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spin her wheels

The Joker's Wild

The Joker's Wild was an American television game show that aired at different times during the 1970s through the 1990s, It billed itself as the game "where knowledge is king and lady luck is queen," and was notable for being the first successful game show (earlier attempts were significantly less successful) produced by Barry-Enright Productions after their role in the quiz show scandals in the late 1950s.

Originally, the show was simply a Jack Barry Production, but Barry added Enright's name a few years after, when the show entered syndication. Although it was a Barry & Enright-produced game show from 1977 onward, The Joker's Wild was copyrighted and a property of Jack Barry Productions during its entire run and in the 1990 version, with Barry's sons Jonathan and Douglas Barry as co-executive producers.

An attempt by Sony Pictures (which now owns the franchise) to do a revival in 2006 was aborted.

Hosts

Jack Barry, who created the show and eventually used it to revive his partnership with longtime producer Dan Enright, hosted all versions of the show up until his death in May 1984, with Jim Peck subbing on occasion. Bill Cullen hosted for the remainder of the syndicated run in what would be his final hosting job on television.

Barry however was not the original choice to host. When the series was finally sold to CBS in 1972, the network was not sold on Barry hosting due to his past involvement in the 1950s Quiz Show Scandals. Wink Martindale, Tom Kennedy and Allen Ludden were the three top choices to host; but each was already committed to a game show (Martindale hosting Gambit, Kennedy hosting Split Second and Ludden once again hosting his pride and joy: Password). With no alternatives, Barry was given the green light to host; however CBS only gave him a thirteen-week probationary contract. Eventually, by January 1973, with no complaints from the viewers or from the network, Barry would sign a regular contract to host the program up to its cancellation in June 1975. The original series aired 686 eipsides with no summer repeats, one of the rare CBS games shows in production during the summer season.

Although Joker is commonly named by several game show historians as the first series Jack Barry was part of following the disastrous quiz show scandals, that is not actually true. Barry had hosted two earlier series (The Generation Gap and The Reel Game) prior to the premiere of Joker (the latter of the two produced and created by Barry himself), and some evidence suggests he and partner Dan Enright were "silent partners" in several game shows of the 1960s (in the United States and Canada), defying their unofficial blacklisting by the industry. Enright was brought on as executive producer of The Joker's Wild during its final CBS season, and was mentioned by Barry himself on the program's final CBS episode.

Jim Peck began subbing for Barry beginning in 1981, which he would continue to do on occasion until Barry's death in 1984; he would also fill-in for Cullen during the final season for a few weeks in the late run of 1986. Barry and producer Ron Greenberg wanted Peck to become Barry's successor and the plan was to have Barry retire after the 1983-84 season, but after Barry died Dan Enright gave the hosting duties to Cullen instead.

Pat Finn hosted the 1990 remake, which lasted one season.

Announcers

Johnny Jacobs was the original announcer of The Joker's Wild,. Jacobs served through most of its CBS run, with Johnny Gilbert and Roy Rowan filling in for Jacobs on occasion, plus Marc Summers, and other announcers who worked at CBS as a page of the network. When the series returned to first-run syndication in 1977, Jay Stewart and Johnny Jacobs became the primary announcers, alternating during the first two seasons before Stewart became the regular announcer during the 1979-1980 season; Bob Hilton announced the final three months of the 79-80 season and Art James announced the 1980-1981 season, with Jay Stewart announcing the final three months of the 80-81 season as well as the 1980 Tournament of Champions. In 1981, Charlie O'Donnell became the standard announcer of Barry & Enright game shows, announcing for five more seasons. Johnny Gilbert and John Harlan would fill in for O'Donnell on occasion.

Ed MacKay, a local Los Angeles radio DJ and one-time overnight news anchor at station KNX AM-1070, announced the 1990-1991 revival.

Origins

It has been said from sources that the concept of The Joker's Wild came as early as the mid-1960s, and that Jack Barry pitched the concept to Goodson-Todman Productions. G-T was not impressed with the format, so Barry continued revamping Joker for several years before it debuted in 1972 on CBS (following a local tryout on station KTLA in Los Angeles one year prior).

