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Series / Chain Reaction

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Are you ready to put your brains to the chains?

It starts with "Word"
There's a "G" underneath
Get the word "Game" and you're right
The word "Game" starts the chain
Pick a letter, take a guess,
Connect the chain, win some cash
It's guys against girls right now,
On Chain Reaction
— Lyrics of the GSN 2006 version's theme tune

Game Show franchise created in 1980 by Bob Stewart (of Password and Pyramid fame) for NBC and hosted by Bill Cullen. In this game, two teams — in true Stewartian fashion, each composed of two celebrities and a civilian — competed to form a chain of eight words. Each chain consisted of words that had some relation to the next word in the chain. For example, a completed chain would be TWIST ANKLE BRACELET CHAIN GANG WAR STRATEGY CHESS - an ankle is something that often gets twisted, an "ankle bracelet" is a piece of jewelry, bracelets have a chain, etc. Given the first and last word of each chain, the teams would attempt to guess the missing words, which were revealed one letter at a time. The winners then proceeded to a Bonus Round dubbed Instant Reaction, which was more of a cousin to the Pyramid format of using a long clue to describe a word, except the celebrities from the winning team constructed the clues one word at a time. This Bonus Round was later adapted into its own game, a short-lived format called Go.

The series was revived as The New Chain Reaction on USA Network and Global Television Network in Canada (where this incarnation taped, in Montreal to be specific) from 1986-91 with teams of two contestants each. At first, this version was hosted by Blake Emmons, a Canadian television personality and Country Music singer. Blake Emmons was a contestant on The Joker's Wild during Bill Cullen's tenure, and lasted only a few months as host of Chain Reaction before being replaced by Geoff Edwards (who had previously hosted a number of Stewart series and pilots; his most recent hosting gig up to that point was Starcade, plus the unsold 1985 Stewart pilot $50,000 A Minute). Because of CanCon laws, Chain Reaction had to feature a Canadian personality on camera, and as a result announcer Rod Charlebois appeared on-camera in every show for the rest of the run. This version simply offered another chain as its bonus round. 1988 saw the two-member teams dropped for solo players, and the final season became a tournament for a top prize of $40,000, resulting in a rename to The $40,000 Chain Reaction.

In 2006, GSN (formerly the Game Show Network) revived the format with Dylan Lane as host. The rules stayed mostly the same, except the teams were always three men vs. three women. The format also included a small four-word "speed chain" after each solved chain, as well as a betting format in Round 4. In Round 4, contestants bet certain amounts on whether or not they would get the chain word right; unfortunately, this often led to contestants whittling away their lead on stupid guesses. This version also saw the return of Instant Reaction, but with slight rule changes. Additionally, all chains were now composed of two-word phrases or compound words instead of words with an abstract relation to each other. For instance, a completed chain might have CHAIN REACTION TIME TABLE TENNIS BALL GAME SHOW, forming the phrases of "chain reaction", "reaction time", "time table", "table tennis", etc.

GSN revived the format again in 2015 with another new host, Mike Catherwood (best known as the host of Loveline); this version seemed to hearken back more to the USA era, with a similar logo and format (the Speed Chains were dropped, and the contestant teams were reverted back to two players; the betting element in Round 4 was still present, however); because of the lack of a third contestant, Instant Reaction was dropped again, this time for a new endgame called the Superchain (see below). In 2021, the show was revived a second time, again with Lane as the host, and Mike Richards as showrunner. Three-person teams were restored, but Instant Reaction was not; instead, the bonus round had the winning team try to solve three short chains within 60 seconds.

There had been other versions of the format for countries outside the United States, including a French-Canadian one in Quebec called Action Reaction (taped on the same set as the Emmons/Edwards run), an Italian one called Reazione a catena, and a British version called Lucky Ladders on ITV.

Not to be confused with the film starring Keanu Reeves.

