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Series / High Rollers

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"And now, a game of high stakes, where every decision is a gamble, and every move could be your last ...High Rollers!"
—Opening spiel, as read by Kenny Williams (1974-76) and Dean Goss (1987-88).
The logo and set of the Martindale era.

Merrill Heatter-Bob Quigley Game Show originally produced in the 1970s for NBC, with Alex Trebek as host; a weekly syndicated version also aired in the 1975-76 season. A syndicated revival from 1987-88 had Wink Martindale as emcee.

The game was essentially a quiz-based version of "Shut The Box": two contestants answered general knowledge questions and rolled a large pair of dice, hoping to remove numbers from a game board and accumulate prizes. In the 1974-76 run, each number had a prize behind it, including two halves of either a car or a trip (both of which had to be claimed by the same contestant or else it would be out of play). In the 1978-80 and 1987-88 runs, three numbers were in each of three column and had to be removed to claim the prize(s).

To win the prizes credited, a player had to either remove the last of the nine numbers or force their opponent to roll an invalid number. If a contestant rolled doubles, s/he got an Insurance Marker good for an Extra Turn if a bad number was rolled.

The winner of a best-of-three match became champion and went on to play the Big Numbers.

This show provides examples of:

  • The Announcer: Kenny Williams from 1974-80, Dean Goss on the Martindale version.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: Alex engaged in this in the 1980 finale, taking several jabs at NBC's management.
  • Bonus Round: The Big Numbers, which worked similarly to the main game. Each removed number awarded $100, with a bonus for getting all nine — $5,000 and/or a car (1978-80) or $10,000 (1974-76 and 1987-88).
    • For the first few weeks of the 1974-76 run, players could stop and take the money after a good roll, as a bad roll with no Insurance Markers ended the game and lost the bonus money accumulated. The contestant won a car for removing eight numbers, and $10,000 for all nine. The rules soon changed to remove the car bonus and no longer have the contestant risk the accumulated money.
    • The 1978-80 run changed the bonus twice: originally, it was $5,000 and a car worth about $5,000. Sometime between March 27 and December 4, 1979, the car became the sole grand prize; sometime between May 7 and June 9, 1980, the car was replaced by the $5,000 ( according to Alex, this was due to the oil crisis going on at the time).
  • Bonus Space: Of a sort. At least one column in every game was designated as "hot," meaning that all three of its numbers could be cleared off in one roll (such as 1-3-5, which could be cleared by rolling 9).
  • Complacent Gaming Syndrome: invokedIt didn't matter how many prizes a contestant had on the board — if there was even a semi-realistic chance of a bad roll happening, the dice would almost always get passed to avoid the risk of being knocked out of the game and their opponent winning by default.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The 70s versions, especially the near-entirely lost 1974-76 run, can seem a bit odd to people more familiar with the Martindale run.
    • The Martindale run's logo originally had a black diamond shape surrounding it in the first month or so; after that, it was removed from the intro, but retained everywhere else (on the gameboard, for instance).
  • Extra Turn: The Insurance Markers, awarded by rolling doubles and given back upon making a bad roll.
  • Fan Remake: A Doctor Who-themed one by Greg "Greggo" Wicker called Shut the TARDIS!, which debuted at Geek Creation Show 2013.
  • Game Show Host: Alex Trebek hosted from 1974-80 (and hosted a failed revival called Lucky Numbers in 1985). Wink Martindale hosted the 1987-88 revival.
  • Garage Sale: One of the mini-dice games offered during the Wink Martindale era. The "garage sale" prize (for rolling a 6) was often an item the producers might have found at a local Goodwill store, such as a used Mickey Mouse phone, or some other novelty item.
  • Grand Finale: The June 20, 1980 finale was...odd, with Alex being uncharacteristically offbeat — making faces to the camera and such Non Sequitur comments as "Many moon come, that's a niner", "Seven-ahhhh!", "Staying alive with The Bee Gees", etc. It was initially rumored that he was drunk, but this rumor has long since been disproven.
    • One of his last lines on this version, to model Linda Hooks, who stated she was not pregnant upon his asking:
      Alex: You're not pregnant? I'm not, either.
  • Home Game: Two board games were made in 1975, and another in 1988. A computer game was also released in 1988.
  • Lovely Assistant: All versions had a model. Ruta Lee served as the model for the 1974-76 daytime run; Elaine Stewart, from sister series Gambit and future wife of Merrill Heatter, served in the capacity in the 1975-76 syndicated version. Modeling duties for the 1978-80 revival were handled by Becky Price and Lauren Firestone; after a short time, Firestone was replaced by Linda Hooks. There were two models on the Martindale version, Crystal Owen and K.C. Winkler, who didn't do much. Originally, the model rolled the dice, and would bring them back using a big clear plastic scooper arm thing, similar to the dealer's stick in craps; from 1978 onward, the contestant rolled the dice, and the dice were brought back up to the contestants via the Junior G-Man Magic Carpet (Alex Trebek's nickname for the conveyor belt which formed the bottom of the dice table).
