Series / Scrabble

Charlie Tuna: A nine-letter word, the clue is, they hang them on TV Tropes.
Studio Audience: LAMPSHADE!
Charlie: It's the crossword game you've played all your life, but never quite like this!
Audience: SCRABBLE!
It's the television version of everybody's favorite game!

Based on the board game of the same name, this NBC Game Show hosted by Chuck Woolery, famous for Wheel of Fortune and Love Connection, featured contestants trying to navigate a crossword puzzle-like board, forming words and winning cash.

Unlike the board game, however, the contestants did not form words themselves; instead, the words were pre-generated and as on Wheel the contestants had to provide the correct letters and guess the word. To do this, players were given a vague, punny clue (see above quote for example), then they would draw from a rack of "tiles", each representing a letter from the word (along with three "Stoppers", which didn't appear in the word), choose one of two letters to place within the word, and try to guess the word once the letter's position was revealed. A Stopper would end the player's turn.

Another difference from the board game was that letters had no value in themselves. The pink and blue Bonus Spaces on the board could be worth bonus cash to a player who correctly solved the word immediately after placing a letter on a colored square. The first player to solve three words...all together now...won the game...

...and would go on to a "Sprint" round, where they tried to solve four words quicker than their opponent (the returning champion in later years) by picking one of two letters in the word at a time (no Stoppers in this half of the game). Whoever won the Scrabble Sprint would attempt a Bonus Sprint, where they had to guess two words in 10 seconds to win $5,000, increasing by $1,000 each time it wasn't won.

The series originally ran from 1984 to 1990, then returned briefly in 1993 as part of an hour-long block with Scattergories.

Game Show Tropes in use:

  • Big Win Sirens: The stock "NBC sirens" were heard for $20,000, $40,000, Bonus Sprint and Tournament wins.
  • Bonus Round: The "Scrabble Sprint" (and later, the "Bonus Sprint").
  • Bonus Space: Blue and pink squares, which awarded $500 and $1,000 respectively during the best-known format. Their locations matched up to the bonus spaces on the original game board: blue for double/triple letter, pink for double/triple word.
  • Home Game: One was released by Selchow & Righter in 1987, called TV Scrabble. A board game of a game show of a board game.
  • Home Participation Sweepstakes: Many over the course of both versions, generally resulting in Speedword being played before either contestant got two words.
    • Starting in the Fall of 1986, viewers were invited to send in words and clues to be used in the opening sequence. The viewer whose word was chosen each day received a Scrabble T-shirt.
  • Personnel:
    • The Announcer: Rod Roddy announced on the pilot, followed by Jay Stewart until 1986 and Charlie Tuna for the rest of the run.
    • Game Show Host: Chuck Woolery. Steve Edwards hosted a pilot on August 1, 1990 for syndication (via Group W/Westinghouse), after which John O'Hurley and Lisa Kennedy hosted pilots for GSN.
    • Studio Audience
  • Progressive Jackpot: Used in the Bonus Sprint.
  • Speed Round: "Speedword", played at three different times:
    1. When all three Stoppers had been drawn for a word.
    2. After a 2-2 tie.
    3. Whenever time ran short.
  • Whammy: Stoppers.

This show provides examples of:

