Two trios of players, each trio having the same occupation or other common factor, competed to guess the answers to multi-answer questions. In some cases, the contestants were predicting the most popular answers to survey questions similar to Family Feud, but most of the time they were general knowledge ("Name seven of the ten largest countries in the world"). Each question has a minimum seven possible answers. The player in control could either provide an answer or challenge an opponent to answer; players were eliminated from the round if they answered incorrectly or lost a challenge, thereby giving the opposing team control.
A team won a round by eliminating all three opponents or, less often, by supplying the seventh correct answer. The first team to win two rounds played the Bonus Round, in which the object was to make the correct choices from pairs of answers in a category.
Hot Potato debuted on January 23 and suffered mostly due to airing at Noon, a slot NBC affiliates generally preempted in favor of either local newscasts or syndicated programming. In a rather misguided effort to combat this, the show became Celebrity Hot Potato on April 23, removing the "three-of-a-kind teams" element as well as the Seven-Straight Jackpot (see below); the show ended on June 29, being replaced by reruns of Diff'rent Strokes, which, in turn, was replaced on September 24 with Super Password...a show that managed to last nearly five years at Noon due partly to help from independent stations in markets where the NBC affiliate was preempting it.
Game Show Tropes in use:
- Bonus Round: Pick which of these two items weighs more, is larger, etc. Get five right, win $5,000 plus $5,000 every time it isn't won by that team. (This was originally used in a far more complex form on B&E's unsold 1979 game Decisions Decisions, also hosted by Cullen.) They could pass on one question, and they had the option to stop after every question and take $500 per right answer; one wrong, and they lost the bonus.
- One risk: if they passed on a question, they had to answer the one following it. If they were down to two questions and hadn't use their pass at that point, there was a risk by going on they'd have to pass on the first and get that last question wrong and lose the bonus (it happened at least once).
- Bonus Space: The Seven Straight Jackpot, awarded to any team that managed to give seven correct answers without missing or passing. Thanks to the Celebrity format, it was thrown out entirely.
- Celebrity Edition:
- The week of February 20 had Miss Americas (Susan Perkins, Kylene Barker and Cheryl Pruitt) competing against "All-American Sportsmen" (Rick Barry, Ken Norton and Vince Ferragamo).
- Celebrities became permanent on April 23 for the last 10 weeks, a change that is generally considered to have been a bad idea.
- Progressive Jackpot:
- The bonus prize started at $5,000 and increased by that much until it was won or new champions were crowned, effectively meaning that if a team could make it back and win, their previous loss(es) would be completely negated. One team blew the jackpot three times, made it back a fourth time, and won $20,000.
- The Seven-Straight Jackpot, awarded to a team that gave the required seven answers to a question without missing or passing, which began at $500 and increased by that amount after every match in which it went unclaimed. It was removed on April 23.
This show provides examples of:
- Catchphrase: "Hotttttttttttt Potato!" as steam/smoke arose from the on-set logo.
- Grand Finale: Covered by The A.V. Club's "A Very Special Episode" in 2011, which had this to say at the end...Noel Murray: And who knows? Stumble on the right episode and you might be treated to the poignant spectacle of four celebrities note standing on opposite ends of a podium manned by a TV legend in the last years of his life, all engaged in the last taping of a show nobody was watching, going back and forth, one-by-one, naming people more famous than they. note
- Monkey Morality Pose: A team of monks did this when introducing themselves.
- One Steve Limit: Defied. At least two teams had more than one person with the same name, in which case the tags had numbers next to the names. For instance, the Bee Keepers had "Tim 1", "Tim 2", and "Glen".
- Time Out: Eliminated players had to sit on a bench behind their team until the current question was finished.