Series: The Joker's Wild

Here's the game where knowledge is king, and Lady Luck is queen! It's The Joker's Wild!

Jack Barry-created Game Show during his post-scandal exile from TV in the 1960s. Two contestants took turns spinning an oversized slot machine. Each of its three wheels had five trivia categories and a Joker, which players could use to represent any category in the game.

Barry produced the first Joker pilot for CBS on December 8, 1968, followed by a second attempt on January 5, 1969, and a third (The Honeymoon Game) on October 3, 1970. The series finally landed in 1971 for about three months on KTLA, followed by a three-year run (197275) on CBS and two syndicated revivals.

Jack was host and producer from 1971 to 1984, with partner Dan Enright returning in 1977. During this time, it became part of a 90-minute syndicated block with sibling series Tic-Tac-Dough and Play The Percentages (the latter replaced by Bullseye). Bill Cullen carried the show from 1984 to 1986, with occasional fill-ins by Jim Peck. Pat Finn was the host of a series retool in 1990/91.

Game Show Tropes in use:

  • All or Nothing: The Fast Forward category. After every correct answer, the player could either end his turn or take another question at the same value. If he missed a question at any point, his turn ended and he lost all the money he'd won on that turn. This often led to the opportunity for large comebacks.
    • The "Bid" category. The player decided in advance how many questions he wanted to answer; if he got all of them right, he won the total amount (ex. 3 questions at $100 each = $300). One wrong answer, and the opponent got a chance to complete the bid and win all the money. note 
  • Audience Participation: Several were done over time.
    • The first known instance was for the week of March 3, 1975: After every Face the Devil, Johnny Jacobs called down an audience member to play the Face the Devil for the same prizes from a duplicate large handle located at the foot of the audience.
    • On March 31, 1975, a tweaked version debuted for the next three weeks: This time, how the normal Face the Devil player did affected how many spins an audience member would get spinning less than $500 (regardless of outcome) gave the audience player three spins, $500-$975 awarded four spins, and winning Face the Devil gave the audience player five spins. Hitting a Devil on the first spin meant no audience game was played.
      • After this, Jack presented the player with a choice of three envelopes, each containing the name of an audience member. That player and the champ played a variant of the "Jokers and Devils" endgame: Spinning Joker-Joker-Joker awarded $100 to each player, and every subsequent Joker-Joker-Joker doubled it for a maximum of $1,600. A Devil took away both players' money, but gave the audience member a consolation prize.
    • During the later seasons of the syndicated run, at the end of an episode three audience members each took one spin, with dollar amounts from $10 to $100 on the reels. They each got to keep whatever total they spun, and the high scorer then played "Face the Devil" for a bonus prize and more cash, using the same rules and dollar amounts ($25-$200) as the onstage contestants.
    • The 1990s version had an audience game, albeit only to fill in time when the endgame ended early, and had people picked from the audience playing the standard endgame; two spins to match anything for $100.
  • Bonus Round: Many of them over time.
    • 1968-71: The winning player, after winning $250 for the game, could spin up to three times, taking whatever showed up on the reels (ranging from Zonks to big prizes and cash) after each spin. The Honeymoon Game ended it with an extra Lets Make A Deal-style choice of three numbered slides, each of which contained a very decent honeymoon vacation.
    • September 4 and 5, 1972: Same as before, but with only two spins. Some prizes had a black circle around them, and spinning three of those circles also won a new car.