Studio sets

Four different studio settings were used during the course of the 1972-86 run of The Joker's Wild. In the beginning, the joker machine was surrounded by two borders that are somewhat shaped like a "C", each containing 46 red bulbs, and the category windows were surrounded by chase-light borders. The rest of the set was of a white and red configuration. When the syndicated version began airing in 1977, the set remained somewhat the same but with more red light bulbs (increased to 102 on each side) and a modified chase-light border around each of the category windows. The following year, more chase lights were added (64 on each outside border), and the red lights began flashing as well.

By 1981, the set changed to a neon-setting, designed by John C. Mula, with blue neon surrounding the joker machine. (similar to the design of Bullseye.) It also added audience contestant displays for the Face the Devil game, which resembled both the Joker contestant set and the Contestants' Row for The Price is Right, whose current daytime reincarnation premiered the same 1972 day as Joker on CBS.

The series was produced at the following locations (all in Los Angeles):

  • 1972-1975: CBS Television City's Studio 31 and 33
  • 1977-1985: Chris Craft/KCOP Studios.
  • 1985-1986: The Production Group Studios, near Columbia Square in Hollywood.
  • 1990-1991: CBS Television City's Studio 33. Some episodes were videotaped at Studio 31, the original studio of The Joker's Wild.

Gameplay

Note: The gameplay described below represents the best-remembered format of the 1977-86 syndicated series. Any differences in alternative versions will be discussed in the appropriate section.

Main game

Two contestants, one a returning champion, played. The challenger began the game by pulling a lever, which set three slot machine-style wheels in motion. The wheels each contained five different categories and a Joker. After the wheels stopped (one at a time from left to right across the board) the player chose one of the displayed categories and had to answer a question from that category. If the player answered correctly, the dollar value of the question was added to his/her score. If they answered incorrectly, his/her opponent had a chance to answer and steal the money (and could possibly win the game if the question was enough to put him/her at or above $500.) The champion would then get to spin, pick a category and have a chance to answer a question, with the same rules applying. The game is unofficially played in "rounds", with each round completed when both the challenger and champion has spun the joker machine, similar to innings in baseball.

Money values

The value of each question was determined by how many times that category appeared on the wheels. If three different categories appeared, a question in any of the categories was worth $50. If a two of a kind and a single appeared, a question based on the pair was worth $100, and one based on the single was worth $50. If a natural triple (three of a kind) was spun, the question was worth $200 (originally $150, but this was increased) and a bonus prize was awarded to the player. Natural pairs and triples could not be split and had to be taken for $100 or $200 respectively. A player however can answer a question on the displayed "pair" category for $50 as long as one Joker is on the board.

The game's "slots" were actually three slightly modified slide projectors. Each graphic was a separate slide loaded on a metal platter (similar to a ViewMaster wheel). Electric motors would spin the platters rapidly, rotating the graphics through the gates. Unused categories were deselected by simply switching off the appropriate projectors. Turning the lamps on and off so much caused them to blow out repeatedly during tapings.

It is said that at least three Joker cards were used on each slide projector.

Jokers

Jokers were wild, hence the show's title. The player could use them to match any displayed category to create a pair or triple, thus increasing the value of the question. They could also substitute a Joker for a category in play but not displayed on the wheels (which was referred to as going "off the board") for a $50 question using one Joker or $100 using two Jokers. Obtaining three Jokers in a single spin would allow the contestant to answer a question in the category of his/her choice correctly to immediately win the game, regardless of their current score.

Using Jokers was optional, so players would sometimes decline to use them when the base value of a question was enough for their opponent to win the game or take the lead; that way, if the player missed the question and his opponent answered it correctly, the opponent would receive less money.

The Joker cards had a purple background with a cartoon Joker doing a handstand with his feet curved to the left. The word Wild appeared at the bottom of the card.

Category cards

Category cards were of various illustrations, with green, light blue, yellow, orange, pink, red and other color configurations with the name of the category displayed below. Originally, the category named appeared on the color background, but later on the category name was placed on a white box with a black border. Before the game, when Jack announced the categories used in each game, they originally appeared as a list on a red background with a faint image of the Joker, but later, they would be individually seen the same as if they appeared on the cards themselves (each illustration appeared as Jack announced each individual category).

