Concentration was a TV game show based on the children's memory game of the same name. It aired on and off from 1958-1991, hosted by various hosts, and played in various ways. The property has been seen in several different versions:
The original network daytime series, Concentration, aired on NBC for 14 years, 7 months and 3,796 telecasts (August 25, 1958 - March 23, 1973), the longest run of any game show on that network (Wheel of Fortune was a month shy of tying that record when the initial NBC run ended in June 1989). This series was hosted by Hugh Downs and later by Bob Clayton. For a brief period in 1969, Ed McMahon hosted the series. The series began in the 11:30 a.m. (Eastern) time slot, then moved to 11 a.m., and finally to 10:30 a.m. Nearly all episodes were produced at NBC's studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City.
A once-a-week nighttime version of the show appeared in two separate broadcast runs on NBC. The first edition appeared only for four weeks, from October 30, 1958 to November 20, 1958, with Jack Barry as the host. The second edition was on the air from April 24, 1961 to September 18, 1961, with Hugh Downs as the host.
A third version of Concentration was first piloted in 1985. The pilot was hosted by Orson Bean, but no network or syndicator bought the show. However, after some reformatting, a remake of the game called Classic Concentration, hosted by Alex Trebek, aired on NBC from May 4, 1987 to September 20, 1991 (with reruns airing through the end of 1993).
Despite numerous attempts to develop a new version in recent years, NBC Universal (the rights holder) has not yet authorized a new version of the program.
The member of the Barry & Enright development team responsible for the development and art direction of the puzzles was Norm Blumenthal, who later became the original series' producer. He simplified the rebus form for television, allowing only plus symbols, and subsequently devised all of the puzzles seen on the original series. In his version of a rebus puzzle, which became Concentration's standard, a rebus is a puzzle made up of a combination of pictures, letters, words and numbers connected by plus signs. When solved, it is either the title of something or a well-known phrase. For instance:
Put it together for, CON + CENT + TRAY + SHIN (CONCENTRATION).
One at a time, the contestants called out two numbers. If the prizes or special action didn't match, the opponent took a turn. However, if the player did match, whatever prize was printed on the card was placed on a board behind the contestant; or, he/she could perform an action. The second number had to be called out within a certain time limit; otherwise the contestant's turn ended. It was also permissible to pass on one's turn. This usually happened during the course of a game if a contestant called out a prize card that had been orphaned as the result of a Wild Card match (see Wild Card below).
More importantly, a match also revealed two pieces of the rebus, which identified a person, phrase, place, thing, etc. The player could try to solve the rebus by making one guess or choose two more numbers. There was no penalty for a wrong guess; even if he/she was wrong, he/she kept control. Usually, a player waited to solve the puzzle until they had exposed a good portion of the rebus through several matches. In rare instances, the puzzle was solved with only a few clues showing. On one occasion, it was solved with only two clues.
In addition to the prize cards, there were the following action cards:
Players uncovering two WILD cards also won a bonus. At first, players won $500 (theirs to keep regardless of the game's outcome) and chose two additional numbers; the prizes went on that contestant's side and four pieces of the rebus were revealed. Late in the run, the bonus was changed to a new car, and again the player kept it, regardless of the game's outcome. Only one car was awarded to a contestant if they called a double WILD card. If a contestant called a double WILD card a second time, they received $500. As before, it was theirs to keep regardless of the game's outcome.
If each wild card matched a "car" prize, a player could win three cars in one game: one for matching the two wild cards, and the two "car" card matches. (It only happened twice.)
Also included were two or three joke or gag prizes (such as a banana peel or a tattered sock). These actually served as protection against matching the Forfeit cards he/she might stumble upon. During a panel discussion of the series at the 2005 Game Show Congress, producer Blumenthal revealed the cash value of the gag gifts to be $1!
If a contestant solved the puzzle, they won all of their accumulated prizes which were theirs to keep. If there were no legitimate prizes in the rack, they were awarded $100. The loser forfeited all his/her gifts accumulated in that game, but still received token parting gifts as well as a home Concentration game. There was no bonus round in the original game.
Occasionally, a game would come down to where only two prize cards were left on the board, which because of the Wild Cards often did not match. In such instances, the unmatched cards were turned over to reveal the entire puzzle, and the contestant who made the last match was allowed one guess to try to solve it first. If he/she guessed incorrectly, their opponent was allowed to make one guess. If both guessed incorrectly, the game ended in a draw. A new game was played and each contestant was allowed to carry over a maximum of three prizes.
Champions continued until they either were defeated or won 20 games.
Concentration remains the longest-running game show on NBC and held the record for longest continuous daytime run on network television until it was eclipsed in April 1987 by Bob Barker's version of The Price is Right. Concentration now ranks fourth on the long-run list of long-running daytime/syndicated game shows, behind TPiR and the syndicated runs of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!.
