Break the Bank

  • Gene Rayburn (Sep. 16, 1985-Dec. 20, 1985)
  • Joe Farago (Dec. 23, 1985-Sep. 12, 1986)

  • Announcer: Michael Hanks
  • Kandace Kuehl (first 3 shows only)
  • Julie Hayek
    Airdate: Sep. 16, 1985-Sep. 12, 1986
    Packagers: Kline and Friends Inc., in association with D.L. Blair Entertainment
    Origination: Hollywood Center Studios

    Opening Spiel
    (Sep.-Oct. 1985):
    "This is our Prize Vault! Inside the vault is a fortune in cash, fabulous prizes, and one of television's most fun-filled bonus games!"
    (3 of the day's stunts are teased)
    "All this, and a brand-new car! Time is the key that will open the vault door for these lucky couples as they try to...Break the Bank!"
    (Oct.-Dec. 1985):
    "This is our Prize Vault! Behind these doors is a fortune in cash, fabulous prizes, a brand-new car, and television's most exciting, fun-filled bonus game!"
    (clips of past bonus rounds are shown)
    "A test of knowledge will open these vault doors for one of our lucky couples as they try to...Break the Bank!"

    PREMISE: Two teams solved word puzzles for the chance to play what was originally a stunt-based bonus round, before undergoing a format change in mid-season.

    RULES (Sep. 1985-Jan. 1986):
    Two male-female teams (husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, friends, etc.) are asked up to 6 questions, the answers to which serve as clues leading to the identity of a person, place, or thing (a la "Password Plus"). Correct answers to the questions earn seconds for use in the bonus round (more on that later); the values of each question are as follows:

    Question #1: 5 secs.
    Question #2: 10 secs.
    Question #3: 20 secs.
    Question #4: 40 secs.
    Question #5: 50 secs.
    Question #6: 100 secs.

    Each time a team correctly answers a question, the answer is put up on the gameboard, and the team gets a chance to guess at the puzzle (if neither team gives the correct answer, the clue is put up on the board w/no one allowed to guess, and they move on to the next question). If their guess is incorrect, they are disqualified from answering the next question, but if correct, they win the round (If neither team solves the puzzle after the 6th clue has been revealed, one final question is asked, whose correct answer is the solution).

    The first team to solve 2 puzzles wins the game and goes on to play the bonus round; if both teams are tied after the 2nd puzzle, a 3rd "tiebreaker" puzzle is played. For the tiebreaker puzzle, there are no questions asked; the clues are simply revealed one at a time, and the first team to buzz in with the correct solution wins the game and an additional 30 seconds.

    The winning team heads into the Prize Vault for a chance to win prizes and "bank cards" (more on those later) by performing stunts (their term, "events") including:

  • Identifying sports being performed by a mime
  • Having the male teammate, while blindfolded, answer questions about both his and his partner's clothing.
  • Naming well-known songs performed by a pianist.
  • Reciting a tongue twister 3 times in a row, flawlessly.
  • Opening an assortment of "snake cans" in an attempt to find one can containing flowers.
  • While blindfolded, naming foods and other items by their smell.

    A frequent feature was the appearance of celebrity lookalikes and real-life celebrities in the Prize Vault, who participated in the events. Such examples included:

  • Comedian Louise DuArt doing celebrity impersonations for the contestant to identify.
  • A Michael Jackson impersonator asking questions about the singer's musical career.
  • Soap star Brenda Dickson asking questions about soap operas.
  • JM J. Bullock reciting a riddle that the contestant had to solve.
  • A Princess Diana impersonator asking questions about British slang terms.
  • Fred "Rerun" Berry performing dance moves for the contestant to imitate.
  • (Most events could be played by either teammate, although a few were designed exclusively for one gender, while some others required the participation of both players.)

    At the start of the bonus round, the team is placed behind a "teller's cage" at stage right. Each of the 9 (or occasionally 8) events is worth a prize, and when the clock starts w/the toal number of seconds earned in the maingame, the team selects a prize and runs over to the area of the set where the corresponding event is to be performed. Originally, the clock ran continuously during the round, but starting in the seventh week, this was changed to have the clock stop as the host explains the rules of that event and start again as the event begins.

    If they successfully complete the event, they win that prize and one of 5 bank cards (there are 5 offered w/each of the 9 events, plus 5 with the "Number Jumbler", for a total of 50), and then run back to the cage to place the bank card in a slot; doing so adds the value of that prize to their total, which was displayed on the front of the cage.
    After getting the card in the podium slot, they choose another prize, run over to the area of the set where that event takes place, and continue in this same manner until time runs out (if a bank card isn't placed in the podium before the team's time expired, it doesn't count; there were a few occasions where a team successfully completed an event as time was running out, only to lose the prize and bank card attached to it because they failed to get the card into the slot before the final buzzer sounded).