The windows

The game windows were surrounded by chase-light borders, with each window having an 11-bulb-by-7-bulb configuration; having a 2-on, 2-off chase light format. For a time in 1983, a 3-on, 1-off chase light sequence was used, which was common on NBC-produced game shows. These border lights would be activated when a joker appeared, or if a player selected a category. At one time, all three window lights would turn on regardless of what appeared on the board. Also, if the devil showed up at any time in the bonus game, only the border light surrounding the devil would be remain activated, while the other two windows lights would turn off. Prior to 1981, all of the border lights would inactivate if the devil appeared.

Winning the game

After each completed round, the player who reached $500 or more, in proper turn, was declared the winner and got keep the money. This could be accomplished by various scenarios:

The challenger could also win the game by answering a question missed by the champion whose value was high enough to reach $500. Otherwise, the champion had the advantage of being able to win on a challenger's missed question, without having to take his/her own spin.

The game automatically ended if either player spun three Jokers and correctly answered a question from any of the five categories. Only the player who spun three Jokers could answer, with the game continuing if he/she missed.

If both players tied with a winning amount, both players got to keep the money earned to that point. Extra rounds were played until someone was ahead after a completed round, or until three Jokers were spun and a question was correctly answered, thus ending the game. Only the winner would keep the extra money earned in these tiebreaker rounds.

Because The Joker's Wild had an even turns policy when playing the game, in the event the challenger managed to reach $500 first, the current champion was given one last chance to spin a combination that would allow him/her to tie, take the lead, or win outright with three Jokers. If unsuccessful, the game was over and a new champion was crowned. Although this was rare, it did occur several times during the show's run.

Any contestant who won five consecutive games received a new car as a bonus, usually a Buick Skylark or a Chevy Chevette. Players continued on the show until defeated; some repeat champions won more than $25,000 in cash and prizes. Only two players won more than $50,000 in cash and prizes (Eileen Jason in 1979 and Joe Dunn in 1983).

Between 1981 and 1984, the show had a winnings limit of $50,000 imposed on it (at the request of CBS (who owned quite a few stations where these shows aired) for unexplained reasons, with all winnings over that amount being donated to charity, even though the program was syndicated. If that happens, the contestant automatically retires undefeated. The limit prompted Barry and distributor Colbert Television Sales to sign up as many NBC affiliates as they could in order to remove the $50,000 limit.

Only one contestant, Joe Dunn, retired undefeated during that time - prompting Barry to erroneously say that he was the first contestant in the programs history to retire undefeated; forgetting that contestants on the CBS version retired undefeated by winning the Joker's Jackpot, stopping after every bonus game or reaching CBS's maximum winnings limit of $25,000. Dunn, the highest non-Tournament of Champions winner in the history of the original series, retired undefeated with $50,000; while donating the remaining $16,200 of his $66,200 total to charity. Dunn surpassed Eileen Jason's record winnings by more than $11,000 during his winning streak of some 15 games.

Endgame ("Face the Devil")

The wheels now contained various amounts of money ($25, $50, $75, $100, $150 and $200 money cards) and "the devil." There were two devil slides on only one of the wheels. Each of the three wheels had 12 slots, so the odds of the devil appearing on any one spin were one in six. The object was to take spins and accumulate $1,000 or more on the wheels, which won a bonus prize package valued at $3,500 to $5,000 (including the $1,000+). If the contestant was fortunate enough to spin a natural triple in the bonus game they also won $1,000 and the prize package. However, if the Devil came up at any time, the game was over and the player lost whatever money he/she had built up (almost similar to Press Your Luck's whammy characters). The player always had the option to stop after every "safe" spin and keep the money earned to that point.

Broadcast history

The Joker's Wild debuted on CBS September 4, 1972, incidentally on the same Labor Day as the modern incarnation of The Price is Right as well as Gambit. It ran until June 13, 1975 on that network, airing at 10 a.m. Eastern/9 a.m. Central.

For the first two years, it faced NBC's Dinah's Place, the talk vehicle for singer/actress Dinah Shore, which gave way to the first of several revivals of Name That Tune, which Joker easily defeated in the ratings. However, when NBC moved its panel game Celebrity Sweepstakes to 10/9 in early 1975, Joker went into steep decline, ending a nearly three-year run in the summer.