    • September 618, 1972: Same as before, but the circles were gone and the car was among the prizes that could be spun (along with other nice items such as boats and trips).
    • September 18, 1972 - circa June 1974: The wheels now contained Jokers and Devils. The winner got three spins (originally four), and won a prize of increasing value each time three Jokers appeared. If a Devil appeared at any point, the player lost their prizes from that bonus round. (And no, that isn't a typo the format changed mid-episode.note )
    • Beginning sometime between late April 1973 and Episode #418 (taped May 6, 1974), the bonus game became "The Money Wheels": The winner spun the reels for money while trying to avoid a Devil, and accumulating $1,000 or more awarded a prize package worth about $1,500 (although later in the CBS run, the cash was added to that total). Around September 1974, the game was renamed "Face the Devil".
      • A slight modification was used as the audience game from about 1982 to 1985: three audience members spun the reels once for small amounts of money, and the person with the highest total played Face the Devil for cash and a decent prize. (Originally played weekly, it became daily in 1983.)
    • 1990/91: Various prizes (trips, merchandise, and cash from $500-$2,000) were on the displays, and could be frozen after each spin; three of anything won. Jokers couldn't be frozen, however, and had to be converted...but spinning three Jokers won the Joker's Jackpot, which at one point got as high as $36,000.
  • Bonus Space:
    • The Joker was wild, as per the title, and could be matched with any displayed category to double its value. The player could also use a Joker to call for a category that hadn't come up in the spin, referred to as "going off the board"; if a category such as Fast Forward, Stumpers, or Mystery was in use, a trailing player could use them in conjunction with Jokers to attempt a large comeback. Spinning three Jokers originally won the game automatically, but this was quickly changed to require a correct answer from any of the categories.
    • The Honeymoon Game used Bonus for the semi-finals, which added a point to that couple's score and nothing more. The finals had the middle reel continuously occupied by Take A-Chance, which could only be taken if the question was answered correctly and contained anything from Add $50 to Deduct $100 (which was kind of dumb, since the only three dollar amounts shown for the questions were $10, $30, and $100).
    • For at least the week of September 16, 1974, to celebrate the show's 3rd Anniversary, special "Jackpot Jokers" were placed on the reels. Spinning three of them awarded a 45-day trip around the world worth nearly $4,000 plus a cash jackpot that started at $250 and increased by that amount every day it wasn't won.
    • For a time beginning on January 8, 1975, there was a "Lucky Hundreds" promotion where the $100 spaces in Face the Devil were marked "Lucky", with Four Leaf Clovers. Spinning three Lucky $100 amounts won not only the bonus game (due to being a natural triple), but also a $7,200 trip and $3,000 cash. Beginning on January 15, the show began adding $100 to the cash bonus per day, which would grow until the trip was won or the prize package (trip and cash) reached $15,000.
  • Celebrity Edition: A panel, referred to as "living categories", was part of the 1968 and 1970 pilots. The concept returned for a special week in January 1974.
  • Double The Dollars: A rare case where this was for questions, not the entire round.
    • The "Mystery(?)" category in each game was played for double value if chosen (see below for details).
    • The "Stumpers" category in the second incarnation consisted entirely of questions that were missed by both contestants in a previous episode. When a player chose this category, s/he could hear the two wrong guesses and play for the normal value, or decline this help and go for double (originally a flat $100 extra in the first incarnation). If the player declined the help and missed, the opponent got to hear the wrong answers and played for the normal value.