  • April Fools' Day: On the April Fool's Day 1989 episode, Chuck walked out and recited his Wheel of Fortune opening spiel, complete with "Once you buy a prize, it's yours to keep." and the Wheel puzzle reveal chimes.
  • Berserk Button: Don't solve a puzzle if there's a pink or blue square open and only one Stopper left, unless that Stopper is the only letter in front of you.
  • The Chew Toy: The show's head writer, Gary Johnson. Whenever an unusually bizarre clue came up, Chuck would ask, "This is another one of Gary's [clues], isn't it?" More often than not, it was.
  • Companion Cube: Literally, the game board was a giant revolving cube, with two sides for Crossword/Sprint rounds, and two sides that were basic Scrabble boards with neon. On one episode, the game board started sliding back during a round. Once the technicians fixed it, Chuck told the board "Sit! Stay!"
    • One of the changes for the '93 version was that it didn't revolve- but this was because at some point between the 1990 Edwards pilot and the '93, the cube's motor got damaged somehow and it couldn't turn anymore.
  • A Day in the Limelight: During a special week where various game show hosts (including Jamie Farr, who never actually hosted a full-time game show and was promoted as being host of NBC's Double Up, which ended up not selling) played for home viewers, Chuck played several games with Marc Summers as host; in one game, Chuck won $12,000.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • For the first 2¼-years, the games straddled. Two new contestants competed in the Crossword Game, with the winning contestant competing against the returning champion. A contestant who won five matches won a total of $20,000 (originally $28,000), while a 10-time champion granted him/her a total of $40,000 (originally $55,500) and rendered him/her undefeated.
    • The bonus squares were for decoration for most of the first three months. Starting in October 1984, $500 was awarded for correct guess on the blue square, and $1,000 was awarded for the pink. These bonuses were dropped briefly with the Spelling format in 1985, and also starting in 1985, Woolery started handing out to them in fake money called "Chuck Bucks".
    • The first week Crossword Game add money into a pot for each letter (an element carried over from the pilot), and the Sprint round was worth three times the winning Crossword amount instead of $1,500.
    • Originally, the Sprint round had contestants call out words from their choice of the blue or pink envelope. In March 1985, this was changed to having them play the same three words, with the returning champion being ushered into an isolation booth.
    • In the Sprint round, if a letter was called, the other was removed instantly; in January 1985, it was changed to have the other letter go back into the shuffle.
    • Originally, if a champion retired undefeated, another Sprint round would be played with two new contestants to find a replacement. This was done only one time on the July 24, 1984 show, after Annie McCormick retired undefeated, and this was changed to playing a second consecutive Crossword round.
    • The short-lived spelling format offered $50 for a white square, $100 for a blue square, and $200 for a pink square; near the end, the pink square became $500.
  • Freudian Slip: "All righty, let's recrap the scores... recap them, actually."
  • Grand Finale: The 1990 finale ended with Chuck thanking the staff and crew for the past six years, followed by a $6,000 Sprint win. The champ, George Sealy, came back to defend his title when the series returned in 1993.
  • Halloween Special: With the contestants dressed in costume. This would usually be the basis for the one-phrase introductions Charlie Tuna would use at the beginning of each round, such as "He's a real Bozo; she'll move her tail for you," for a man dressed as a clown and a woman dressed as a cat.
  • Hurricane of Puns: The clues for the words.
  • In-Name-Only: The mechanics of the game show had very little to do with the board game itself.
  • Opening Narration: See above.
    • "This is [Contestant's name here]! In just a few moments he/she could win $20,000note  today on Scrabble!"note 
  • Pink Girl, Blue Boy: The contestants' nametags.
  • Scrabble Babble: Sorry, averted. However, the Scrabble game show sometimes used proper names, which are forbidden in the traditional game.
  • Shout-Out: During the first Tournament of Champions from February 1985, Chuck said that they borrowed the glass suitcase from Sale Of The Century, another Reg Grundy series that also aired on NBC.
  • Stock Footage: From 1984-86, each episode began with a shot of the set from the '84 pilot. The set in the pilot had a faster chase light configuration than the one for the series. After the opening spiel, the shot from the current episode, with host Chuck Woolery making his entrance, was then shown. In the Summer of 1986, the studio audience began appearing on camera.
  • Spiritual Successor: Scrabble Showdown on The Hub, with the "Scrabble Lightning" round featuring similar gameplay (complete with punny clues).
  • Stage Money: On the original series, Chuck would walk to the contestants and hand out bonus money if they answered correctly after hitting a pink or blue square. The bills were printed with his picture and referred to as "Chuck Bucks". In 1993, the money just went into a pot for the Sprint.
  • Sweeps:
    • The show regularly did tournament weeks during these occasions, featuring past champions, teens, teen stars, game show hosts, and soap stars, among others.
    • One in particular was instrumental in establishing the show's better-known format: "The $100,000 All-American Scrabble Tournament", which ran for 13 weeks from September 29 to December 26, 1986 (64 episodes due to a Thanksgiving preemption). 188 of the best players were selected via a nationwide search. Four of them competed in each episode in preliminary matches from Monday-Thursday. There were two Crossword Rounds (with the typical $500 and $1,000 bonuses for blue and pink squares respectively), and each was followed by a Scrabble Sprint round. The winner of the first Crossword Round won $500, and played four words of six, seven, eight, and nine letters to try to set a time for the winner of the second Crossword Round between two other players. That player would try to beat the time set by the first player, and if s/he did so, they would win $1,000, and advance to the next round.
      • On Friday, the four daily winners competed in two quarterfinal matches, and whoever won the second Sprint Round won $5,000 and advanced to the semifinals round for the final week of the tournament. For the ninth week, a wild card player was chosen for that week's quarterfinal matches.
      • During the final week (December 22-26), the 12 winners and four wild card players competed in semifinals matches, with the four finalists competing in that Friday's final matches for the grand prize of $100,000. The winner was future Win Ben Stein's Money champion Mark Bartos, with a grand total of $114,500 ($14,500 of which he earned during the Crossword Games and Sprints).
      • The following Monday, this format was adapted and slightly modified for the purposes of regular episodes and future tournaments, adding the Bonus Sprint. In addition, these $100,000 Tourney episodes were the very first to be shown on USA Network in Fall 1991.
  • Take That: On the 1990 finale, after the second word, Chuck wondered whether he had been cancelled and the show was all right.
    Chuck: I kept telling 'em, "Look, find somebody else to do it, it'll be a huge hit. Look what happened to Wheel!"