As a result of the quiz scandals, co-creators Jack Barry and Dan Enright, upon their blacklisting from television, were forced to relinquish the rights to NBC, who still holds exclusive rights today. Apart from the earliest episodes, Concentration was an NBC in-house production.
When Concentration started, it was hosted by Hugh Downs, was produced and broadcast live at 11:30 a.m. Eastern/10:30 a.m. Central weekdays in black-and-white, and quickly became the most-watched daytime series in NBC's lineup. The announcer was Art James, who sometimes served as a substitute host and later became a game show host in his own right. The series was produced in NBC's Studio 3A, which now houses (as of today) NBC News and its cable sibling, MSNBC.
The series then moved to 11/10 a.m., and slowly introduced color broadcasts. For a picture puzzle game whose rebuses were designed and painted in monochrome, this required some design changes: The colors of the numbered cards might otherwise interfere with the colors used on the rebus, a critical issue for contestants playing in the studio and for viewers who played along at home. During this period, the series was produced in NBC's Studio 6A. Hugh Downs (by this time also an anchor on NBC's Today Show) remained host, and the announcer became Jim Lucas, who also worked on NBC's local New York radio station, WNBC-AM. September 1965 witnessed the show move to 10:30/9:30, where it would spend the remainder of its run on NBC.
In early 1969, Downs stepped down to devote his entire attention to Today, with Bob Clayton (who had succeeded Jim Lucas as announcer) taking the reins. Briefly, NBC set Clayton aside in favor of Ed McMahon (due to advertiser pressure), but Clayton returned and remained host until the series ended. On the Monday following Concentration's demise on NBC, he became the announcer for The $10,000 Pyramid on CBS. NBC staffer Wayne Howell replaced Clayton in the announcer's booth.
The first puzzle was titled "It Happened One Night," and the last puzzle read "You've Been More Than Kind".
Seen daily for nearly 15 years, and consistently one of the most popular series on NBC, the original series included many special features. These included special salutes to individual nations around the world, annual specials saluting the Boy Scouts, annual Christmas shows featuring "Secret Santas" (celebrities who played the game in Santa Claus suits and revealed their identities at the end of the show), and the Challenge of Champions (so successful that it was subsequently mimicked by another popular NBC daytime game, Jeopardy!). Among the series' popular special features:
Throughout the competition, participants, including Downs, Clayton, and Blumenthal, wore blue blazers, with the show logo, known as the "mystery logo", embroidered in gold on the breast pocket. The "mystery logo" blazers continued to be a part of the emcee's wardrobe up until the show ended its original run in 1973.
During another contest (circa 1970), home viewers could win a prize based on the initial of their last names corresponding to a number on the board. To enter the contest, one merely had to send a postcard to the address given. These postcards were placed in a rotary drum and Clayton would draw a card and read the name. If the prize card was for a gag prize or a "Forfeit one gift," the home viewer received $100. If it was a "Take one Gift" card, a $250 prize was awarded. If it happened to be a Wild Card, the home viewer won $500. The contest was held at least once a week and frequently several drawings were held on the same episode. On one episode, a viewer from Oklahoma won a motor boat. Host Bob Clayton made the mistake of asking, "What could he possibly do with a boat in Oklahoma?" The show was then inundated with brochures on Oklahoma lakes. Most Oklahoma lakes are man-made, in response to the Dust Bowl.
Through nearly all of the original series' run, the program was produced by Norm Blumenthal. He also created every one of the 7,300 puzzles used on the show (with no repeated puzzles). He also created all puzzles used in the 24 editions of the Milton Bradley home game.
One retrospective of the original series reported the following prize tally:
Additionally, there were countless gift certificates, travel trailers, airplanes, swimming pools, furniture, kitchen appliances (large and small), rooms of furniture, clothing, stereos and televisions, fantastic nights out on the town and virtually any other item seen in any mail-order catalog. One history of the 1958-1973 series reported the total prize giveaway at $10 million.
The prize values on the original series were deliberately much smaller than those of the big-money games implicated as part of the quiz show scandals of the late 1950s. Barry and Enright kept the winnings low-value on purpose, to avoid any suggestion that it, too, was tainted; NBC maintained that policy when it took over production. Usually, there was at least one prize worth more than $1,000; however, nearly all the other prizes were worth less than $500, with many in the $10-$100 range. A board of prizes rarely totaled more than $2,000-$3,000 and champions rarely took home more than that in merchandise during their stay (though some longer-lived winners approached $10,000).
During most of the network version's run, it faced sitcom reruns on CBS and local programming on ABC affiliates, easily dominating them in the ratings. However, in late 1972, CBS launched the new version of The Price is Right at 10:30/9:30, which drained off more than half of the Concentration audience. NBC concluded that the game had reached the end of its natural life cycle, and cancelled it seven months after Price began. A Merrill Heatter-Bob Quigley production, Baffle, hosted by Dick Enberg, replaced it at that time slot.
