The Joker's Wild

CBS (ended 1975)


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The Joker's Wild

Show Summary

The Joker's Wild marked the first time the team of Jack Barry and Dan Enright produced a game show since the Quiz Show Scandals of 1958. The game, which was totally clean, proved to be a success and paved the way to greater fortunes for the Barry-Enright empire. Before the show's premiere in 1972, several pilots were produced, several employing a bizzare celebrity format. The Joker's Wild married elements of a Las Vegas slot machine to a general quiz. Two contestants, including a returning champion, competed. Five categories are announced. The players, one at a time, take turns spinning a huge three-reel slot machine, each containing the names of the categories (along with appropriate pictures) and "Joker" cards. The player chose a category depicted on one or more of the reels, with cash values determined as follows: one of a kind, $50; two of a kind, $100; and a natural triple, $200. If the player answered a question correctly, he/she won the cash value; if incorrect, the opponent could win the cash. Any Jokers that appeared could be paired with one of the available categories for $100 or $200, though the player could also go "off the board" for half the value. However, getting three Jokers meant an automatic win for that player, provided he/she answered one question correctly in any of the categories and (if the player was the challenger) held off a last chance run by the champion. The first player to $500 won the game and played a bonus round; however, champions were given one last opportunity to catch up by trying to spin for a question that had enough available to catch the challenger. If he/she answered correctly, the game went on until someone missed. Three different bonus games were played during The Joker's Wild CBS run, as thus: 1. During the first couple of weeks on the air, the reels contained pictures of prizes. The champion spun and could take what he/she saw, or spin again and take what turns up on the second (and final) spin. Initially, if all three prizes were circled, he/she won a new car. This was quickly modified to having just the third reel possibly containing a picture of a car. (This didn't work out too well, namely because the prize packagae rarely amounted to more than $750 (one early package contained $25 in frozen snack foods, a $283 central cleaning system and a $500 color console TV). 2. The champion gets up to three spins of the machine, now loaded with Jokers and a Devil card (note that the Devil's face was patterned after Jack Barry). A prize is announced before each spin, and if three Jokers come up, the player may elect to keep the prize or risk it and spin again for the second prize. At any time, if a Devil card shows up, the game ends and all prizes are lost. The first two prizes were generally worth $100-$500, while the final prize was usually more worth than $1,000 (sometimes, $3,000 or more!). (Initially, the player was given up to four spins, with the final spin played for a car, a boat or even a fur coat; the car was later moved to the Joker Jackpot (see below), though boats and furs were still offered as bonus round prizes). 3. The format that was associated with the 1977-1986 syndicated run. First adopted in 1974, the slot machine is now filled with various dollar amounts ($25/$50/$75/$100/$150/$200) and the Devil. A contestant could stop at any time and keep his/her winnings, but getting $1,000 without revealing a Devil won the cash and a prize package. From 1972-1974, after the bonus round was played, the champion could elect to leave the show with his/her cash and prize winnings, or play again. However, if the champion lost, he/she forfeited their front game cash winnings, which were deposited into a Joker Jackpot. The Joker Jackpot contained a minimum of $2,500, but increased for all the winnings that were deposited therein (up to the CBS $25,000 limit). A three-time champion (during the first few weeks on the air, a four-time winner) claimed the jackpot plus a new car. (Great news: it wasn't always that stripped-beyond-the-bone $2,000 Chevrolet Vega, either; sometimes it was a nicely-equipped Chevrolet Monte Carlo worth about $5,000, a sporty $4,500 Opel Manta, or even a $7,500 Chevrolet Corvette!). Initially, the player retired undefeated upon claiming a Joker Jackpot (the first one was worth more than $15,000!). Later, players could stay on until they reached CBS's then-winnings limit of $25,000. During the Joker Jackpot era, only front-game winnings claimed since winning the last Joker Jackpot could be lost; once a player had a Jackpot, it was theirs to keep. Once the final bonus round was instituted, the Joker Jackpot was shelved, and players won a car after winning five games and retiring only upon winning $25,000. The Joker's Wild was a respectable hit on CBS, enjoying a three year run. The show, which had enjoyed a second run of success in syndicated reruns on a Los Angeles TV station, returned in first-run syndication in September 1977, once again hosted by Jack Barry. Gameplay was nearly identical to the CBS run, with the third version of the bonus round from that version employed as the syndicated version's bonus game. There were several notable changes, as thus: • Some of the categories had special rules to them, many of them involving both players. The outcome of the game, or at least the advantage, could change at any given moment. • A "natural triple" meant the player won a prize package, which had new items added each game until claimed (sort of like The Hollywood Squares' original Secret Square game). • There was no winnings limit, meaning players stayed until their defeat. While nobody reached the impressive totals of Tic Tac Dough all-time champion Thom McKee, there were plenty of big winners. • In the early 1980s, Barry devoted the final minutes of the show to his studio audience. He invited three members of the audience on stage to play against the Devil. Each player took one spin and kept whatever cash amount they received ($30 to $300). The top spinner got to continue spinning the machine, and if he/she reached $1,000 without revealing the Devil, they got a bonus prize. Children had often been invited to play special weeks of the show during the original CBS run and during the first two years of the syndicated series. Thanks to the youthful contestants being themselves and Jack Barry's enthusiasm, these weeks proved so popular that a companion kiddie version, called Joker! Joker! Joker! aired. The once-a-week series – which ran in syndication, usually on Saturday or Sunday afternoons – ran from 1979-1981. As in the CBS version, five-time winners won a new car, as follows: 1977-1979: Buick Skylark 1979-1981: Buick Century 1981-1984: Chevrolet Chevette 1984-1985: AMC Eagle 1985-1986: Madza GLC. Barry died in May 1984, not long after taping had ended for the 1983-1984 season. (One station, WEWS in Cleveland, got off to a late start that season and, by the time all the Barry episodes were aired, WEWS went directly to the new Jeopardy!) Supplanting Jack Barry was ex-Hot Potato host Bill Cullen, who was in the waning years of his legendary game show career. Jim Peck was the substitute host for both Barry and Cullen in their absences. The Joker's Wild, along with its companion Tic Tac Dough, left the air in 1986, only for both to return in 1990. This new version of The Joker's Wild, on which three players (including the returning champion) now competed, employed a number of rules changes, making for a game that many game show fans agreed was too different from the one so fondly remembered. In the bonus game, a player earned spins by answering questions correctly, and could freeze windows in an attempt to win a prize. Getting a triple Joker in one spin won the Joker Jackpot, which started at $5,000 and grew by $500 until claimed. Many people did not like the revised format, or host Pat Finn's hosting style, and the revival lasted one year. Only one contestant shined on that version. Thomas Van Dyke was the biggest winner, collecting $52,000 staying for ten episodes.moreless
Bill Cullen

