Concentration (game show)

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.

The second version of Concentration was syndicated, with Jack Narz as host. It ran from September 10, 1973 through September 8, 1978. From then on Concentration was played in southern California.

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.


Barry and game show-partner Dan Enright, along with Robert Noah and Buddy Piper, created Concentration, but others working at Barry & Enright Productions also contributed to the show's development. (The full end credit roll after the NBC takeover had a title that read "Based on a concept by Buddy Piper.") The creation involved the combination of two key creative concepts: the children's game of matching cards, and the use of a rebus puzzle that was revealed as matching cards were removed from the board. In place of the playing cards, the gameboard featured numbered boxes (30 in all) on one side of each card, and prizes, that were to be matched, on the other. The gradual matching of card pairs slowly revealed elements of the rebus, a picture puzzle described below.


The rebus form is centuries old, and has been used in various forms. The most popular contemporary form, prior to "Concentration," involved pictures, letters and numbers, as well as plus and minus signs to add or delete parts of a phrase. For example, wick + e + pea + d + uh, or, with minus signs, wick + elephant - lephant + pie - ie + d + uh.

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:

  • A picture of a convict (CON)
  • A plus sign
  • A picture of a penny (CENT)
  • A plus sign
  • A picture of a serving tray (TRAY)
  • A plus sign
  • A picture of a human leg, shin highlighted (SHIN)

Put it together for, CON + CENT + TRAY + SHIN (CONCENTRATION).

Rules of the game

Two contestants (one a returning champion) sat before a board of 30 squares, which concealed the rebus, names of prizes and special squares.

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:

  • WILD CARD - Self-explanatory; provided an automatic match. In the original game this left the natural match "orphaned", matchable only by the other wild card (there were only two). If the player matched the same prize to both WILD cards, a checkmark would be placed next to the prize on the player's board, and that player would win two of that prize if they solved the puzzle.

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.)

  • Take One Gift - There were two of these cards in each game. If a player matched them, he/she could take their choice of any of the prizes listed on their opponent's prize board. Of course, the game had to be won to receive all prizes listed on their prize board.
  • Forfeit One Gift - There were six of these in each game. If a player matched two of them, they had to forfeit one prize to their opponent. Naturally, they would give up the least expensive -- but sometimes had to give up something very valuable (if that was the only one on their board).

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.

Original Series (1958-1973)

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:

  • The Envelope and its Mysterious Contents - The winning contestant opened a sealed envelope and read its message aloud (as if he/she were the show announcer). Generally, it mentioned an inexpensive prize and further reading proved it to be an expensive prize, such as large amount of cash or a new car.
  • The Cash Wheel - A player spun a carnival-type wheel, containing various dollar amounts. The top prize was $2,000.
  • Christmas shows featured children from United Nations countries; Secret Santas included Joe Garagiola, Victor Borge and other celebrities. Proceeds went to C.A.R.E., which built two schools in Africa from funds raised by the series. (Blumenthal and Downs received awards from C.A.R.E.)
  • International Salutes: All prizes in these games were from the specific country saluted. In a salute to Mexico, for example, contestants wore sombreros, Downs would be dressed as a matador, and model Paola Diva would play a colorfully costumed señorita, driving a mule-driven cart.
  • An annual Boy Scout Show. It saluted famous Americans who were scouts. Den Mothers and scouts played the game and won prizes for themselves and their troops. Girl Scout shows also became an annual event.
  • The Challenge Of Champions - Beginning in 1963, Concentration inaugurated a tournament of champions, which pitted the top four players of the previous 12 months in a best-of-seven tournament (styled à la the World Series). The grand prize was $1,000, a trip around the world and a special trophy dubbed "The Connie", modeled after Auguste Rodin's The Thinker (one of the participants in the very first tournament was Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca, who won 17 games on the show).

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:

  • 512 cars.
  • 397 boats.
  • 1,287 domestic and foreign trips and cruises.
  • 12 trips around the world.
  • 857 fur coats.
  • Numerous diamonds.

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.

Syndicated run (1973-1978)

After NBC cancelled Concentration, Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions produced a daily five-times-a-week version for syndication. The project was a joint venture of syndicator Jim Victory and NBC, which retained the rights to the show. The show premiered in September 1973 and ran for five years. Jack Narz was the host, with Johnny Olson as announcer. This version of Concentration was produced at Metromedia Square in Hollywood.

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.

