Host: Jim Lange
Hostess: Karen Thomas (Sep. 1986 - Sep. 1987)
Premise: Two teams competed in a word game for the chance at the biggest grand prize in TV history.
The game is played in 3 rounds between two married couples. One partner from each team plays in each round (conferring is not allowed; before the start of the game, Jim would always remind the spouses not playing in that round, "You can root for your partner, but you can't help them"). The host starts the game by announcing the number of letters in a word (that word, and all others, will serve as a clue leading to the identity of a person, place, thing, or phrase; more on that later), and letters begin appearing randomly one at a time (a la the Speedword round on "Scrabble"). If a player buzzes in with the correct answer, s/he recieves $25; if incorrect, the remaining letters (except one) continue to be revealed for his/her opponent only.
In any event, whichever player correctly guesses the word recieves the aforementioned $25, and an opportunity to go to the puzzleboard (which resembles a giant computer). The keyboard consists of 27 buttons, each representing a letter in the alphabet, as well as a star, used to indicate any punctuation marks in a puzzle. At the start of each round, the keys representing all letters in the puzzle are lit, in addition to one letter not in the puzzle, referred to as "the stinger"; if this letter is chosen, the player loses his/her turn at the board.
On each turn, the player at the board may choose two letters (only the letters lit up are in play for that round); depending on the number of times a chosen letter appears in the puzzle, $25 goes into the "puzzle bank" (for example, if a "T" was chosen, and there were 3 of them in a puzzle, 3 x 25 = 75, so $75 would go into the bank). After the chosen letters have appeared in the puzzle, the player is offered a chance to guess at it. If correct, that couple wins the round and the money in the bank; otherwise, another clue word is played, and play continues as described above until someone solves the puzzle.
Round 2 is played the same as above, only the players are the partners who didn't participate in round 1, with correct clue word answers and chosen puzzle letters worth $50 each. For round 3, the couples choose which partner they want to play, and the value is $100 for each word and letter; the couple w/the most money at the end of that round wins the game, and goes on to play the bonus round (NOTE: If time runs short at the end of round 3, the playing of clue words is suspended, and the pot is frozen at its current amount; the remaining letters in the puzzle are then revealed one at a time, and the first player to buzz in w/a correct solution wins the pot, though an incorrect answer leaves the other player free to guess unopposed).
THE BONUS ROUND:
The bonus round begins with the couples choosing one of three categories;. they are then given 60 seconds to identify 6 words pertaining to that particular category in a fashion similar to the maingame; the letters in each word are revealed one at a time (1 per second), and once they correctly identify it (as conferring is allowed here, unlike the maingame), letters in the next word begin appearing.
If the couple fails to solve all 6 words in time, their reign on the show ends, and two new couples are introduced on the next show. However, if successful, they are offered $5,000 in cash, and a choice: either take that money and leave, or pass it up and come back on the next show.
On day 2, $10,000 is offered to the champion couple if they win the bonus round, and if successful on day 3, they are awarded with the biggest prize in TV history: $1,000,000 (accompanied by balloons and confetti, a "$1,000,000" graphic scrolling across the screen in every fashion imaginable, and even fireworks and explosions from the onstage $1,000,000 sign on a few occasions!).
This game was actually based on a 1979 pilot, "The Letter Machine".
A total of 9 couples won the $1,000,000 during the show's run.
During the first half-season, the $1M grand prize was all cash, but for the 2nd season, it was changed to $1M in cash and prizes (including a vacation to an exotic locale, a complete home furnishings package, and two new cars [always Mazdas, but alternating between two pairs: the RX7 and 323, or the 626 and Cab Plus truck]).
In addition to the aforementioned switch to $1M cash/prizes, other significant changes were made during the 2nd season: the set was redecorated with a rising "$1,000,000" sign that appeared on the very top of a wall directly behind the set, and a long staircase from which Jim made his entrance was added, as well as doors which "closed off" the back of the set during the maingame. Also, the two cars offered as part of the grand prize package were displayed prominently onstage, the theme song recieved a new "jazzed up" re-arrangement/recording, and Jim was joined by hostess Karen Thomas, who handled the contestant intros and prize plugs.
Unfortunately, despite the big bucks, the onstage excitement surrounding a big win, and numerous cosmetic touches (the $1,000,000 was elaborately displayed on a pedestal at center stage with two "security guards" on either side, and the winning couple played the bonus round from an isolation booth), ratings for the show were less than impressive (despite some initially-promising numbers), and it was cancelled after a marginal year-and-a-half run (a third season had been planned, w/a revamped format, but was scrapped).
However, following its US cancellation, the format was licensed to British production company TVS; their version, titled "All Clued Up" (and played w/much lower stakes), ran in the UK from 1987 to 1992.