(with help from Randy Amasia, Don Del Grande, and Michael Brandenburg)
Hosts: Geoff Edwards (1974-75, 1989-90)
Mike Darrow (1985-88)
Announcers: Don Pardo (1974-75)
Wayne Howell (1975)
Ken Ryan (first few weeks of USA version)
John Harris (1985-88)
John Harlan (1989)
Johnny Gilbert (1989-90)
Broadcast History: NBC (Jan. 7, 1974-Sep. 26, 1975)
USA (Sep. 30, 1985-Dec. 30, 1988)
Syndication (Sep. 18 1989-Mar. 16, 1990)
Packagers: Bob Stewart Productions (1974-75)
Bob Stewart Cable in association with the Global Television Network (1985-88)
Bob Stewart/Sande Stewart Productions (1989-90)
Origination: NBC Studios, New York (1974-75)
Toronto, Ont. (Canada) (1985-88)
Glendale, CA (1989-90)
Premise: Sixteen contestants competed for a week's worth of play, answering riddles in the hopes of hitting the "Jackpot".
In 1984, an unsold pilot was produced for CBS, with Nipsey Russell as host. In this version, the Jackpot started out at $150, and each time a riddle was answered correctly, another $150 was added to the Jackpot, w/the value doubling to $300 if a player opted not to immediately answer the Jackpot riddle after finding it. No Super Jackpot was used for this version; however, if a player avoided the Jackpot riddle until the last one, an additional $5,000 was added to the Jackpot.
The game begins with a "Target" number being selected at random (ex.: $575). After it is set, a multiplier from 5 to 50 is randomly chosen (in this case, let's say 35) to create a Super Jackpot amount (in this case, $20,125, and BTW, if the Target amount was $995 and the multiplier was 50, they would "cheat"; instead of $49,750, the Super Jackpot would be worth $50,000!).
After this has been set, $100 is placed in the Jackpot to start it off, and the game begins. The "expert" calls on one of the other fifteen players, who first reveals the value of his/her riddle (each one is worth a different amount), which is then added to the Jackpot, and then reads it (ex.: "I'm the animal whose name sounds like it has laryngitis. What animal am I?").
If the Expert answers the riddle (in this case, "a horse") correctly, s/he selects another contestant and continues; if s/he answers incorrectly, s/he trades places with the player who stumped him/her.
In any case, play continues as follows until the "Jackpot" riddle comes up (since the show's inception, it was customary for the player who had the Jackpot riddle to yell "JACKPOT!!" when s/he was called on). When this comes up, the Expert may either answer it, or continue answering riddles (and risk losing his/her "Expert" status). If the Expert chooses to answer the Jackpot riddle and answers it correctly, s/he splits the money with the player who posed it and retains his/her "Expert" status for the next round. If the Expert's answer is incorrect, however, s/he trades places with the other player, and the Jackpot amount is carried over to the next round.
During the course of the game, if the Jackpot amount (or its last 3 digits) match the Target amount, the contestant has a chance to try for the Super Jackpot; the riddle asked for it was a special one posed by Geoff, which was first asked to the last player to pose a riddle, and if s/he answered it incorrectly, the Expert would be given a chance. If either player answered correctly, the Expert and the player who posed the riddle split the money in the Super Jackpot. In any case, right or wrong, the game continues as before.
NOTE: For the last 13 weeks of the NBC run, the Target was dropped, and the Super Jackpot was established randomly, without a multiplier; it could be worth anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000. Also, instead of riddles, straight general-knowledge questions were asked. When the Jackpot question was found, the Expert could either try to answer it, or go for the Super Jackpot by answering all remaining questions in the game, including the Jackpot question. If the player missed the Super Jackpot question, the Jackpot was wiped out, so it was hard to build a Jackpot. If, however, the Jackpot question was the last one found, the Super Jackpot was discarded.
This version also had a bonus round, called "Riddle-Grams", with the format of Bob Stewart's short-lived 1977 game show "Shoot For the Stars". In it, the winning player and the player who posed the Jackpot riddle had sixty seconds to solve word puzzles (ex.: "Freezing Dollars", which would be a "riddle-gram" for "Cold Cash") Each correct answer was worth $100, however, successfully solving all seven "riddle-grams" won $5,000.
Basically the same as the NBC version, but with a few notable differences:
They went back to using riddles, and the Target was also reinstated, though both it and the Super Jackpot were now established randomly.
