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Series / Blackout

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"Blackout — it's not your average game show!"
Tagline spoken in several promos for the series.

Describe Blackout here.

CBS Game Show hosted by Bob Goen and produced by Jay Wolpert, whose other major contribution to the game show world was Whew! Thankfully, the game this time around isn't as unnecessarily complicated.

Nice job blacking out, there.

In each round, two celebrity/civilian teams had to successfully fill in the four blanks of a sentence with clue words. One team had its celebrity record 20 seconds of themselves describing one of the words in the puzzle, while the other player wore headphones so they couldn't hear it. (They would switch seats the following round.) However, once the description was played back to the contestant, the other team could hold down a plunger in front of them known as the "Blackout Button." The Button allowed its user to mute out up to seven seconds of the description, hopefully removing enough key information to prevent the contestant from guessing correctly, since doing so would earn their team $100 and a chance to solve the puzzle. (An extra second of Blackout time would be accorded for each duplicated key word). Teams alternated giving, censoring, and solving until a team solved two puzzles, which gave them the chance to play for $10,000 in the bonus round.

In the event of a tie, there would be a sudden death round where the leading player would have the option of describing the single word (for ten seconds) or censoring three seconds of the description. Again, every duplicated key word would allow the opponent to mute out an extra second of the playback. Since neither teammate could hear the description, the wrong word would automatically lose. (Incidentally, if the player describing the word slips up and mentions the word, that player's team automatically loses.)

In addition to Jay Wolpert, the show was also produced by Taft Entertainment Television, a media company rooted in the family of William Howard Taft. Amusingly, Taft Broadcasting at this time was also co-producing Entertainment Tonight, which Bob Goen would later join as co-anchor long after Taft ceased co-producing the series.

Blackout is a cult classic whose brevity can be chalked up to bad timing and stiff competition — it replaced The $25,000 Pyramid on January 4, 1988 and faced not only the still-popular Sale of the Century on NBC but also a massive outcry from viewers toward the network for killing off the Dick Clark-hosted game; while compounding things was behind the scenes turmoil, as during the run of Blackout production company Taft Broadcasting was the target of a successful hostile takeover that led to it being renamed Great American Broadcasting (the Taft name would go to a company started by another member of the Taft family) and undergoing massive restructuring. The resulting low ratings caused Blackout to be canned on April 1. The show was then replaced with a final 13 weeks of Pyramid, which would be canned (for good this time) on July 1 in favor of Ray Combs' Family Feud.

Should not be confused with the book or video game of the same name.

This show provides examples of:

  • Adjustable Censorship: The Blackout Button's main purpose is to mute words that might lead an opponent to solving a puzzle.
  • Animated Credits Opening: Wolpert seemed to like animated intros; this one was a demonstration of the game mechanic at a restaurant table with a fast-talking lady (actually a sped-up recording of Wolpert's wife).
  • The Announcer: Johnny Gilbert for most of the run, Jay Stewart for the last two weeks when Gilbert became ill. Stewart had been fired from Sale a few months earlier due to severe alcoholism, and this appears to have been his last professional work before committing suicide in 1989.
  • Bonus Round: The Clue Screen. While one member of the winning team viewed the incoming clues on the screen (up to six), the other would have their back to this screen and would have to await a cue ("Solve it!") before turning around to see all of the accumulated clues at once. The cycle would repeat until they either ran out of time (70 seconds) or gave five correct answers, which would win $10,000.
  • Losing Horns: A virtual staple of Wolpert's games. Here, bizarre "electronic" ones were used for bonus losses.
  • Pilot: One taped in 1986, with Robb Weller in his first hosting gig outside Entertainment Tonightnote  (he would later host the final syndicated season of Win, Lose or Draw, and unsold revival attempts of Split Second (1972) and All-Star Blitz), and Dean Goss announcing. Though a full version hasn't surfaced yet, a clip was seen, oddly enough, in the intro to the ABC miniseries The Stand (1994). (Said mini-series was produced by Laurel Productions, in turn a subsidiary of Spelling Entertainment, which in turn had acquired the Taft Entertainment Television library along with Worldvision Enterprises in the late 1980s, presumably explaining how it got there.)
  • Porn Stache: Goen had one. He got rid of it for some Sears commercials in 1989, and has kept it off ever since.
  • Show the Folks at Home: Only used for the sudden-death word.
  • Soundproof Booth: The contestants wore headphones when needed, but rather than going into a booth, the seat and table half the contestant sat at literally slid forward instead.
  • Think Music: Again in the vein of several other Wolpert shows, a piece involving Truck Driver's Gear Change and alternating notes that played on each second was used during the Bonus Round. Another brief piece is used during the 5 seconds given to think about the puzzle before attempting to solve it.