Merrill Heatter Game Show premiered on CBS in 1972, on the same day as The Jokers Wild and The Price Is Right. Two couples played blackjack while answering knowledge questions asked by host Wink Martindale. Very few episodes are known to have survived.Martindale returned as host of the successor series, Las Vegas Gambit, on NBC in 1980-81. A decade later, Bob Eubanks was the host of a Gambit pilot for ABC in 1990, with solo contestants and a different question format; ABC rejected it in favor of a Match Game revival. GSN attempted a revival in 2002 with three solo players and Ron Pearson as host under the name Casino, but turned it down for Cram and Friend Or Foe?With some slight tweaks, the essence of the Casino format finally made it to GSN from 2008-11 as Catch 21. The show was hosted by Alfonso Ribeiro, one of the few black game show hosts, and marked the return of not only Gambit but Heatter, who had not gotten a game on the air since The Last Word ended 18 years earlier.This
Game Show Tropes in use:
- Bonus Round:
- The Gambit Board, where the winning couple picked numbers for prizes or cash, and was given a card after each pick. The couple could stop whenever they wished, as going over 21 would forfeit the prizes they had uncovered, but hitting 21 in any way won a growing cash jackpot plus a new car (original series) or $5,000 cash (Las Vegas Gambit). This format was used for the entire CBS run and for the first few months of the Las Vegas Gambit version.
- Midway through the NBC run, this was changed to the Gambit Galaxy — the former High Rollers bonus round. The objective was to, through rolls of two dice, remove the numbers 1-9 from a gameboard; successfully doing so won the Gambit Galaxy (an accruing prize package), while a bad roll — a number that couldn't be removed from the board — ended the game with $100 given for each number that had been eliminated.
- Catch 21 used three hands with one card dealt to each and the contestant directing the subsequent cards to any column they wanted. Getting a 21 awarded $1,000 for one column, $5,000 for two columns, and $25,000 (sometimes $50,000) for all three columns...but busting at any time ended the game.
- Bonus Space:
- The pre-"Gambit Galaxy" bonus round often included hidden spaces on the board that gave the players a chance to win extra money in different ways, as long as they didn't bust.
- Beginning in Summer 1975, the show instated a special rule where any couple who hit a two-card 21 at any time won a $10,000 bonus.
- Golden Snitch: A score of 21 was an instant win, awarding $500 plus $500 for every show (every game on the NBC version) not won. This was also picked up in the endgame.
- Also applied to Catch 21, minus the progressive jackpot. However, from Season 2 onward there was a bonus prize awarded to the first player (if any) to make a 21 in the main game.
- Round 3 of Catch 21. The first two rounds were played with Scoring Points, at 100 per question and 500 for winning the hand. The third round wiped the scores of the last two players, and the winner of that hand (no Scoring Points here) won the game. A player could get totally curb-stomped in the first two rounds, but as long as their other opponent got curb-stomped worse (100 points vs. no points at all, for example), the guy who barely survived to Round 3 could win with one correct answer at just the right time.
- You didn't even need a correct answer as long as you could pull a 21 off your opponent's freeze. You read that right: once one player froze, the other player was dealt cards with no more questions asked until they won or busted. This only applied to Catch 21, though — in Gambit, you had to continue answering questions to keep getting cards; one wrong answer lost the round.
- The Announcer: Kenny Williams on the CBS and NBC runs.
- Game Show Host: Wink Martindale on the CBS and NBC runs, Alfonso Ribeiro for the GSN era.
- Lovely Assistant: Elaine Stewart (Mrs. Merrill Heatter) on the CBS run, Beverly Malden and later Lee Menning on the NBC run, Mikki Padilla on Catch 21.
- Studio Audience
This show provides examples of:
- Cheaters Never Prosper: The finale of Las Vegas Gambit had a couple who tried to take advantage of Wink failing to hear their answer to the question "From what direction do the east winds blow?" They initially responded "west to east", after which Martindale asked them to repeat the answer; the couple, knowing they had given the wrong answer, tried to take advantage by changing their answer...but the judge did hear the original response and signaled to Martindale, who immediately ordered them — not too kindly — to "say what you said", to which the couple does.
- Failure Is the Only Option: During an episode of the GSN era, one contestant was caught between a rock and a hard place in Round 2 — Player 3 froze with a 20, making 21 the winning score. The middle player had 19 and the first player had 16. The middle player drew a 5 and had two choices — bust himself, eliminating himself from the round and holding out a hope that Player 1 busted as well, or give the 5 to Player 1 so his 16 becomes 21. Player 2 busted himself and Player 1 wound up getting a 5 anyway, getting 21 and eliminating Player 2 from the game. Poor guy had no chance.
- Large Ham: Alfonso Ribeiro.
- Long Runner: The GSN era ran four seasons, a rarity for them — most of their games tend to stop at two seasons.
- Luck-Based Mission: In the bonus round of Catch 21, there was nothing to back you up if the cards failed you and you ran out of power chips.
- Porky Pig Pronunciation: Wink once had some difficulty telling a couple they had won a copy of the World Book Encyclopedia.
- Product Placement: The power chips on Catch 21 were sometimes sponsored early on by Burger King. Often, the contestants said (and were likely instructed to say) that they would "have it their way" when using them.
- And in one of the episodes with the BK power chips, the question 'If your husband is wearing undershorts marked Home of the Whopper, which fast food restaurant did they most likely come from?' appeared in the first round.
- Title Drop: You didn't hit 21 on Catch 21, you "catch 21 exactly".
- Viva Las Vegas: Las Vegas Gambit taped at the Tropicana Hotel.