However, some big-market independent stations gave the game another chance the next year. After a syndicated rerun cycle of the last CBS season proved successful in 1976, the show returned to first-run syndication in September 1977 and continued for nine seasons, lasting until September 1986. A one-season revival ran from September 10, 1990 to September 13, 1991, also in syndication.

Other versions

Original 1968 pilot

The show's pilot, taped December 8, 1968 was hosted by Allen Ludden (CBS was still not comfortable about Barry hosting at first because of his involvement in the quiz show scandals) This version was very different from the eventual series. Most notable was the fact that categories on the wheels were each represented by a different celebrity panelist, each of whom asked the questions in his/her specific category. A somewhat confusing points system was used for scoring in place of money: for three different categories, a question on any of the categories was worth 1 point. On a pair and a single, all questions were worth 2 points if the contestant chose to play the paired category, and 1 point if they only played the single category. For a triple, three 3-point questions were offered. Jokers, of course, represented any category the contestant chose, increasing the value of the questions if a pair or triple was formed as a result. The spinner had the option to answer any of the number of questions available depending on the spin. Full turns were used, with the player reaching 13 points or more after each full round winning the game. A three-joker spin resulted in a win if the spinner correctly answers a question from any of the five categories.

For a bonus round, the game's winner spun the wheels, each of which contained different prizes of various qualities, ranging from a 5¢ piece of chewing gum to $500 cash. After the spin, the player could elect to keep the prizes shown, or give them all back for a second spin. This offer was then repeated after the second spin, but if a third spin was taken, the player was stuck with whatever prizes came up in that spin. This pilot did not feature returning champions.

A second pilot was taped a month later on January 5, 1969, but without the celebrities; Ludden simply read the questions himself. Both pilots were produced by Barry in association with the CBS Television Network, with Lee Vines announcing.

1970 pilot: The Honeymoon Game

In 1970, another pilot was shot, under the name The Honeymoon Game; it was hosted by Jim MacKrell and produced by Barry in association with Metromedia. Barry appeared before the beginning of the show, explaining that the first round was cut out before "airing" due to its weak format; it featured six couples (three in each segment), with one set of spouses given a category and asked up to six questions serving as clues to its identification, and if guessed correctly, that spouse's partner then had a chance to identify the subject for one point. The spouses then traded places for the second half of the round, with the lowest-scoring couple in each segment eliminated.

In round 2, the four remaining couples competed against each other, again in two separate segments. Just like in the 1969 Ludden pilot, the wheels had celebrities on them, each one representing a category. After the spin, the couple selected which category they wanted. The scoring was similar to that of the Ludden pilot. Instead of Jokers on the wheel, there were "bonus" cards. If a couple spun three bonus cards, the game was ended, and they would win instantly without answering a question. Ten points or more won the game. For each bonus card spun other than the situation where the player would spin three of them in one spin, a point was automatically added to the couple's score.

Round 3 was the "deciding finals," with the two remaining couples playing to win the match. The celebrities would leave, and now MacKrell would be asking the questions. The players spun as before, in the first wheel would be the category, the second wheel would display "Take a Chance," and the third wheel would display what the question on the category spun would be worth (In a spin of "Sports/Take a Chance/$10," Jim would ask a question on sports for $10). A correct answer added the value to the couple's score. The couple then "Took a chance," as the middle window implies, and saw what was behind the slide. It could be anything from "Add $40" to "Deduct $100." If answered wrong, the amount on the first wheel was deducted from the score, however, couples did not go below 0.

The game was played until time ran out, and the couple with the highest score played the bonus round, which was similar to the first bonus round used in the later CBS series of The Joker's Wild, only difference was, the couple was given three spins instead of two (see description below). There was also a second bonus round, where the wheels displayed hearts with numbers in them (slot number 1 had 1, number 2 had 2, number 3 had 3), and the couple selected one of those three windows. Behind each window was a destination for the couple to choose for their honeymoon. "The Honeymoon Game" was intended to be a 90 minute game show (the genre's first of its kind), and though it did not sell, a number of Metromedia-owned stations did air the pilot as a one-off in the summer of 1971.

The syndicated version of The Joker's Wild did have a slight throwback to the couples concept for one week in the 1981-1982 season, when it held a "Newlywed Couples" tournament.

