Scrabble was an American television game show that was based on the Scrabble board game. The show co-produced with Exposure Unlimited and Reg Grundy Productions (now part of FremantleMedia) ran from July 2, 1984, to March 23, 1990, and again from January 18 to June 11, 1993, both times on NBC. A total of 1,335 episodes were produced from both editions; Chuck Woolery hosted both versions of the series. Jay Stewart was the announcer for the first two years and was replaced by Charlie Tuna in the fall of 1986, who announced for the remainder of the original version and the entirety of the 1993 revival.
Two contestants played a crossword
game on a computer-generated Scrabble board. To start off, a placeholder for a mystery word was outlined on the board. The contestants were given one letter in the word to build on, the number of letters in that word, and a clue to help them figure out the word. The player going first had the option of guessing the word, or selecting two tiles from a rack of up to 11 (which included three stoppers
, letters not in the word). The number of letters in a word can range from five letters, all the way to nine letters. The number of tiles between both players can range from seven tiles, all the way to eleven tiles. The player stuck the tiles into a slot in front of him/her, letters from the tiles were thus revealed, and the player had to choose one of the two letters. If the chosen letter were present in the puzzle, it appeared in its correct position in the word, and then the contestant could guess the word or select the other letter. If the other letter appeared in the word, the contestant could again guess the word or select two more tiles. If a letter selected was a stopper, that player lost his/her turn.
When control of the board was passed to the second player, he/she could guess the word or select two tiles. If that player had one unused letter when control changed hands, he/she could select only one tile, as the unused letter carried over to the second contestant.
If a contestant thought he knew the word, he/she hit their buzzer and guessed it. If correct, that player won the word. If incorrect, play continued and that player lost his or her turn. Originally, a player who knew the word simply guessed it without hitting his/her buzzer.
Once a word was completely revealed, another word was put into play, building on a letter from the previously guessed word. The player who was trailing (lost the last word if it was a tie) went first. The first player to guess three words correctly won the game and $500 cash.
Later in the 80s run, as was the case when viewers sent in poems on Card Sharks, words and clues were sent in from viewers on Scrabble, and if a clue and word was read, the viewer who sent the word in won a Scrabble T-Shirt.
Scrabble referred to the wrong answer buzzer as the "klaxon", commonly used on NBC game shows in the 1980s, and often accompanied the network's E-Note Bell. The program itself used over a dozen sound effects; the most of any game show that aired at that time.
If a player picked the third and final stopper, his/her opponent could either guess the word or play "Speedword". In Speedword, all but one of the remaining letters were put in place, one at a time. The first player to buzz in with the right answer won the word. If guessed wrong, that player is out and his/her opponent received a chance to see the remaining letters. If neither answered correctly, the word would be revealed, and no one scored. In the event of a 2-2 tie, or if time runs out in the Crossword game, the subsequent words were played as speedwords (instituted in 1985).
When the "pot" format (see below) was dropped after the first week, a new rule was added in which a player won bonus money if he/she revealed a letter on either a pink or blue square and correctly guessed the word immediately after. A $500 bonus was awarded for a blue square, and a $1,000 bonus was awarded for a pink square. Beginning in 1986, the bonuses were also included if the game went into Speedword mode. After a correct bonus letter guess, Woolery would come over to the contestant and pay them the bonus money.
The money that Woolery gave to the contestants when they solved a puzzle after getting a letter on the blue or pink squares was not real money. In fact, if one looks closely, the money was the color of the square that the contestant had hit (i.e. pink for $1,000 spaces and blue for $500 spaces). These were dubbed "Chuck Bucks."
Originally, when a letter landed in a Bonus Square, Chuck had real $100 bills which he handed to any player who guessed the word correctly when the letter was placed in that square.
For the 1993 version, the pink and blue squares served as pot builders for the Bonus Sprint jackpot, with their value added to the pot if the word was solved correctly.
During the first week, a pot was used in the maingame. For every letter revealed, $25 was added to the pot; $50 was added if a letter landed on a blue square, and $100 was added for a pink square. The first to guess three words won the game and the money in the pot, and played the Sprint Round for three times the pot's value.
For three months in 1985, not only did the player have to guess the word correctly, he/she also had to spell
the word, one letter at a time. Similar to the short-lived first-week format, each letter correctly placed added money to a pot, with payoffs as follows:
- Regular squares - $50
- Blue squares - $100
- Pink squares - $200, raised to $500
This rule proved to be very unpopular and was eventually abandoned by the fall of 1985. One episode that may have led to the demise of this format featured two contestants who both knew the answer "Mosquitos", but repeatedly misspelled it.
The sprint began with a five or six-letter word and a clue. After host Woolery said "go", two letters were revealed in a selector and the clock started. The player chose a letter from the selector, and that letter was placed. Originally when a letter was chosen, a new one replaced it. Later on, once a letter was chosen, the other went back into the shuffle to save time. There were no Stoppers in this round; all the letters were in the word.
When the contestant knew the word, they hit their plunger to stop the clock and gave an answer. If correct, the player moved on to the next word. If the player was not correct, or did not give an answer immediately after hitting the plunger, a ten-second penalty was imposed, and the word continued unless all but one letter was revealed. If all letters except the last letter were revealed and the player did not know the word, he/she could allow five seconds to run off the clock without hitting the plunger to avoid the ten-second penalty, but he/she was then required to play a make-up word.