Bill Cullen

Host (1984-1986)

Pat Finn

Pat Finn

Host, 1990-1991

Jack Barry (II)

Jack Barry (II)

Host (1972-1975; 1977-1984)

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  • Loved this show as a kid.

    Jack Barry was kinda scary looking but I liked his voice. Anybody ever notice that the car you win on the show was ALWAYS an AMC Eagle Wagon with fake wood on the sides? I remember one woman lasted so long on the show she won 5 of them!
  • A classic poker game but with one twist. You have to pull a lever like a big slot machine and the cards shuffle themselves and you have to decide what to keep and throw away.moreless

    With the poker craze abounding these days it would be a fun way for kids to enjoy learning to play the game without the addictive betting and drama involved.

    It does kind of remove the intense element of the game which takes it in the opporsite direction of true poker but hey....

    You Get To Pull the lever and spin to take your chances. Its like spinning the wheel of fortune and everyone still watcheds that right?

    Jack Barry and Cullen where excellent hosts.moreless
  • Doing the "Russian Circus Goofy Win" dance!

    From 1972-78 either during the CBS years or the first year of syndication, whenever someone either won...

    1). The Joker's Jackpot

    2). Beating the Devil

    3). The $50,000 Tournament of Champions (which Frank Dillon did)

    Russian circus music would be heard (or as a friend of mine calls it, the Goofy win theme)! I would get up, kick my heals, do the Russian dance & shout HEY!

  • The Show Gets Much Better In The 80s.

    The 80s version of The Joker's Wild is really ahead of its time. I thought it was actually made in the 90s.

    The game shows in the 70s were very yellow. The show was first made by CBS, and then came back again for a new look, and then an even newer look much later.

    Unfortunately, Jack Barry died I think in 1984 and they realized that it was just too soon and too successful to end the show. They got Bill Cullen to host, but he was already the host of Hot Potato! They never even bothered to find a new host, and they just moved him to another show.

    I think he was better in Blockbusters and Hot Potato. They should have gotten Jim Peck, since he was already the host of The Joker's Wild.

    Shows like this one you just don't see anymore.

    Actually, Wheel Of Fortune's new look reminds me of The Joker's Wild 80s version.moreless