1971 tryout

This tryout series aired locally on Los Angeles' KTLA and aired for about three months. The tryout episodes were hosted by Jack Barry, with rules similar to the regular 1972-86 series with the following exceptions:

Three contestants competed in each game, with the champion spinning first to begin the game. Spinning three different categories and answering a question in any of the three categories were worth $25. Pairs were worth $50 and triples were worth $100, with $250 the target number to win. As before, an equal amount of turns was given. A three-joker spin resulted in an automatic win with a correct response to a question from any of the five categories in play.

In the event of a tie, the lowest scorer was eliminated and play continued until one was ahead after each round.

The bonus round was similar to that of the Allen Ludden pilot, but with more elaborate prizes.

Highlights of the 1971 tryout series were shown during Jack Barry's promos of the eventual series, which began production on CBS in 1972.

1972-1975

Initially, triples were worth $150, but soon increased to $200. Also, three Jokers originally won the game automatically, without a question being asked. From episode 1 until around mid-1973, the champion went first.

Bonus rounds

The bonus round went through a few different permutations:

Prize Round #1 - Players got two spins. They could take whatever they spun the first time or could spin one more time, but were stuck with the prizes that were spun on the second spin. There were black circles around some of the prizes' icons, if all three prizes in a spin were thus circled, the player also won a new car.

Prize Round #2 - Beginning with the third aired episode, the circles were eliminated and the car became a regular prize on the wheels (other big prizes including a boat or a trip were also added to the board).

Jokers and Devils - The wheels contained Jokers and Devils. The player was given up to three spins, and each time three Jokers came up, a different prize was won, increasing in value with each spin taken. If a Devil appeared, the player lost it all. Originally the winning contestant got four spins with the last spin being worth a car or another big prize. For a brief period, the prize was not told until after the reels had been spun. In 1973, to avoid confusion between the category wheels and the bonus game reels, the Jokers in the "Jokers and Devils" era were marked with the word "Joker" instead of the word "Wild". This was implemented following a game in which the reels were not switched to the regular reels, and the champion spun three jokers to begin the game. For one game, the left window mistakenly contained a bonus game reel (in fact, one spin read, from left to right, "Joker," "Wild" and a category). Jack Barry did not mention why there was a difference between the two Jokers, or why every spin in that game began with a Joker on the left.

Face the Devil - By the end of the CBS run, the "Face the Devil" round described above had been implemented, except a natural triple did not constitute an automatic win in the CBS version. It has been said that the Devil in the "Face the Devil" bonus game was meant to be a caricature of Jack Barry. Many contestants have told Barry that the devil resembles him.

Joker's Jackpot

Early in the show's run, returning champions were competing for a chance to win the "Joker's Jackpot," an accruing jackpot of cash that started at $2,500. Players won this jackpot if they won four (later three) consecutive games; later on, a new automobile was added to the jackpot. However, if the champion was defeated, all of his/her cash winnings were forfeited to the Joker's Jackpot (prizes won in the bonus round was his/hers to keep). Thus, after every game, the champion decided whether to play on for a chance to win the Jackpot, or play it safe and retire from the show with his/her current winnings. The Jackpot continued to build until it reached $25,000, which was at the time CBS's maximum "winnings cap" for game show contestants.

The first contestant to win the Joker's Jackpot was Katherine "Kathy" Wechsler, who, despite the fact she didn't win any prizes in her attempts at the bonus rounds, retired with $15,400 in cash. Katherine won the $13,800 jackpot in dramatic fashion, answering a missed question by the challenger correctly for the win in a close game.

Originally, after winning the Joker's Jackpot, the champion was retired undefeated, but later on, the rules were changed to allow champions to continue playing until either being defeated or reaching the maximum CBS winnings limit.

Upon implementation of the "Face the Devil" bonus round, the "Joker's Jackpot" was abandoned, players kept whatever they earned, while still retiring after winning $25,000, and five wins were needed to win a new automobile.

1977-1986

There were a few alterations to the syndicated show over the years. One of the most notable was the addition of a "Natural Triple Jackpot" in 1983. This was an accruing prize package offered to a contestant who had spun a triple of any category, without Jokers (at one point the jackpot reached as high as $18,000). Prior to that, a bonus prize, usually around $500 in value, was given to any contestant who spun a natural triple.