  • Golden Snitch: Several instances.
    • In the main game, a contestant who spun three Jokers could win the game by correctly answering one question in any category, regardless of whether a full round was played. This could easily render every other event within a game irrelevant.
      • Also possible if a player hit a triple on Mystery ($400) or Stumpers ($400 if s/he decided not to hear the two previous wrong answers).
      • This was different during Tournaments of Champions, though. If the "challenger" (first person spinning) did this first, or was otherwise first to reach $500, the "champion" was allowed one last spin in hope of tying or winning.
    • The 197786 syndicated series originally had a bonus prize for anyone who spun three of the same category with no Jokers. This later became a Natural Triple Jackpot, a growing prize package. A prize was added for every game in which a Natural Triple didn't occur. However, winning this jackpot had no effect on the scoring.
    • In the syndicated bonus round, getting three of the same dollar amount on any spin was an automatic win.
  • Home Game: Milton Bradley made three of the adult series and one of the children's spinoff. Philips also released two video game versions of the show in 1994 (over three years after the show was last seen in first run)—an adult version and a junior version.
  • Let's Just See What WOULD Have Happened: Often done if a contestant walked in the "Face the Devil" round before hitting $1,000.
  • Mystery(?): This category (which debuted close to the end of the CBS run, on January 30, 1975) was always played for double normal value ($100/$200/$400).
    • A rack of seven "?" cards was mounted on the front of Jack's podium whenever this category was used, and the contestant would call for one of them by number. Jack would then read off the category (a different one for each card, never the same as any of the others in play for that game), ask the question, and put the card out of play after it had been answered.
  • Personnel:
    • The Announcer: Johnny Jacobs, Jay Stewart, and Charlie O'Donnell the typical B&E trifecta. One notable substitute was Marc Summers, then a CBS page, in his first television role. Ed MacKay announced the 1990 revival, and Charlie handled announcing duties on the CD-i versions.
    • Game Show Host: Allen Ludden hosted in the 1960s, followed by Jim McKrell in The Honeymoon Game. Jack Barry hosted from 1971 to 1984, followed by Bill Cullen from 1984 to 1986 and Pat Finn in the 1990s. Jim Peck substituted occasionally during the 1981-84 period, and again in 1986.
      • Barry had originally planned to retire at the end of the 1983-84 season and turn over hosting duties to Peck. However, after Barry's death, Dan Enright picked Cullen as the new host instead.
      • For the CD-i games, the hosts were Wink Martindale (regular) and Marc Summers (The Joker's Wild Jr.).
    • Studio Audience: One person played during two brief stints in March-April 1975, with the second iteration using the "Jokers and Devils" endgame. Three members played in a special audience game once a week from 1981 to 1982, then on every show from 1982 to 1986; for the last two seasons (with Cullen), the game was amended to use two audience members and a home viewer (who spun, in a neat effect, using their touch-tone phone keypad).
  • Progressive Jackpot:
    • The original Joker's Jackpot, described below, was used from September 1972 to at least December 1973. It was likely ditched when The Money Wheels/Face the Devil debuted.
    • The Natural Triple Jackpot. While the original version used from about 1974 to 1975 awarded a small prize worth about $300, the revamped version used from 1983 to 1986 awarded a prize package for spinning three of the same category. A new prize was added for each game it wasn't won.
  • Whammy: Spinning a Devil in the bonus round took away the cash accumulated in that playing and ended the game.
  • Zonk: Some of the prizes in the 196872 Bonus Round.

