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Series / Blockbusters

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It's time to play Blockbusters!note 

"This is the battlefield for our game of speed and strategy. These are the letters which lead to victory on Blockbusters!"

Game Show created by Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions which aired on NBC from 1980 to 1982 with Bill Cullen as host. It was basically a game-show version of the board game Hex, featuring a 5-by-4 board of hexagons, each containing a letter that was also the first letter in an answer to a question (e.g., "What 'K' did Miss Piggy have a crush on?"Answer). The original version was also noted for the fact that it pitted one player against a "family pair" (i.e., two closely related people playing together); the family pair had to make a connection of white hexagons going across, while the solo player worked from top to bottom with red hexagons. The game was played best-of-three, and the winner went on to the Gold Run (or Gold Rush) Bonus Round.

A revival aired for a few months in 1987 with Bill Rafferty as host, and the family pair replaced by another solo player. On May 4, it was replaced by Classic Concentration.

Blockbusters has been more of a long runner in the United Kingdom, running in various forms from 1983 to 2001 on ITV, Sky One and BBC Two, a one-off special as part of the 2007 Gameshow Marathon, and two revival series, firstly on Challenge from May to August 2012 followed by a second on Comedy Central in 2019.

Not to be confused with the Work Com Blockbuster.

"What 'T' refers to a literary device or convention, can also describe a term in music, philosophy, or math, and is often catalogued on a fan wiki whose name begins with 'TV'?"

