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Series / Seven Keys

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Seven Keys was a game show that was a stalwart on ABC's daytime schedule from 1961 to 1964, and ran locally on KTLA-5 in Los Angeles for several years, both before and after the series' network run ended.

The premise of the game was simple: It was a basic question-and-answer show married to the children's game Snakes and Ladders (better known in America as "Chutes and Ladders"). Contestants had to move across a 70-space game board within a set number of turns (almost always, this was 15) to win a "key."

The "key" played this role: On the side of the stage, there was a display containing seven "windows," each of which had a picture of a prize. Six of those prizes were smaller prizes, valued at anywhere from around $100 to up to $1,000. The seventh window, the largest of them, represented a grand prize, put together by the show's staff based on the contestant's interests and was unique to each contestant, and was worth several thousand dollars.

When a contestant landed on a space, he/she was asked a general knowledge question. Many were true-false or multiple-choice, while others had the contestant needing to do things such as fill in a word to complete a common phrase, identify a famous person, match pairs of items (e.g., names of state capital cities with their correct state) ... the list went on. An incorrect answer caused the contestant to move backward to the last space safely reached.

Special spaces varied and were as follows:

  • Bonus: The contestant stopped a spinning dial marked "Bonus", and moved that many steps on the same turn the bonus was landed on.
  • Penalty: The contestant stopped a spinning dial marked "Penalty", and moved back that many spaces.
  • Safety: The contestant simply took his/her next turn, with a subsequent miss taking them back to the last Safety space reached.
  • Keys: The final space, which awarded a key of the contestant's choosing if passed.

If the contestant reached the end of the board within 15 turns, he/she won a key. At this point, the contestant was asked whether they wanted to quit with the keys accumulated or risk them and continue on until collecting all seven keys. If the contestant elected to retire, he/she and host Jack Narz used their keys to determine which prizes were won; this could include the grand prize, although if the grand-prize key was not among those he/she had picked, Narz would reveal which one did. If a contestant chose to play on and failed to reach the end of the game board within 15 turns, he/she lost all of their earned keys and, as he/she was immediately retired, the opportunity at the grand prize.

There was also a home viewer game, where viewers could enter a weekly drawing to win a prize package, by guessing which key would unlock the prize package. If the home viewer whose card was randomly drawn correctly guessed the key, he/she won that prize. The game was played each day, and if by Friday's show (or the final show of the week, as appropriate) the prize package had not yet been won, Narz and the show's assistants would continue drawing cards until one containing the correct answer was found.

Seven Keys had a loyal, dependable audience on ABC's daytime schedule for most of its three-year run, until it was finally matched against CBS's Love of Life and NBC's Missing Links and Your First Impression in the fall of 1963 and winter of 1964. With that, Keys ended its network run on March 27, 1964 ... but the show continued as a local program for another year on KTLA.

Tropes present:

  • All or Nothing: After each "Seven Keys" game victory, the contestant was given the option to quit with whatever keys they had won (and take whatever prizes whose windows they unlocked, which could (but not necessarily did) include the grand prize window), or play another game, knowing that if they failed to reach the end of the game board on their next playing, even if off by one space, they would lose it all.
  • Consolation Prize: For contestants who lost any of their "Seven Keys" games, and for home viewer sweepstakes players whose cards were drawn but didn't win. Usually, said prize was worth anywhere from $25 to $50.
  • Home Game: Issued by Ideal in 1961, played similarly to the TV show.
  • Home Participation Sweepstakes: A staple of the show, from its very beginning until near the end of the KTLA-TV run. Viewers were shown a showcase of prizes and invited to send, via postcard, which key would unlock the window the prizes were behind. A card was drawn at random from a tumbler, and if it had the correct key number printed on it, that contestant won; a consolation gift was given if he/she was incorrect. The process was repeated on subsequent shows that week until Friday, after which — if a correct guess was still needed — cards were drawn from the tumbler until one with a correct answer was drawn.
  • Let's Just See What WOULD Have Happened: If a contestant elects to retire with his earned keys before winning his seventh game, the contestant and host Jack Narz tried those keys in each window to see what was won. If none of the keys opened the grand prize window, Narz would reveal the correct key.
  • Personnel:
    • The Announcer: Jack Powers/George Barkley.
    • Game Show Host: Jack Narz, who had just a few years beforehand escaped implication in the Quiz Show Scandals of the late 1950s (although one of his shows, Dotto, was a prime culprit in the whole thing). With Seven Keys, he began to cement a respected game show-hosting career that lasted until the early 1980s.
    • Lovely Assistant: Betty Andrews/Barbara Lyon. More than once, they would serve as a date for a young bachelor if he was playing for a prize package that included an evening on the town (said prize package always including a sports car).
    • Studio Audience.
  • Whammy: Any contestant who either:
    • During the regular game, landed on a Penalty space, meaning they had to move back anywhere from one to 10 spaces. Especially so if the contestant was starting to run low on number of remaining turns and still had distance to cover.
    • Lost a "Seven Keys" game ... meaning they lost all their keys and any potential prizes they might have won with them, along with an opportunity to win the grand prize. Especially if they were later revealed to have already won the key that would have unlocked the grand prize window (as contestants could quit at any time).