This show provides examples of:

  • The Announcer: Johnny Gilbert during the NBC run, Rod Charlebois during the USA run.
  • Ascended Extra: Rod Charlebois, who would play a quick round with Geoff Edwards at the end of each show. His ascension was mostly due to CanCon laws.
    • Also, before getting to host the USA run, Geoff Edwards had been a Guest Host while Bill Cullen was over on Password Plus subbing for an ill Allen Ludden.
  • Bonus Round:
    • The NBC and first GSN run had Instant Reaction (only named in the NBC run), where the players chained together words, one at a time, to make a question. This was taken from an unsold Stewart pilot called Get Rich Quick! (1977), and spun off into Go (1983-84).
    • The USA run merely had another chain with a Progressive Jackpot linked to it; the team/player was shown the first word in a chain and the initial letter of the other words. One at a time, the player(s) would guess at the next word in the chain. For each wrong guess, the next letter would be filled in and a letter deducted from their account. If the team could finish the chain before running out of letters the team won the jackpot. If not, they (or he/she) won $100 per word, including the one at the top. The $40,000 season eliminated the endgame entirely.
    • The 2015 GSN run replaced Instant Reaction with the Superchain, in which the winning team has 45 seconds to complete seven pairs from a common starting word for $5,000. Up to three letters from each word would be shown.
    • The 2021 GSN run gives the winning team 60 seconds to solve three chains of 4, 5, and 6 words (2, 3, and 4 words to solve) in the same way as the main game for $10,000. Unlike some of the other more recent GSN fare (we're looking at you, Idiotest, Emogenius, America Says, among others), this isn't an upgrade to $10,000, it's an extra $10,000.
  • Bonus Space:
    • In the Cullen version, if a word had a plus sign next to it, it was worth double the normal value.
    • For the first USA/Global season, the middle word in the second chain had a dollar sign (or early on, an asterisk) next to it; if a contestant managed to guess it, $250 went to their team.
    • The "Speed Chains" in both Lane runs on GSN (and the Vincent pilots). Available to the side that solved the last remaining word in the first three chains, it carried the value of one word in that round. It's a four-word chain; the first and last words are given, and the first letter of each of the remaining two words. The team has 7 seconds to confer before they must answer, and they earn the money if they solve both words (no partial credit for just one). Averted in the Catherwood run; these were only used if a Tiebreaker Round was needed.
  • Color-Coded Multiplayer:
    • NBC/GSN 2021: Blue and yellow teams.
    • USA/GSN 2006: Red and blue players/teams. In the latter, the girls' teams are red, the guys' are blue.
  • The Ditz: Many contestants from the first GSN run weren't the sharpest tools in the shed, often failing to guess the right word with only one letter missing (and at least once when the word was fully exposed) or composing a sentence in the bonus round. The latter wasn't just because they gave dumb clues or answers, but sometimes the clue givers would mess up or giggle uncontrollably, wasting time for the contestant trying to guess the answers, and at least one team won a whopping $0 in the bonus round as a result.
  • Epic Fail: September 22, 2006 saw a team completely bomb the bonus round, to the point one member openly tries to quit. Watch the carnage here.
    • The March 28, 2022 episode had a team that managed to score absolutely nothing in the first three rounds. Before round 4, both teams had $100 added to their score just so the trailing team could at least try to stay in the game. They bet all they had on the first word of the round, missed it, and immediately gave the game to their opponents.
  • Game Show Host: Bill Cullen, Blake Emmons, Geoff Edwards, Tim Vincent (for the 2006 pilots only), Dylan Lane, and Mike Catherwood.
  • Game Show Winnings Cap: The NBC run had champions playing until reaching ten matches or until defeated. The USA/Global era had the limit lowered to five matches. Both GSN runs were one-and-done.
  • Girls vs. Boys Plot: Each episode of the 2006 GSN version saw three guys going against three girls (except for one week in which the teams consisted of three teachers against three students from the same school).
  • Golden Snitch: In the GSN runs, $100-$200-$300, with a $500 betting limit in round 4. The 2021 GSN version takes it further by increasing the limit for the last word of round 4 to $1,000.
  • Guest Host: Geoff Edwards hosted the original version for a short time so that Bill Cullen could fill in for Allen Ludden on Password Plus.