  • 12-Bar Blues: The Cullen version's theme used this.
  • The Announcer: Bob Hilton during most of the Cullen run, Rich Jeffries during the tail end of the Cullen run and the Rafferty era.
  • Bonus Round: The Gold Run. The hexagons on the board can now contain up to five initials each. Starting at the left side, the contestant chooses one hex at a time and must give the expanded form of the initials in response to a clue. A pass or wrong answer blacks out the hex and the contestant must work around it. Completing a left-to-right path within 60 seconds awards $5,000 (US version) or a prize (British version). In the Cullen run, the round was originally called the (Super) Gold Rush during the original $2,500/$5,000 payouts.
  • Carried by the Host: This hasn't got much of a game to it - it was Bob who really made this show a hit.
  • Catchphrase:
    • The immortal "Can I have a 'P', please, Bob?" from the British version.
    • Another one from the British version: "(And) That's Blockbusters!" was used when a player or team won a round.
      • And when it came time for a Gold Run: "Put yourself on the Hot Spot, please!"
    • Stateside: Cullen's frequent Rules Spiel of Blockbusters pitting a solo player against a family pair "to see if two heads really are better than one," and Rafferty's frequent mentioning of a losing player headed for "the land of parting gifts."
  • Color-Coded Characters: In the Cullen version, the solo player played as red, while the two player team was white. In the United Kingdom, the solo player is white, and the two-player team is blue (briefly purple). In the Rafferty run, however, the champion player was white, while the challenger was red.
  • Consolation Prize: Contestants who lost in the Gold Run won $100 per hex they had claimed. In the UK version, it was £5 (later £10) per hex for most of the run; the current version on Comedy Central gives £50 per hex. There is, however, the added caveat of contestants being one-and-done.
  • Dancing Theme: The British version featured the hand jive. This was usually performed once every five episodes. (They filmed five episodes in a day, so they'd let the audience do the hand jive at the end of the day.) One episode featured a contestant who had brought a set of juggling balls, and the ending credits featured said contestant juggling as the credits rolled.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Both American hosts, though Cullen was more good-natured about it while Rafferty was more sarcastic.
  • Game-Breaking Bug:
    • Averted in the front game, as it's completely impossible to achieve a tie. A space that will result in a win for either side was called a "Dual Implication" by Rafferty, a term used in retrospect for other matches. In the UK version, a situation like this was normally addressed as being "Blockbusters either way" at first, or a "mutual space" later in the run.
    • A Cullen Gold Run playing became strange partway through, with the contestant unable to select three of the spaces — they had turned into "polka dot clown things". He still managed to win on his own, however.
  • Game Show Host: Bill Cullen from 1980-82, Bill Rafferty in 1987. Bob Holness is mostly remembered for helming the British version, with Michael Aspel, Liza Tarbuck, Simon Mayo and Dara Ó Briain succeeding him in the BBC, Sky One, Challenge and Comedy Central revivals respectively.
  • Game Show Winnings Cap:
    • Contestants could originally stay on for eight matches, then 10, then 20. When the cap was raised, many eight- and 10-time champs returned.
    • In the UK, it was five matches, then down to three (to allow more contestants to play, and give more people the chance at the big prize offered for the final Gold Run). The revivals put it back up to five, except that the Comedy Central version doesn't have returning champions.
    • The Rafferty version reverted to the 10-match limit.
  • Grand Finale: The last Cullen episode ended with a $5,000 win by returning contestant Gene Visich, followed by Cullen giving the stats on how all the solo players and family teams did over the show's 18-month run (about even, actually; solo players won a few more games, but family pairs won a bit more money).
  • High-Tech Hexagons: Hexagons are, naturally, all over the sets, but the mid-1980s "cityscape" intro used by the British version was perhaps the highest this trope got.
  • Home Game:
    • One was issued in late 1981 from Milton Bradley. The vertical board was upside-down, and the red/white rub-and-stick overlays usually began falling off when more than six or seven were put on.
    • The British version of the home game, released by Waddingtons, featured a game board resembling that used on the show, with the letters being represented by five relocatable cardboard strips with four letters each on, and the blue/white pieces made of plastic with a peg for pulling them out once the game was finished with. At first, there was only material for the front game, and a Gold Run card game was released separately; they were combined for the Super Blockbusters edition in 1989.
  • Inflation Negation:
    • The UK version on Challenge (basically the UK equivalent of GSN) pays out the same £5 per hex in the main game as all the other UK versions did. (At least the two-player team didn't have to split the money; each player on the team got the team's total.) A Gold Run failure paid £10 per hex, same as most of the other UK versions (the earliest paid the same £5 per hex).
      • Averted on the Comedy Central version, which pays £20 per hex in the main game, and £50 per hex for a Gold Run failure.
    • The 1987 version paid out only $100 per game won, as opposed to $500 per game in the original.
  • Laugh Track: Being an NBC show, it used the "Mother MacKenzie" applause machine constantly. Cullen even lampshaded this on one occasion - after telling a joke so bad that the guy in the sound effects booth sounded the Losing Horns, he asked "Can't we do this show with just an applause machine?", to which someone (most likely announcer Bob Hilton) replied "We are."
  • Logo Joke: When the British version debuted the famous "city" intro in 1987, it originally featured the Central moon cross-fading into an image of the Earth; beginning in 1988, the Central ident was removed, as all "frontcaps" from ITV-produced shows identifying the station that made the programme were removed (in an effort to "declutter" the presentation), but the Earth bit remained to the end of the Holness era.
  • Losing Horns:
    • Both American versions had their own renditions (Type A), each based on that version's Theme Tune.
    • Most runs of the British version used a Type B (three notes) as the Gold Run's time buzzer. The version on Challenge fused a Type A (a muted downward whoosh sound) with a re-instrumentated version of their original Type B. There were two exceptions to this: the 2000 version with Liza Tarbuck simply used a low-pitched tone similar to a bell, and the current version on Comedy Central uses a sound resembling a computer powering down.