Double Play

The winner of the game played a new bonus round called "Double Play," with a new car as the prize for solving two fully revealed rebuses within 10 seconds, with the first puzzle earning the player $100. Solving both rebuses won the car. (The first car offered was a yellow 1973 Chevrolet Vega hatchback.)


During the 1975-1976 season, more rules were changed to speed up gameplay. The Forfeit One Gift cards were scrapped entirely. The board also hid 2 Free Look spaces. Revealing one instantly uncovered that particular portion of the rebus and allowed the contestant who selected the space to take a guess at the puzzle. Two more Wild cards were added to the board and the prize for matching them was reduced to $250. In the first game, contestants could call a third number if the first two did not match. All of the original trilon cards were scrapped and replaced with new graphics. The rebuses were also made shorter and easier, all trends that later made up Classic Concentration.

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.

Pilot (1985)

In 1985, a Concentration pilot was taped with comedian Orson Bean as host. Instead of matching prizes, contestants matched related words and were credited $100 for each "match". The first player to solve the rebus won the money earned and the right to play a bonus game similar to that on Classic Concentration, but played for seven prizes. A $5,000 bonus was awarded for matching all seven within the time limit (50 seconds plus an extra 10 each time the bonus round isn't won).

Classic Concentration (1987-1991)

To date, the most recent version, hosted by Alex Trebek, aired on NBC for four years from 1987-1991, and as reruns until 1993.

Catch phrases

During the original NBC run, Downs or Clayton would often say, "Not a match, the board goes back," after a contestant's selections didn't match. In recent years, talk show host David Letterman — himself a frequent celebrity guest on game shows during his early career — has taken to using the phrase as well, sometimes after a comedy bit fell flat and other times for no apparent reason at all.

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, "'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."

Commercial versions

  • The Milton Bradley Company introduced the first commercial version of Concentration in 1958 and subsequently released 24 editions of the game until 1982. (Owing to common superstition, these releases were numbered 1-12 and 14-25, skipping 13.) It was tied with Password as the most prolific of Milton Bradley's home versions of popular game shows, and was produced well after the Jack Narz-era ended in 1978. Pressman Games also published two editions of the Classic Concentration home game in 1988. More recently, Endless Games has released two versions of Concentration since 1998. The Endless version were modeled similar to Classic Concentration home game with the rebuses designed by Steve Ryan, who created puzzles for Classic Concentration.
  • Two computer versions of Classic Concentration were released by Softie for MS-DOS systems, as well as the Apple II and Commodore 64; a Nintendo Entertainment System version was also released by Gametek. Tiger Electronics also marketed a hand-held version of the game in the late 1990s, complete with the Narz-era theme and the 1960s-70s logo.
  • There were also books based on the TV shows. Three issues for the original were released in 1971, written and designed by Norman Blumenthal. Each issue of this collection featured 36 rebus puzzles, 30 standard and six "super" puzzles.
  • In 1991 the book "CLASSIC CONCENTRATION: The Game, The Show, the Puzzles" was created by puzzle designer Steve Ryan. This book showcased 152 full color rebuses designed from the Classic Concentration TV show with the first 48 of them simply show the entire, exposed rebus and the other 104 showed a partially revealed game board, followed on the next page by the entire rebus. The answers are in the back and, curiously, indexed alphabetically. The book also showcased a lengthy Concentration history and an introduction by executive producer Mark Goodson.
  • In 2007, Reflexive Arcade released a downloadable version of Concentration based on the Classic Concentration format and bonus round with newer puzzles and prizes.
  • In 2008, glu Moblie released a moblie version of Concentration based PC downloadable version with the look of the 1950s era.

Episode status

Nearly all of the 1958-73 episodes were rumored to have been destroyed by NBC until kinescope recordings of the original series were found(according to Steve Beverly of the Game Show Convention Center website) Some are to be found at the Library of Congress. Only a few remain on the trading block; Shokus Video is known to have a tournament episode from the late 1960s, and 12 Downs/Clayton episodes and a syndicated Narz episode have been found in the UCLA Film and Television Archive. The Museum of Television and Radio has in its possession one 1958 Hugh Downs episode, two 1971-72 Bob Clayton episodes and one syndicated Narz episode from 1974.

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.

International versions

A British version of the show was produced from 1959 to 1960 by Granada Television, hosted by Barry McQueen, Chris Howland and David Gell. It was later revived by TVS in the late 1980s and early 1990s, hosted by Nick Jackson and Bob Carolgees. Both versions were shown on ITV.

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.

External links

Search another word or see matchableon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature