to the show and his experiences there.