  • Lower Half Reveal: The contestants mostly sit behind a desk, and their lower half is only revealed if they take part in a gold run. One contestant who wore very outlandish outfits said "if only you could see my shorts", which were revealed when he went for a gold run, and gave his legs a wiggle.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The 2012 British revival had this with the opening credits, featuring futuristic hexagonal skyscrapers and a globe, much like its 1987 counterpart (right down to the timing with the theme). It also shows a giant gold head, much like its 1997 counterpart.
    • The 1987 Rafferty revival combined both the solo player and family pair buzz-in sound effects from the Cullen version for use with both players; the set, meanwhile used a blue-and-gold color scheme recalling both the set from the tail end of Cullen's run (when it had changed to a blue backdrop) and the UK version to a lesser extent.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: After the first few weeks, the rules were slightly changed to consolidate the $2,500/$5,000 (Super) Gold Rushes into the Gold Run worth $5,000.
  • Opening Narration: Quoted at the top of the page. The Rafferty era changed it to "Get ready for our game of skill and strategy... [hexagonal board forms and dances about, then as logo appears:] ...Blockbusters! Now, here's the star of Blockbusters, Bill Rafferty!"
  • Phrase Catcher: From the British version, "Can I have a P, please, Bob?"
    • When the contestants ask Simon Mayo for the P space on the current version, it's usually met with laughter and cheering.
  • Pilot: At least three pilots were made for the Cullen version on October 21, 1980, and they were a bit different from the series, naturally.
    • Firstly, each game was worth $250 and it took $500 to win the match. The winner of the first game faced a special "Shortcut to Victory" round involving three Gold Rush-style questions in a single category, and could either play it or pass to the opponent. For each question, the player in control had to call out both the correct answer and its initials. Three correct answers awarded $250, but a miss on any question gave the money to the opponent; if the scores ended up tied at $250 each, another game was then played to decide the match.
    • In the Gold Rush, each hexagon in the far right column had a dollar amount from $1,000 to $10,000 hidden next to it. If the champion won the round, they received the money for the hex they had used to complete the path.
    • The board used green instead of beige for the unclaimed hexagons, the players' podiums had scoreboards set into them (later covered up when the series premiered), and Cullen's podium wasn't as detailed. A photo from pilot #1 appears in the 3rd edition of The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows.
  • Progressive Jackpot: Partway through the Rafferty version, the $5,000 in the Gold Run was changed to that amount plus another $5,000 for every day a returning champion didn't win it; however, if a challenger won the game, the jackpot was reset to $5,000.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: The Rafferty era's theme was built on a stock piece of music called "Run, Don't Walk", which has been used in numerous other commercials and projects. It was composed by British composer Richard Myhill, and first appeared on his 1983 LP Up Front.
  • Shout-Out:
    • At least twice, "Bill Cullen" was an answer in the Gold Run; one of these also name-dropped Cullen's earlier Eye Guess. There was also a shout out to I've Got a Secret with the clue "Garry Moore game show" (Bill was a regular panelist during the 1952-67 run).
    • At least once, "Bill Rafferty" was an answer in the 1987 revival's Gold Run, referencing his stint as the host of the proto-reality show Real People.
  • Special Effects Evolution: The first British intro was a relatively boring one, showing hexagons with images in them flipping towards the camera while a dictionary scrolled by, before a lens flare transitioned to the logo. The intro introduced in 1986 famously had glowing hexagons flying around a futuristic cityscape, with model work akin to something from a sci-fi series, before heading through a CGI gallery full of artwork, breaking through the gameboard and flying away as the camera zooms up to the depiction of Zeus above the set.
  • Tiebreaker Round: On the current UK version on Comedy Central, if the match gets to one-all, a single question (the so-called "Hexagon Standoff") with multiple clues is read. A correct answer wins the match; a wrong answer hands the match to the other team.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent:
    • The British version, of course.
    • Parodied by Cullen on one occasion:
      Cullen: We have a woman in our audience who watches this show in the Netherlands. We asked her what the title of the show is in Dutch. It's called Hide Your Windmills, Here Comes Don Quixote. You have to make a path from the canal to the wooden shoe. Do that and you win 5,000 tulips.
    • There was an Australian version from 1990 to 1993 on Seven Network. It was basically a mish-mash of the Holness version (including reusing most of the "cityscape" intro, though with a different theme; furthermore, it was cut short to prevent the hexagons from flying onto the British set), and the Rafferty era (big blue hexagon for the in-studio gameboard, CGI gameboard superimposed for the viewers with a red-white-green coloration), albeit with two teams of two (each side gets the shorter path once, and if the match goes to one-all, a tiebreaker is played on a 4×4 grid). Each team represented a school, and each school sent several teams to play over the course of a week, with the winning school (based on most correct answers, bar tie-breaking grids) winning a prize such as a set of encyclopedias. Also, in the Gold Run, there was no consolation prize for failure nor did correct answers count towards your team's score, so if you blocked yourself off from that gold-to-gold connection it was Game Over right there.
    • There was also a German version called Grips (and later, Super Grips), which played like the Cullen and UK versions. There's at least one episode on YouTube, which seems to indicate that the time limit for the Gold Run starts at 20 seconds (so you can't really screw around) and goes up with each failure (but back to 20 seconds after a win), much like the car game on the aforementioned Classic Concentration.
  • Viewers Are Goldfish: In the UK revival, the start of every edition has the host explain just how the game is played, showing the viewers how the game is won as well. This carries over into the Gold Run every time.