Tournament of Champions

"Tournaments of Champions" were held annually between 1977 and 1980. Frank Dillon won the $50,000 and $100,000 tournaments in 1977 and 1978, respectively; Eileen Jason captured the $250,000 tournament in 1979 defeating Dillon in the finals.

In 1980, The Joker's Wild became the first television program to advertise that it was giving away $1,000,000. It was the total purse for a special 16-player tournament of champions; the eventual winner received $500,000 of that total ($250,000, paid $25,000 annually for 10 years), half of which went to the charity of his or her choice. The remainder of the money was divided among the other participants in the tournament (including $200,000 to the runner up; $100,000 of which goes to charity), depending on how they performed, with once again half of their winnings going to charity. Rob Griffin won the top prize, half of which went to the March of Dimes. Other tournaments of champions ($50,000 in 1977, $100,000 in 1978, and $250,000 in 1979) were held prior to this, but no ToCs were held after the $1,000,000 tournament due to winnings cap limitations.

Different rules applied to Tournament of Champions play: the players played for points instead of dollars, and in the championship game, winning two games out of three were needed to win the top prize (3 out of 5 for the $1,000,000 ToC). In the event a natural triple was spun, a $500 bonus was awarded to the player for his/her charity. Players drew numbers to determine who would spin the wheels first. If player #1 (in the challenger's podium) spun three jokers and answers a question, that player's score goes to 500 points. The player who spun second would get one final turn to tie the game in that case, or win the game if trailing by less than 200 points. The player who was ahead after each completed round after the target score of 500 points was reached was declared the winner.

Other special weeks over the years included "College Week", "Couples Week", "Teen Week", and "Children's Week").

Special categories

Special categories were introduced during the course of the syndicated era; the most famous of which were the "Mystery" category & the "Fast Forward" category.

  • Mystery - in which if picked the value of the question would then double. Host Jack Barry would place seven hidden questions (marked 1 through 7) in front of his podium, and when the category is selected, the contestant picks a number, and the category is announced by Barry. A right answer would earn the player $100, $200 or $400, depending on the spin.
  • What's Missin_? in this category, Jack would use a sentence pertaining to a phrase or a title, and the contestant's job is to fill in the missing word.
  • Fast Forward - in which a player can answer as many questions as he/she wished, stopping after a correct answer--a wrong answer forfeiting the money won in that turn and giving his opponent a chance to answer the missed question for the base value ($50, $100 or $200). It's usually an alternative to three jokers if the champion whom is taking a final spin is trailing well behind.
  • Who, What or Where? - A category based on the 1970s game show of the same name (hosted by Art James, the announcer of the 1980-81 season and produced by Ron Greenberg, who also produced The Joker's Wild). This category, like the earlier series, involved questions with a Who (with the answer pertaining to a famous person or fictional character), a What (a famous thing or event), or a Where (a famous place).
  • Stumpers - Introduced in 1983, it featured questions missed by both players from previous episodes; the player could elect to answer the question normally, doubling the dollar value, or answer the question with the help of two wrong answers for the face value of the question Originally, the category was a straight-forward question, with $100 added to the value of the question, making the question worth $150, $200 or $300.
  • Bid - in which a player had to answer a certain amount of questions (a la Bullseye). The player though determined how many questions he/she would like to answer (The value of the spin is multiplied by the amount of the bid.) , and like "Fast Forward", can be used to catch up if trailing. In the event a question is missed, his/her opponent can complete the bid him/herself with one correct answer; otherwise the category ended and that player would spin on his proper turn for another category.
  • Fact or Foto - in which the player had the option of seeing a photo he would have to identify or hearing a fact--an incorrect response giving his opponent both the fact and the photo.
  • Multiple Choice - in which a player is given three possible answers to a potluck question, and he/she had to choose which is the right one. For the first several weeks of the new syndicated version in 1977, all questions were multiple-choice.
  • Alphabet Soup - Same as "Take A Letter" on Tic Tac Dough and similar to the questions asked on Blockbusters. In this category, a correct answer begins with a letter of the alphabet announced by the host before reading the question.
  • How Low Will You Go? – where in a question with a list of clues was asked, and the players alternated in bidding as to how few clues he would need to answer it (similar to "Bid A Note" on Name That Tune)--a wrong answer giving all the clues to the other player.
  • Just One More - This category is the same thing as Tic Tac Dough's "Auction" category. In this category both players gets to bid on a questions with multiple answers. The highest bidder gets control. If the player completes his/her bid the player gets the money. If the player fails the opponent has to provide just one answer from the list to earn the money.
  • _________'s Name Is... - questions in this category pertain to a famous person, actor/actress, etc.
  • Crossword Definitions - This category is similar to playing Scrabble; Jack would announce how many letters were in the word, and read a definition pertaining to that word. The contestant's job simply is to guess what word fits with that definition.
  • Pot Luck - in which it could be any of the other four categories in the game.
  • Grab Bag - same as Pot Luck except it is a straight-forward general knowledge question.
  • Take a Chance-Identical to Tic Tac Dough's "Challenge Category" The host reads a question then the player gets to decide to play or take a chance by letting the opponent answer if the opponent gets it wrong the player who spun the wheel gets the money.
  • Face-Off
  • Choose the Clues-The host reveals the subject for the question. The opponent then decides if the player in control would be given one or two clues. One clue was worth double the amount while two clues was worth the regular amount. If the spinning player is given only one clue and misses, the opponent is given both clues for the regular amount and the chance to answer.

