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Series / Supermarket Sweep

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We're ready to play... Supermarket Sweep!
"Is this one of your fantasies? You see a big, beautiful supermarket, and they say to you... 'Go ahead, do what you've always wanted to do! Run wild! Grab everything you can get your hands on! Everything in this supermarket is yours — and it's all free!' From Hollywood, where dreams do come true, it's the return of the one and only Supermarket Sweep!"
Johnny Gilbert's opening spiel on the Lifetime debut (February 5, 1990).

Game Show created by Al Howard that originally began development for ABC in 1965. The show was produced by Talent Associates, who had already pitched another show to ABC, Get Smart. The game, which was broadcast from grocery stores across the country, was simple: in the first round, three players stood behind cash registers and were shown a product from the store by host Bill Malone, then had to guess how much it cost. The player closest to the actual price won that product and 10 additional seconds of sweep time (each player began with 1:30). After a certain number of products, their teammates did the shopping, running up and down the supermarket aisles grabbing food and special items to get the largest total while the announcer (initially Wally King, later replaced by Richard Hayes) did play-by-play. At the end of the sweep, the team that picked up the largest cash value of groceries throughout the market was the winner and came back on the next show, although everyone got to keep their groceries.


The development of Sweep wasn't easy: the first test shows had women running the aisles, which the producers felt wouldn't be thought of kindly by female viewers. Further, one player had a heart attack, resulting in executive producer Leonard Stern adding a rule stating that runners had to be 40 or under and have a note from a physician certifying they were healthy enough to participate note . Having the ladies do the pricing and the men doing the sweep improved the show, as the men were faster and more active. ABC opted to do some test showings in movie theaters, which brought the most enthusiastic reaction the network had ever seen for one of its daytime shows.


Sweep debuted on ABC's daytime schedule on December 20, 1965, although some critics weren't too kind to it. Talent Associates founder David Susskind, who had a reputation of being associated with "class" shows, was quick to note to TV Guide that while it saved his company and brought in some profit, he wasn't involved with the show.

The series ended on July 14, 1967, after just 19 months, and by all indication vanished into obscurity over the next two decades, with Al Howard creating another show during the interim, Sale of the Century on NBC. Eventually, though, Howard brought Sweep back in 1990 on Lifetime, now also serving as executive producer and producing the show under his own production company, Al Howard Productions. Now hosted by David Ruprecht and featuring Johnny Gilbert as the announcer, the front game now had a considerable variety and groceries were no longer awarded (indeed, the supermarket was a soundstage) — instead, the teams played the Big Sweep for cash with the highest total playing a Bonus Sweep for another $5,000. The other major difference is that there were no returning champs, although some teams were invited back for a Sweep of Champions or Second Chance Week.

The revival, which was quick to note that it was returning and not an all-new property, ran until 1995. After several years of reruns, Ion, then called PAX, revived it from 2000 to 2003. Gilbert initially remained with the show during the Channel Hop, but was later replaced by Randy West.

Compare and contrast Shop 'Til You Drop, which it was paired up with during the Lifetime and PAX runs (though STYD got a short-lived run on what is now Freeform from 1996 to 1998).

In 2017, Fremantle Media, who holds international rights as well as the rights to Sale of the Century, obtained the rights to the US version from Al Howard, and started airing reruns of the series on their network Buzzr in January 2018. In August 2019, Fremantle Media announced that they were planning to air a full fledged revival of Supermarket Sweep and that they named Leslie Jones to serve as host and executive producer. With several networks showing interest, it was announced in January 2020 that ABC had picked up the series, neatly bringing the show's airing history in a full circle.

Game Show Tropes in use:

