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Series / Break the Bank (1985)

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Time is the key that will open this vault door for one of these lucky couples, as they try to... BREAK THE BANK!
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The third of three different Game Shows with this name, from Kline & Friends note  was syndicated from 1985-86. Married couples played puzzles in this format, competing for time to play an elaborate Bonus Round. In this round, the winning couple participates in various timed stunts; completing a stunt won a punch card which could be used to help "Break the Bank" and win a jackpot of cash and prizes.

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It was Gene Rayburn's last series on broadcast TV; Joe Farago replaced him fourteen weeks into the run.


This version provides examples of:

  • The Artifact: Once the stunts were ditched, just about half the set became this- the keypad on the Prize Vault door and the display on the host's podium weren't used (for the latter, they just covered up the display); the entire back half of the set (where the stunts were) was filled with examples of prizes, and the Number Jumbler monitor merely became a background fixture displaying a "starburst".
  • Ascended Extra: Before becoming host, Farago did Prize Vault stunts in several episodes (including the first episode).
  • Bonus Round:
    • The Prize Vault: The couple took the time earned into the vault, where they attempted to complete a series of stunts utilizing both mental and physical skills. Completing a stunt earned a prize and a bank card, which they had to run through a scanner before time ran out in order to be able to keep the prize. After the time expired, the couple put each of the earned cards through a second scanner to find out whether it was the one that broke the bank. Before testing each card, the couple was offered a cash buyout to quit for the day. Any prizes they had won were theirs to keep, no matter what happened with the cards.
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    • Master Puzzle: The couple earned a bank card, then faced a randomizer that assigned between 1-3 bank cards to six clues, nine cards in all. Seeing a clue lost those cards; solving it kept the remainder. The couple then selected cards from a rack of 40 and scanned them to find out what they'd won. One card broke the bank, 38 awarded cash or prizes, and one was a "Bankrupt" card that took away all of the day's prizes. The couple could quit at any time and keep what they'd won, but didn't get anything for the unused cards.
  • Bonus Space: The Number Jumbler in the Stunt era; choose a stunt, hear the noise, then rush over and hit a big button linked to a big octagonal monitor; whatever number it would stop on, between 0-5, meant you could get that number in additional Bank Cards.
  • Confetti Drop: Any time the Bank was broken.
  • Game Show Host: Gene Rayburn for the first 13 weeks (September 16-December 13), followed by Joe Farago; repeats aired the week of December 16.
  • Game Show Winnings Cap: During the Stunt era, couples could stay until reaching $75,000 or were defeated, with any winnings over that amount being donated to charity. Upon the inception of the Master Puzzle, couples retired upon breaking the Bank, with the same winnings limit in place.
    • The credits noted that the $75,000 cap was "network policy", as the station the show aired on in New York was the flagship of CBS, WCBS-2; so it had to follow CBS' winnings cap at the time.
  • Lovely Assistant: Kandace Kuehl for the first three episodes, then Julie Hayek.
  • Obstacle Exposition: During the Stunt era, naturally.
  • Pilot: Based on the photos seen in ads for the show from trade magazines of the time, the front game had a different format and different podiums, the Prize Vault was a bit different and naturally, the Bank was broken. (And based on the third image, there may have been another one done, too.)
  • Progressive Jackpot: The Bank itself, which started out at $20,000 in cash and prizes (including a brand-new car) and would increase every day in cash and prizes added (typically $500 and one or two prizes) until it was broken, at which point it would reset.
  • Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: In one episode, Rayburn randomly imitated the sound effects after they played, i.e. the "boing" effect used to input the seconds to open the Prize Vault, and the "code appears" sound effect when a card was inserted into the Bank.
  • Scenery Porn: The set was actually pretty cool looking, especially the Bank itself.
  • Show the Folks at Home: A hint for the subject of the front-game puzzles, using the "category reveal" sound from Tic-Tac-Dough.
  • Title Drop: "You want to find the one Bank Card that will break the Bank."
  • Title Scream: Done as a throw to commercial in the Farago era.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: A French version hosted by Michel Robbe, La Porte Magique ("The Magic Door"), aired in the late 1980s on the now-defunct LaCinq. This version used the Stunt format (complete with the 5-10-20-40-80-100 payouts and even the Number Jumbler) and a pretty similar set. Here's an intro (Bank is at F127,475 [€19,433]), and a full episode (Bank is at F135,390 [€20,640]).
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: Under the first format, the focus shifted from solving word puzzles in the front game, to running around the Prize Vault and competing goofy mental/physical challenges in the bonus round.
  • Whammy: As mentioned, during the Master Puzzle era, one of the Bank Cards (now lined up on a podium near the Bank itself) was actually a Bankrupt Card. If it was inserted into the Bank slot, it took away any prizes the contestants had already been awarded from any Bank Cards inserted that day. In addition, the Bankrupt Card remained in the Bank Card selection on every show, regardless of whether it had been inserted into the Bank slot. At least in theory, a couple could narrow down their choice of Bank Cards to the Bank-Breaking Card and the Bankrupt Card.

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