This time, two new contestants competed each day (no returning champions, because some stations only carried the show one evening a week). Games did not straddle episodes as on the network version. For the first two seasons, the basic game was identical to the NBC version with the addition of 4 "head starts" that revealed half the locations of four prizes on the board. The "gag prizes" were gone and only one pair of Forfeit One Gift cards remained, with three pairs of Take One Gift cards this time. Concentration's board had become very colorful, with the 30 larger numbers in red with yellow backgrounds and red frames. Many prize, Forfeit, Take and Wild Card! cards had actually come from New York with the original board and were reverse printed (white lettering on a dark background). The rebus was in full color on a sky blue background.
The cash prize was increased when a contestant solved the puzzle with no prizes on his/her side of the board (from $100 to $250). The bonus for matching the two Wild Cards regardless of winning the game reverted to $500 instead of the new car last offered by NBC. Also, the contestant no longer received the opportunity to match the Wild Cards and reveal 4 parts of the puzzle. Prizes that were once only consolation prizes on the NBC series and other game shows became the prizes on the board. If the board had no more matches and no one solved the puzzle (or if time was running out), the remaining parts would be revealed and a contestant could ring an electric "buzzer" to give his/her solution.
If there was time for a third game, a "money game" would be played; this was plain, old Concentration with no head starts. On the board were matched amounts of foreign currency with the usual Take, Forfeit and Wild Card cards; when a match was made, Narz would note the equivalent in United States dollars. If the puzzle was solved, the winner received the money in American currency; if the game could not be completed, the contestant credited with more money was declared the winner.
The old board did not suffer the trip to the West Coast well. By the end of the 1974-1975 season, the trilons were "grinding" so badly they could barely turn. A few weeks into the 1975-1976 season, the board was completely rebuilt with a smooth high-speed mechanism that made the trilons almost fly around. The first of many changes to come in the game arrived with the four Bonus Number cards and the elimination of one prize pair and one of the Take One Gift pairs. A contestant matching the Bonus Number cards could call a third number if their next two picks didn't match.
Ratings fell and many stations (including former flagship WNBC in New York) moved the show to pre-dawn hours (or other non-prime-time access slots) and then dropped it. Some independent stations then picked it up for what would be its last two seasons.
During the 1977-1978 season, the "Double Play" bonus game added a step: players determined their Double Play prize package by choosing squares from a 9-space board and competing for the first prize package matched (the car was also a prize on this board). One space, if chosen, allowed the player to play for all of the prizes revealed up to that point.
Another change was the reversal of the contestant and board locations (oddly common among game shows originally produced in New York and moved to the West Coast). The contestants now sat on the right side of the studio, with the board positioned on the left. There was no emcee's podium and for the first three seasons, Jack Narz was mainly off camera during the game, standing in the center of the stage. He eventually stood between the two contestants. The prize tote board consisted of the two doors that were originally on the NBC New York set, but cut down and made permanently set boards in the new set. A single bell chime sounded whenever a match was made.
This version of Concentration also used several prize music cues also used on Price including what fans call "Splendido", which is used for furniture showcases on Price. The music for a Double Play win on Concentration has also been used snce the 1970s as pricing-game music in which the prize is a car.
During the early days of the show, after Hugh Downs' introduction, he'd greet the home viewers by saying, "Welcome to CONCENTRATION, the show where the ability to concentrate pays off. The object is to solve the puzzle..."
When matches were made, and the puzzle was slowly revealed, Downs would say," look at these two parts of the puzzle (or puzzle parts)...can you tell us what it says?"
After the "times-up buzzer" sounded, he'd say "...(it's) still your turn. Two more numbers..."
When it came time for the contestant to find out about their prizes, Downs would say to them, "...here's (announcer's name) to tell you EXACTLY what you have won..."
Whenever saying good-bye to a contestant, at the end of each day's show, the host would say, "... and thanks for playing Concentration."
All of the Narz episodes do exist (according to Steve Beverly of the Game Show Convention Center website) but will not be released yet as NBC still owns the rights to the series. The 1985 pilot hosted by Orson Bean also exists in private collections. All of the Trebek episodes still exist and have since been converted from analog to digibeta tape (required to air on cable television), but no version of Concentration has aired since 1993, as NBC still holds the rights to the format after last broadcast for 15 years.
At least one Narz episode has been found on the trading circuit, from the final season in 1978 with the Double Play bonus round pick-a-prize package board. A 10-minute clip of the end of an episode from 1974 also exists, in poor quality.
GSN first attempted to purchase the Narz & Trebek episodes in 1994 when it was launched, but NBC refused to sell them for unexplained reasons.
In Australia, versions aired from 1959-1967 (with a nighttime version airing until 1961), then in the 1970s with Lionel Williams, and then again in 1997, with Mike Hammond as host on the latter. The 1960s versions aired on the Nine Network, the latter versions aired on the Seven Network.
A version in Colombia also aired during the 1950s on UniCentro.