  • Luck-Based Mission: Dice tend to be like that. You can answer every question correctly, but still lose because of bad rolls screwing you over, or good rolls by your opponent.
  • Minigame Game: The 1987-88 revival included mini-games where prizes were determined by the roll of a die. These games would be played only by provisionally earning the right to play the game through clearing the column where it was placed a good roll, and then later winning the game. Typical games assigned numbers to various prizes or outcomes, with prizes awarded depending on the outcome. Examples:
    • Around the World: Five different destinations were announced and assigned a number from 1-5, and the contestant won that trip by rolling that number; rolling a 6 won all the trips (hence a "trip around the world") and a cash bonus.
      • The original version, used on the pilot and premiere, was Map Game; the only difference was that a more expensive trip was assigned to 6, and as such only one trip could be won.
    • Wink's Garage Sale: Usually contained four prizes of $500-$2,000, a grand prize of more than $3,000, and a smaller prize of up to $100.
    • Dice Derby: Two horses, "Odd" and "Even", competed in a race, with a particular horse advancing one space depending on the number rolled. Depending on which horse finished first, one awarded a cash prize (usually $1,000) and the other a grand prize of a trip, a fur coat, or car.
    • Driver's Test: A 12-space, 4x4 ringed game board was displayed, and the contestant had four rolls of the die to make the pawn land exactly in a space marked "CAR" (the pawn began seven spaces away from the winning space). Failure to win won consolation cash.
    • It Takes Two: Conceptually similar to "Around the World", only with other prizes (one a grand prize worth more than $3,000) in the mix. The contestant rolled the die as many times as was needed to roll one number twice, with the contestant winning the prize corresponding to that number. Rolling a 6 won all the prizes.
    • Love Letters: The contestant rolled a die up to six times to reveal letters in a six-letter word. Solving the word at any time won a new car, but an incorrect guess at any time lost. If the word was not solved, the contestant won $100 for each letter revealed.
    • Lucky Numbers: The contestant's hunch was tested as s/he chose a number between 1 and 6; a correct guess won a car.
    • Rabbit Test: Played only in the pilot, the models wore fur coats, one fake (worth $600) and the other real rabbit fur (worth $6,000). The contestant was allowed to feel each coat, then tried to pick the real one, and won it whether or not they were right.
    • Smilin' Wink's Car Lot: Each number from 1-5 represented a new car, while 6 represented a "clunker" (a used but operational car worth about $1,000-$2,000). The contestant rolled the die and won the car corresponding to the number rolled.
  • Non Standard Game Over: Whenever a contestant plays the Big Numbers and ends up leaving the 1 on the board.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: The 1978-80 revival changed the main-game from each number having one prize attached to each column having up to five prizes attached.
  • Progressive Jackpot: The 1978-80 revival's main game, where each column began with one prize and, for each round that column went unclaimed, another prize was added until that column had five prizes, at which point it froze. Upon being won (both being cleared through a good roll and the contestant winning the round), the column would begin again with one prize with more added. Rinse and repeat.
  • Running Gag: When the board was set up in the 1978-80 run, Alex often tried to predict which prize column would be the "hot column" (i.e., which one could be cleared in only one roll).
  • Undesirable Prize: Did anyone really want an antique Chinese fishbowl? If it was worth $10,000 because it was stuffed with that much in cash like Temptation, then yes. But it wasn't.
    Alex (on the June 20, 1980 Grand Finale): And when we return, and return we will...after this commercial break, we're gonna add something to it — fish! (They actually added an Oriental screen in the next segment.)
  • Whammy: Any bad roll, such as a roll totaling 7 when that number was already off the board and no combination of remaining numbers would add up to it. This is why control of the dice became more important as the game progressed, and as fewer numbers and "good rolls" were available, contestants rarely decided to roll late in the game.
  • Year's Supply Prize: One prize during the 1978-80 era was a year's worth of Sunday dinners from Kentucky Fried Chicken.
  • Zonk: Some of the prizes available in the Minigame Game of the 1987 revival, such as a Mickey Mouse phone in Wink's Garage Sale. Typically, these weren't Zonks in the Let's Make a Deal sense (which were sometimes nonsense but still real prizes such as a herd of baby goats), but the prizes were less in value or desirability than the other ones available.