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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!

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.


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

Game Show Tropes in use:

  • 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 both a prize and a bank card (which they would promptly take to a "teller's window" for safekeeping); prizes were kept regardless. After the time expired, the couple took the cards earned to the Bank vault. Each card came with a bailout offer in case it was a dud.
    • Master Puzzle: The couple earned a bank card, then faced a randomizer that assigned between 1-3 bank cards to various clues, nine cards in all. Seeing a clue lost those cards; solving it kept the remainder. The couple select cards out of forty; 38 had prizes, one was a bankrupt card that took the prizes away. The couple could bailout and keep the prizes.
  • Advertisement:
  • 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 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.
  • Personnel:
  • 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.
  • Show the Folks at Home: A hint for the subject of the front-game puzzles, using the "category reveal" sound from Tic-Tac-Dough.
  • 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.

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).
  • 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.)
  • Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: In one episode, Rayburn randomly imitated the sound effects after they played, ie. 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.
  • 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.


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