The "Expert" was now called the "King (or Queen) of the Hill"
After solving the Jackpot riddle, the King/Queen of the Hill and the player who posed the riddle traded places regardless of whether it was answered correctly or not.
If a player avoided the Jackpot riddle until the very last one, $1,000 was added to the Jackpot.
Beginning in the show's second season, any King/Queen of the Hill who answered 15 riddles in a row (their term, "running the board") won a new car.
Also during the second season, the "$10,000 Riddler Contest" was added, in which the player who answered the most riddles during a 10-week period recieved an additional $10,000.
A couple of notable differences here:
A riddle's value was only added to the Jackpot if the King/Queen of the Hill answered it correctly.
If a King/Queen of the Hill ran the board, an additional $1,000 was added to the Jackpot.
"Super Jackpot Riddle": This riddle turned up at least once a week in the early days of the NBC version, if the Expert chose it, s/he had the right to go for the Super Jackpot right then and there without having to match the Target number first.
"Super Jackpot Wildcard": Used for most of the NBC run (until the institution of the Q&A format), it gave the Expert and the person w/the Wildcard the right to answer Geoff's Super Jackpot riddle right then and there. Basically the same as above, but it came up somewhat less frequently (approximately every other week).
"Bonus Prize/Gift Riddles": Self-explanatory riddles used on all 3 versions.
"Return Trip": Used on the USA and syndie versions; any King of the Hill who correctly answered this returned the following week to play again (and possibly win more money)
"$50,000 Riddle": Used during the final season of the USA version; these riddles were MUCH harder than the ones usually asked, and all players who correctly answered them split $50,000. (Three players correctly answered $50,000 Riddles, which meant that each player got a little over $16,600)
"Double Dollars": Used on the syndie version; as the name implies, a correct answer to one of these riddles doubled the amount in the Jackpot at that time.
"Instant Target Match": Used on the syndie version; if this riddle was answered correctly, the Jackpot would be automatically increased to match the Target amount, thus giving the King/Queen of the Hill a chance to answer the Super Jackpot riddle.
Believe it or not, there was actually one NBC episode where the Super Jackpot was worth the maximum of $50,000. The Target amount of $995 was matched not once, but TWICE during the game...and both times, the "Expert" was unsuccessful in answering the Super Jackpot riddles! The $50K was believed to have been won on another episode, but this has not been confirmed.
The theme song to the NBC version ("Jet Set", by Mike Vickers) was later re-used on "This Week in Baseball," as well as on Bob Stewart's failed 1985 pilot, "$50,000 a Minute".
A home version of the series was released by Milton Bradley in 1974, though two different cover designs were used (one w/only the show's logo, and another incorporating a drawing of a contestant). Additionally, gameplay is closer to the USA version, as the Target and Super Jackpot amounts are randomly established, while only 4-digit amounts are offered for the latter.
The theme song to the USA and syndie versions was a sped-up version of the theme previously used for another Bob Stewart show "Shoot For the Stars" (1977), which was also hosted by Geoff Edwards.
The theme to the unsold 1984 pilot ("Spring Rain", by Silvetti) was previously used as the theme to another Bob Stewart show, "The Love Experts."
According to Geoff Edwards, all episodes of the NBC version were destroyed EXCEPT one, which Bob Stewart has (although it is possible that Game Show Network may have a few episodes in their library).
After the NBC version was cancelled, it was replaced by "3 For the Money" with Dick Enberg, which holds the distinction of being one of the shortest-lived game shows in history.
The syndicated version ended due to distributor Palladium Entertainment's financial problems; in an attempt to generate quick sponsorship money, the company required "Jackpot!" to tape more than 10(!) episodes a day over a two-week period, but even this attempt proved of no help, and Palladium declared bankruptcy in spring 1990, after which the series was promptly pulled.
The random-number generator which set the Super Jackpot "multiplier" on the NBC version went through some interesting changes:
Originally, each number from 5 to 50 had an equal chance of being selected; this resulted in a number of uncomfortably high Super Jackpots early on, so it was changed to two each of the numbers 5, 10, and 15, and one each of the rest. However, this didn't sit well with the viewers (who had grown accustomed to the large Super Jackpots so prevalent in those early days), so it was changed once more, this time to two each for the numbers 15 and 20, and one each of the rest.