  • Mythology Gag: The first GSN run had a blue and yellow color scheme, much like the NBC run; the second GSN run has a modernized version of the later USA-era logo and a similar color scheme.
  • Non-Standard Game Over: In the GSN runs, if a team lost all of their money in round 4, they were immediately out of the game, giving the other team the win.
  • Obvious Rule Patch:
    • The NBC version had five Instant Reaction payout structures. The second format had contestants start with $1 and add a half-zero for each correct response, but was changed when the most money won from this in the first week was $1,000.
    • The first GSN version began its bonus round with seven correct answers doubling the team's bank and ten correct answers tripling it. After six weeks of people stinking it up, the requirements were lowered to five (doubling) and seven (tripling).
    • The first GSN version also altered its Instant Reaction format multiple times in order to keep the contestants from playing loose and fast with the "alternating words" rule.
    • If a team enters round 4 with no money on the third GSN version, both teams have $100 added to their score to ensure the trailing team has something they can wager.
  • Pilot: One for the Cullen version, taped October 27, 1979; here, only two celebrities were present, competing alongside two married couples, and Instant Reaction offered a possible $100,000 payout (the prize started at a penny, and was multiplied by 10 for each correct answer).
    • The 2006 version also had three pilots, hosted by Tim Vincent of Access Hollywood (he would later host some of the 2009 $1,000,000 Pyramid pilots); these pilots had your standard audiovisual differences (including an oddly-comical logo), two betting rounds (to facilitate this, each team started with $1,000 banks), the teams were "three-of-a-kind", Hot Potato style (as compared to the "battle of the sexes" the series had), and returning champions were in place.
  • Progressive Jackpot: For the USA-era endgame, it would be worth a base of $3,000 plus $1,000 for each day it wasn't won; the base was dropped to $2,000 when the show switched from two-member teams to solo players. The highest the jackpot got was $16,000.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: The theme for the first two versions had previously been used on, of all things, Supertrain. It was, in turn, recycled by Stewart for an unsold 1982 pilot called Twisters, used as the sound for the puck going up and down the shuffleboard.
  • Retired Game Show Element: For the first season of the USA/Global run, any team that stayed for five days retired undefeated and earned a $5000 cash bonus.
  • Shout-Out: After celebrity guest Joyce Bulifant couldn't get the word "pyramid", Bill Cullen remarked "Well, the nighttime version's been canceled."
  • Stealth Pun: Possibly; the 2015 GSN run's bonus round was named the "Superchain"- and the USA era (of which the 2015 run was partially modelled after) utilized the NBC-era theme, which as stated was recycled from Supertrain (and yet, didn't use that theme).
  • Spin-Off: Go used the NBC bonus round as its main game.
  • Thematic Theme Tune: The first GSN version had a vocal theme song that explained how the game worked.
  • Theme Tune Rap: A milder example with the first GSN version.
  • Those Two Guys: Geoff and Rod from the USA era.
  • Tiebreaker Round: If a tiebreak was needed in any GSN version, the teams played Speed Chains in an alternating format; the first team to solve theirs while having the other team not solve theirs won the game. This was the only situation in which the Speed Chain cropped up in the Catherwood run.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: Several foreign versions have aired.
    • The United Kingdom had Lucky Ladders, based on the USA Network format, from 1988 to 1993 on ITV, via Anglia.
    • The Canadian province of Quebec had Action Réaction from 1986 to 1991; this was taped at the same station the USA run did, so they shared the set and graphics.
    • Indonesia had Kata Berkait ("Hooked Word") from 1995 to 2001.
    • Italy has Reazione a catena: L'intesa vincente ("Chain Reaction: The Agreement Winner"), which debuted in 2007.
    • Turkey has Kelime Zinciri ("Word Chain"), which debuted in 2012.
  • Visual Pun: The first GSN run had the word graphics literally linked by chains.
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: Instant Reaction had nothing to do with the front game. But, it still makes some sense, given the idea that you have to form a question by making a chain of words.
    • Reazione a catena shoehorned in a round based on the unsold 1996 quiz show pilot Combination Lock, which was even further removed than the 1980 bonus round.