    (NOTE: Also in the Prize Vault is the aforementioned "Number Jumbler"; if the team chooses a predetermined event, a special sound is heard, and one of the players must run over to the Number Jumbler, which randomly flashes numbers from 0 to 5 in a rapid-fire fashion, with the player pressing a button to lock in a number [a la "Press Your Luck"]; depending on what number comes up, the team could receive anywhere from 0 to 5 additional bank cards)

    Now, the team goes over to the Bank Vault with the bank cards they had won. Each card has a code number attached to it, and one (and only one) of the 50 cards up for grabs, if chosen, has a code # which will "break the bank", which begins w/$20,000 in cash and prizes and has an additional $500 and one or two prizes added to it for each day that it is not won (throughout the course of this segment, the host would frequently offer a prize or cash substitute as a "sure thing" in exchange for any remaining bank cards).

    In January of 1986, shortly after Joe Farago took over as host, the format was changed. The "events" bonus round was eliminated, resulting in a change in the scoring system from "seconds" to cash for the maingame, as well as in the structure of the maingame, as follows:

  • Each correct answer in puzzle #1 is worth $100 apiece, as is solving the puzzle.
  • Each correct answer in puzzle #2 is worth $200 apiece, as is solving the puzzle.
  • All subsequent puzzles are played w/no questions; the clues are revealed one at a time, and a correct solution is worth an additional $400.
  • In addition, when a team solves one of the first two puzzles, they recieve a bonus prize (which was theirs to keep, regardless of the game's outcome).

    The first team to accumulate $2,000 or more wins the game, plus 1 bank card, and advances to the bonus round for the chance to win up to 10 additional bank cards. It is played as follows:

    A new puzzle (known as the "Master Puzzle") is shown to the team, w/the clues revealed one at a time. Each time a clue is revealed, it costs the team a number of their potential bank cards (3 of the clues cost 1 card apiece, 2 of them cost 2 cards, and the remaining clue costs 3; these placements are determined at random just before the bonus round is played). Once a team solves the puzzle, they win any remaining cards and go into the Prize Vault for the chance to break the bank.

    There are now 40 bank cards to choose from. This time, each card is worth a prize or cash, except for two:

  • One is the "Bankrupt" card, which immediately ends the round and costs the team whatever they had earned in that bonus round (for this reason, teams were given the option to quit after each card was revealed).
  • The self-explanatory "Break the Bank" card.
  • In both formats, if the championship team won on the next show, they returned to the Prize Vault minus the cards they had chosen the previous day (the exception being during the first format, if a team chose to sell back their bank cards, or quit w/unrevealed cards during the second format; those cards were then returned to the mix on the next show). Additionally, during the "Master Puzzle" era, the Bankrupt card was always part of the mix, even if it was chosen on a previous show.

    Winning teams on BtB remained on the show until they were defeated, broke the bank (following the mid-season format change), or reached/exceeded the $75,000 mark (whichever came first); any winnings in excess of the $75K limit were donated to the contestants' favorite charity by the production company.


    Here's how original host Gene Rayburn (best known as host of one of the all-time best game shows, "Match Game") felt about his hosting stint on BtB, as per his 1996 interview w/my colleague, David Hammett:
    "It was an unfortunate experience. I like doing spontaneous humor, and the producer wanted a big money quiz show; he wanted it to be deadly serious." As a result, Gene was fired after the Dec. 20, 1985 show because "they blamed me for not making it work."

    One of the conditions of Gene's settlement was that his episodes never be rerun; this explains why all repeats seen during BtB's final weeks were from the Joe Farago era, as were those which aired on CBN Cable for a short time in late 1986, following the show's cancellation.

    Following his stint on BtB, Joe Farago went on to become an infomercial host, in addition to guest appearances on several TV series.

    Richard Kline, producer/director of this version of BtB, was the director on the 1970s version of the show, which was produced by Kline's former bosses, Barry and Enright.

    Despite its relatively short run, the BtB format was later exported to France as "La Porte Magique" (The Magic Door), which aired on the now-defunct network La Cinq during 1987-88, and used a set very similar to its American counterpart, as well as the original format (including the maingame's 5-10-20-40-80-100 question structure) for at least part of its run; it continued for another year under the new title "Ali Baba".