The audience game

Beginning with the 1981-82 season, an audience game was played. Three members of the studio audience were selected for a chance to win money and a chance to spin against the devil. Each audience member was given one spin to get as much money as possible. The wheels contained money amounts ranging from $10 to $100, with $250 the highest amount possible in one spin. Whoever had the highest score went on to face the devil for a bonus prize and an additional $1,000. In the event of a tie, a spin-off would occur, with the members winning whatever came up on the wheels, added to what they spun before. Only twice in the duration of the audience game that a three-way tie was achieved, including Barry's very last episode.

Beginning in Fall of 1984, the third contestant became a home viewer playing from their touch-tone telephone (this was done to accommodate Bill Cullen, who due to his polio complications from his youth was unable to move great distances quickly unlike Barry or Peck).

Originally when the audience game was introduced, it was played at least once every week (usually on the Friday episode), and audience members were allowed two spins, with each member deciding to take the first spin or pass for the second. These rules were later changed to its well-known rules and were played daily half-way through the 1981-82 season.

Joker! Joker!! Joker!!! (1979-1981)

This was a special once-weekly version of The Joker's Wild with children for contestants and appropriately themed subject matter for questions. The format was basically the same, with only some slight alterations. In the main game, the children would play for points, not dollars, with 500 points awarding a $500 education bond, whereas losing players received a $100 education bond. In some episodes, the children's parents sometimes played the bonus round, presumably to avoid giving their kids the vice of gambling (and because the bonus round lever was too high for the average child). If the round is won, or if the player decides to quit, in most episodes, the parents are given the money instead of the child for some reason (the child still gets the money, though). The special categories "Mystery" & "Fast Forward" were not in use in this version, but "Multiple Choice" was still used. As before, full rounds were used, and the player who reached 500 points or more after each completed round was the winner. A three-joker spin still was worth an automatic win with one correct answer from any of the five categories in play.

This version featured many memorable exchanges between the young kids and host Jack Barry. More jokers were also added to the wheels, which Barry himself pointed out during one episode after an audience member shouted out fixed during the opening segment of that program.

Prior to the debut of Joker! Joker!! Joker!!!, The Joker's Wild featured children playing every year around Easter time beginning in 1973.

1990-1991

When "The Joker's Wild" returned to syndication in 1990, virtually everything about the show was changed. In particular, the regular questions were replaced with terms that the contestants had to define, which was used for language arts.

A tribute to Jack Barry was in place on this version; a memorial plaque placed on that version's slot machine.

Round 1

In the first round, three contestants (one a returning champion) competed to be the first to reach $500. The game began with a toss-up definition, and whoever buzzed in first with the correct answer gained control of the machine. The wheels contained various dollar amounts (generally $5-$50 in each window), with a Joker in the third window tripling the value of the first two if it came up (and giving that player 15 seconds to come up with as many correct answers as possible). After spinning, the player was given a series of rapid-fire definitions and had to figure out what those definitions referred to. Each correct answer earned the current value of the wheels. If a definition was missed, the other two players could buzz-in and attempt to steal control of the board; after this, the wheels were spun again, either by the correct answerer or (if no one had answered correctly) the controller of the last question. When one player reached the $500 target number, the two high-scorers moved on to the next round,while the low-scoring contestant was eliminated.