This show provides examples of:

  • Art Evolution: The slides went from pictures of celebrity panelists and just category names (the pre-Jack pilots) to black-and-white pictures on colored backgrounds (starting with the Jack Barry shows, up until then only the "Joker" was multicolored with white face), and by the time of Joker! Joker!! Joker!!! colored pictures and backgrounds (the obvious sign of this was the friendly "Joker" facing and smiling at the public; the original "Joker" was only seen with the side of the face).
    • A more obvious example might be the "Disney" slides: The first one had a hand drawing Chip the chipmunk on a brown background; the second had a light blue background with Mickey, Donald, and Tinkerbell in front of Cinderella's castle (all very noticeably off model).
  • Auction: Two categories applied both the normal and reverse kinds.
    • "Just One More" was a category where there was a question with multiple answers, and the contestants bid on how many answers they could get right in a row. If the winning bidder couldn't get all the answers then (much like Family Feud) the other player needed to give one more right answer to win the question and the cash.
    • "How Low Will You Go?" was a reverse auction where a question was given, with a list of eight clues to the right answer. One clue was read at the outset, and the players bid back and forth as to how few of the other seven they would need. A wrong answer by the winning bidder meant that the opponent got to hear all of the clues before responding.
  • Christmas Episode: The very first one in 1972 had "Santas" and "Scrooges" replacing Jokers and Devils, respectively, for the bonus round. Also, one of the contestants was a department store Santa who played the game in a Santa suit and was even introduced by Johnny Jacobs as Santa.
  • Every Episode Ending: When series creator Jack Barry hosted, each episode usually ended with him asking the contestants "Can you come back tomorrow on the next show?" (even though it was really, for the most part, just a 30-minute costume change for the host and contestants). The contestants replied yes, and Barry would say his usual closing spiel.
  • Guest Host: Jim Peck filled in for both Barry and Cullen at various points.
    • Like many other game shows at the time, Joker also had various guest announcers. One of them was, believe it or not, the aforementioned Marc Summers! (He was a 22-year-old page at CBS at the time.)
  • Luck-Based Mission: Typical of a Barry-Enright game show; winning the bonus round was simply based on luck (i.e., get $1,000 or more in as many spins as necessary without hitting the Devil).
    • Also applies to the main game. If the challenger reached $500 first and was leading by more than $50, it was always possible for the champion to spin a combination with a low enough value to make him lose by default.
  • Obvious Rule Patch:
    • In a holdover from shows like 21 and The $64,000 Question, Joker originally had a rule in which winning contestants had to risk losing the money they won if they wanted to play another game. If they played another game and lost, their money (but not prizes won in the bonus game) would be deposited into the "Joker's Jackpot", which would be awarded to any player who won five games (quickly reduced to three). This caused many contestants to go home with only parting gifts, even if they won three or four rounds.
    • The 1990s version changed on January 7, 1991, to using categories in the main game, with everything else remaining as it was. The last three episodes (March 6-8) reverted back to the money format, most likely to avoid straddling.
    • When the show began the champion sat at the left spot (from Jack's P.O.V.), and the new contestant on the right. This was most likely changed so the Champion could have one final spin once his opponent hits $500.
  • Pilot: At least five.
    • December 8, 1968: The first known attempt was recorded in grayscale with Allen Ludden as host (CBS executives did not yet trust Barry to work on-camera). Each category corresponded to one of five celebrity panelists, who read the questions themselves; question values were worth from 1-3 points depending on the spin, the players answered 1-3 questions depending on the spin, and the contestants played to 13 points. Three Jokers earned a pick of the categories for a possible win.
    • January 5, 1969: Produced in color with Ludden returning as host, however without the celebrity panel (note that the camera is trying not to show anything to the right of the Joker Machine's border, although it caught a bit of the "celebrity" desk anyway).
    • October 3, 1970: The Honeymoon Game, a weekly 90-minute(!) game hosted by Jim McKrell, used the 1968 format for the last two-thirds of the show (including, yes, the celebrity panel). About the first third... 
    • The Pilot for the 1990-1991 revival, taped in September 1989, had a less-frightening logo on top of the Joker Machine.
    • A fifth pilot was shot in 2006 for a planned revival, alongside another game show format called Combination Lock that had been bounced around since the late 1990s. Both pilots were planned for 2007 debuts, but neither series was picked up.
  • Replaced the Theme Tune: And how.
    • The CBS version used Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley's "The Savers", a rare example of a Real Song Theme Tune being used on a game show. Beginning on October 21, 1974, it used "Joker's Jive", a Suspiciously Similar Song composed by Alan Thicke.
    • When the show returned in 1977, "The Savers" returned as the opening theme and "Joker's Jive" was the closer. Beginning in 1978, Hal Hidey's rearranged version of "The Savers" became the opening theme, and an original Hidey composition unofficially called "The Whistle Theme" became the closer.
    • A 1980 tournament borrowed the theme from another Barry-Enright show, Break the Bank.
  • Spin-Off: Joker! Joker! Joker!, a children's version which ran from 1979 to 1981. Notable for being one of the few weekly syndicated games, and one of the few children's games, to use returning champs.
  • Take a Third Option: If no Jokers were spun, the player had to choose a question for the full amount in one of the categories on the reels ($50 for a single, $100 for a pair, or $200 for a natural triple). However, if one or two Jokers came up, the player could go "off the board" and choose a category they liked better that wasn't displayed. Also, while a Joker could be played to increase the value of a displayed category, players often chose not to do so if the full amount would allow the opponent to win or take the lead.
    • If a pair and a Joker came up, the player could discard the pair but use the Joker to go "off the board" in that category, playing for $50 rather than $100. This was the only situation in which a displayed category could be played for less than its full value.
    • If the challenger reached $500 first during a game in which the Bid or Fast Forward category was in play, the champion could tie or win either by spinning and choosing that category, or by spinning at least one Joker and going "off the board" in the category.

Can you come back on the next show? note  See you all next time on TV Tropes!

Alternative Title(s):

The Jokers Wild, Ptitlec6ffie 15