A few players who came up short on one word immediately guessed the next word without any time lost to make up for either the ten-second penalty or allowing the clock to stop after five seconds once the last letter of a word was revealed.
The sprint was timed to 1/10 of a second.
The Scrabble Sprint round was originally played between the winner of the crossword game and the show’s returning champion. The crossword winner selected one of two envelopes (pink or blue), containing three words each. The challenger established a time in which the champion had to beat, using the packet of words not selected. If the champion guessed all three words before time ran out, then they won $1,500 (or three times the value of the pot during the first week of shows). Otherwise, the crossword winner won the money and became the new champion.
If a champion won five Scrabble Sprints in a row, that player won a $20,000 bonus (guaranteeing a five-time champ a grand total of at least $28,000); a ten-time champion won a second $20,000 bonus and retired undefeated (w/a guarantee of at least $55,500).
Beginning in March 1985, both contestants played the same set of three words. The challenger would play first, and the champion would be taken backstage and had headphones put on, listening to music so as to not hear or see game play. After the challenger set the time to beat, the champion would be brought back on stage.
It was also at this time that, after winning five games, champions simply had their total winnings augmented to a flat $20,000, and then a flat $40,000 for winning ten games.
Beginning on December 29, 1986, the format change in which two crossword games would be played per day with the champion playing the first crossword game; and the challenger in that game goes first. The winner from the first half would play Scrabble Sprint to establish a time using four words. Two new challengers played the second half crossword, with a coin toss determining who went first. The winner of the second crossword game would attempt to beat the time set during the first half of the show using the same four words. The winner of this format received $1,000 and the right to play the Bonus Sprint.
The fastest sprint round time was 11.1 seconds, and the longest was over 100 seconds.
The Bonus Sprint was played similar to Scrabble Sprint round, with two words of six and seven letters each. The contestant must correctly guess a six-letter word within 10 seconds and, if successful, use the time remaining to guess a seven-letter word correctly in order to win the jackpot, which began at $5,000 and increased $1,000 every day until it was won. Since the ten-second penalty rule was still in effect, an incorrect guess resulted in an automatic loss. Win or lose, the champion returned the next day (up to five days maximum).
When the series returned in 1993, the bonus sprint jackpot began at $1,000. Additional money would only be added to the jackpot if a contestant landed on a pink or blue square in the crossword round and solved the word immediately, adding either $1,000 or $500, respectively (no cash bonuses were given directly to contestants for correctly guessing a word on a bonus square in this format; all bonuses went into the Bonus Sprint jackpot). The highest pot under this format was $20,500.
The pilot episode was taped in March 1984 at NBC Studios in Burbank, hosted by Chuck Woolery with Rod Roddy
announcing. The studio set was the same for the most part with a faster chase-light
sequence, a super-imposed logo (instead of the on-stage logo in the series) and the game play was the same, except for a few differences.
Two players, one a returning champion played the crossword games, with four words being played, and whomever accumulated the highest money amount after four words won the game. Each letter in the word revealed was worth $25, colored squares added extra money in addition to the $25 meaning that blue squares $125 ($100 + $25) and pink squares $225 ($200 + $25). On the fourth and final word of the game, the dollar values doubled ($50 for white squares, $250 for the blue squares and $450 for the pink squares). The player who guessed the word won the money in the pot accumulated for each correct letter revealed. The player who won the most money faced the player with the fastest Scrabble Sprint time of the week, and whoever guessed four words in the fastest time possible at the end of the Friday episode won $25,000 in cash.
Most of the sounds effects were the same as the regular series, except the right answer bell was the NBC "C-Note" bell (the regular series used the "E-Note" bell).
Future game show contestant coordinator Laura Chambers played as a contestant on the pilot, and "won" the $25,000 bonus in the Scrabble Sprint. Chambers had previously appeared as a contestant on Sale of the Century, as well as Tic Tac Dough, and later became an on-air personality for Game Show Network from its launch in 1994 until 1997.
- Scrabble held various themed-weeks over the years, including Teen Week, College Week, Battle of the Soaps Week, and Game Show Hosts Week; the latter was actually done twice, first in 1987 and again a year later, in 1988. Participants for the first such week were Peter Tomarken, Marc Summers, John Davidson, Tom Kennedy, Bill Rafferty and Jamie Farr; the last two would return for the 1988 installment, joined by Vicki Lawrence, Jim Lange, Wink Martindale, and Jeff MacGregor. Although Farr was not tehcnically a game show host, he did sub for Tom Kennedy on Wordplay and was in fact working on a game show project titled Double Up for Reg Grundy and NBC at the time of the 1987 hosts' week, but the show never made it to air. Marc Summers acted as the substitute host during said week, when Chuck Woolery played the game and earned $12,000 for a home viewer.
All episodes are believed to exist. FremantleMedia
(who holds the rights to the game itself) currently own the rights to the series as well as any future revivals. However, unlike most FremantleMedia shows, Scrabble and other Reg Grundy shows haven't aired on Game Show Network
as of now. Episodes from 1984-1990 aired on the USA Network
from September 16, 1991 until October 13, 1995.
Another version of Scrabble
was in the works in between the 1984-1990 and 1993 runs, hosted by Los Angeles personality Steve Edwards
. That version never made it to the air.
Another version, entitled Scrabble Challenge, but with rules more similar the board game rather than the 1980s version, was planned exclusively for GSN with host John O'Hurley. However, that show did not make it to air either.