Round 2

The two remaining contestants advanced to the second round, which was played much like the first but with higher dollar amounts on the wheels. The contestants built on their scores from the first round and were able to choose from two categories after each spin. Additionally, an "Opponent's Choice" card could appear in the third window; as the name suggests, this gave the spinning player's opponent the choice of categories the spinner would have to answer questions from. The first player to reach $2,000 won the game and kept the money. The loser left only with parting gifts.

Bonus round

The bonus round was a mix of the main game, the prize round of the 1972 version, and of the "slot machine" image of the game. The champion was given up to three definitions to different words starting with the same letter. Each correct answer given within a sixty second time limit earned one spin of the wheels. The wheels, this time, contained prizes (including cash awards of $500, $1,000, and $1,500) and Jokers. The object, like a slot machine, was to get three of a kind of any prize in order to win it. After each spin, the player could "freeze" windows containing a prize he/she wanted to win, and only the unfrozen windows would continue to spin. Jokers could be used to match any prize showing; spinning three Jokers won a "Joker Jackpot" that started at $5,000 and increased by $500 each time until won. (This had to be done in one spin, as Jokers could not be frozen and had to be converted to individual prizes.) The highest "Joker Jackpot" ever won was $36,000 in 1990.

The classic game returns

About halfway through this show's run on January 7, 1991, the front game format was reworked to incorporate elements of the original "Joker's Wild" game. Although still played with the "definition" format, categories and multiple jokers had returned to the wheels, with spins worth $25 per correct answer for a single category, $50 for a double, or $100 for a triple. In this format, the player in control continued answering questions until he or she answered incorrectly or took too long to answer, at which point an opponent could steal the money and control by supplying the correct answer. Spinning three Jokers won the contestant an automatic $250 bonus (his/hers to keep regardless of the game's outcome) and the right to pick one of three categories for $100 a question. However, unlike the classic version where players could go "off the board" and choose any of the categories in the round, Jokers could only represent categories on the wheels and the value of the question had to be taken for $50 with one joker and $100 with either a pair and a joker or two jokers and a category. No bonuses were awarded for spinning a natural triple.

The winning score for the first round was increased to $1,000 at this point. In addition, the pace of the game changed, as games now straddled between shows.

Like the previous version, the 1990-91 revival did have audience members spin the wheels for money to fill in the remaining time of episodes in which the main game ended sooner than expected, to avoid straddling.

Adaptations

Board game manufacturer Milton Bradley produced four editions of The Joker's Wild home game, starting in 1973 and had the "Jokers and Devils" bonus round, the fourth of which was actually branded for Joker! Joker! Joker! which included the "Face the Devil" bonus round in 1979.

In the mid-1990s, Philips produced two games for its CD-i platform based on The Joker's Wild, licensed by Sony Pictures Television, by now which owned the franchise. These games featured "real" hosts and were based more or less on the first syndicated series. Wink Martindale "hosted" the first and best-known of these games, while Marc Summers could be found on a special "Junior" edition of the game. Charlie O'Donnell served as announcer on both games. Martindale was among the first candidates to host the original series when CBS was still not 100 percent sold on Jack Barry as host due to his involvement in the quiz show scandals of the 1950s, but he already chose to host Gambit. O'Donnell was an announcer on the series in question also. The theme music in these games was a remix of the 1978-1986 theme.

In 2006, IGT released a slot machine based on The Joker's Wild.

Episode status

All episodes survive, including the first two years of the CBS version, which was once thought to have been destroyed until the episodes were found at New York's WCBS-TV in 2000. The CBS and first syndicated run have been shown on GSN (GSN still has the 1974-75 CBS installments in its vault) and are currently held by Sony Pictures Television. The 1990 version is held by CBS Television Distribution and StudioCanal via the latter's acquisition of the library of Orbis Communications, which distributed this version. USA Network aired reruns of the Bill Cullen Joker's Wild era between 1985 and 1988 as well as the Pat Finn's Joker's Wild between December 30, 1991 and June 24, 1994.

References and notes

External links

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