  • Big Win Sirens: A series of sirens and a clanging bell were used if the $5,000 was won; it was also used to alert the players when the Manager's Special was put out.
  • Bonus Round: The Bonus Sweep (referred to as the Super Sweep in the UK version), utilizing Linked List Clue Methodology: Clue #1, which David read, led to the first product which contained Clue #2, which led to the second product which contained Clue #3, which led to the third product and the $5,000, which teams had to physically have their hands on before the time was up. Failure to do so earned $200 for each item.
    • This led to problems at least once — a team read Clue #2 wrong and went for the wrong product, which happened to be the third item (the one with the $5,000); they had to put the money back and try to find the third clue, which didn't happen.
    • Because of Linked List Clue Methodology above, grabbing the third product before the other two forefited the jackpot. The regular rule, where teams in this situation had to find the other items and then double back, was added later (with David even reminding the winning team beforehand that "you have to solve the first two clues before you can go for the $5,000").
  • Bonus Space: By the end of the run, you couldn't round a corner without a special item, task, or quest that gave out bonus money. No bonus ever offered more than $300.
  • Consolation Prize: In the original series, everyone got to keep all the groceries they got in the Sweep. On the Lifetime and PAX revivals, the losing teams got parting gifts and their numbered sweatshirts.
  • Golden Snitch: The Big Sweep was all that mattered. The front game was only there to build up time for the Sweep itself, and it wasn't unheard of (though very rare) for the team with the least amount of time to win. By the end the expensive Farmer John hams, gallon bottles of vegetable oil, baby formula, turkeys, and diapers were pretty much the show's equivalent to R-S-T-L-N-E — always claimed, always a guarantee of a good Sweep total.
  • Home Game: Milton Bradley made a board game based on the ABC version in 1966, complete with a miniature replica of a grocery store.
  • Mystery Box: The giant inflatable groceries (or grocery mascots; it wasn't uncommon to see the Jolly Green Giant) had an amount of money attached to them worth $50, $100, or $200; a $250 bonus was added in 1993, and special shows occasionally had a $300 bonus in place of the $50.
  • Personnel:
    • The Announcer: For the ABC version, Wally King (1965-66) and Richard Hayes (1966-67) with Johnny Olson and Gene Wood doing frequent subs. Johnny Gilbert did the Lifetime version and the first five months of the PAX version, with Randy West taking over in September 2000 for the remainder of the run.
    • Game Show Host: Bill Malone on the original, David Ruprecht on the revival.
    • Studio Audience: In the Lifetime era and early in the PAX era, teams were chosen from the audience if they had a certain product. "Who's got the Ritz crackers? Okay, you're on!"
      • Originally "Come on, you're on!" We wonder why it was changed...
      • One could argue that the contestants were seeded into the audience before the episode began. Later on during the PAX run, the contestants ran out of the market with their items to their stands to start the show.
  • Product Placement: The biggest use of this trope for everyday items outside The Price Is Right (and perhaps inclusive). Outright averted in the UK version, though, due to broadcast regulations; instead, items were referred to generically, or as a "Sweep-brand" item.
    • The U.S. version had the "Cracker Jackpot" (later "Jolly Time is Money") bonus in the Big Sweep.
    • The short-lived Canadian version was especially blatant with Nabob Coffee as its sponsor. There was a giant display of the stuff that host Tino Monte would stand behind, and a year's supply was one of the prizes given away in the Bonus Sweep. It was also a guarantee that at least one Nabob-related question would appear in the front game. Voortman Bakeries was also a sponsor, albeit less blatant, with its branded version of the International Bread Center.
  • Retired Game Show Element: The first Lifetime season occasionally had guys in weird costumes, most frequently a guy named "Mr. Yuck", roaming the aisles, with contestants having to turn around if they encountered one.
  • Show the Folks at Home: During the Bonus Sweep, the camera will occasionally zoom in on a clue that contestants might overlook. If a team is having trouble finding an item, its clue will be displayed on screen with the correct brand name filled in.

This show provides examples of:

  • Big Red Button: Used to activate the clue monitors in later episodes; the monitors were touchscreens when they debuted. Also used at the podiums in the first half of the show to ring in and answer questions.
  • Cap: In the Big Sweep, teams were each limited to five of any one grocery item, and one of any given offer for extra money (giant bonus item, Manager's Special, etc.).
  • Catch Phrase:
    • "Who's got the [grocery item]? Okay, you're on!"
    • "It's the Super Bonus!" (when the $250 inflatable was found)
    • "Remember, the next time you're at a checkout counter and you hear the beep (beep-beep!), think of all the fun you could have on Supermarket Sweep!" note 
  • Downer Ending:
    • One Bonus Sweep had the team grab the $5,000 and start celebrating, not realizing that the sirens weren't blaring. Ruprecht, who was not smiling, had to not only calm them down but explain that the team grabbed the money about a half-second too late. After this episode, Ruprecht made it very clear to contestants that their hands have to be on the money before time expires in order to win.
    • A 1991 episode had a team grab the wrong brand name to an item on the Supermarket Sweep Shopping List. Had they found the correct item, they would have won the Big Sweep by $4.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Several very early episodes of the Lifetime version featured a different team sweatshirt design, and on at least one Team 3 wore purple rather than yellow.
    • On the pilot, teams were allowed to collect multiple Bonuses ($50, $100, and $200 pennants attached to products) scattered throughout the store.
    • Originally, there was only one Mini-Sweep, and bringing the item back within 30 seconds earned $50. Starting in 1992, if the item was brought back within 20 seconds, the bonus was doubled to $100. In 1993-94, a second Mini-Sweep was added, used for special occasions during the PAX run. Also, initially, any one of the named item could be brought back for the $50 bonus, which was quickly changed to having to bring back the item marked with the show's logo to earn the bonus.
    • Before 1993, Team 1 wore blue and Team 2 red. Starting in 1993 and lasting until the end of the show's run, this was reversed for unknown reasons.
    • Early episodes featuring the shopping list bonus had four items on the list instead of three.
  • Epic Fail:
    • One "Team 3", having the 1:30 base in the Big Sweep, decided to go the "try for a bunch of bonuses" route... and got none, finishing with about $5.
    • Another "Team 3" went this route and racked up $700 worth of bonuses, but did very little actual shopping and dropped/damaged a few items. Their final total was $686, meaning that they lost money on the shopping and would have finished in the red if not for all the bonuses.
    • On a 1991 episode, another "Team 3", this time having 1:40 in the Big Sweep, chose to focus exclusively on the "Shopping List" bonus (finding three items named off by David before the Sweep, for a $250 bonus), and only got one of them, finishing with a grand total of $7.
    • At least one team failed to find the first product in the bonus round.
    • During a question for a mini sweep where two teams answered it very, very wrong.
      • "When your kitchen gets smelly from the dinner you made, why not try a few spritzes from a can of..." Raid! No. Lysol? No!
  • Failed a Spot Check:
    • This happened on several occasions where a team in the Bonus Sweep would walk right past the next clue they needed to get. At least one team did this multiple times with the same clue. This would also happen in the Mini-Sweep and with shopping list items or inflatable bonuses in the Big Sweep.
    • One for the producers. A 1991 episode had a bag of Mother's Cookies as a shopping list item. The problem with that: an aisle opposite the checkout stands had a huge display of them in plain sight. Needless to say, the first thing each shopper did to begin their sweep was grab one.
  • Fake Food: Played straight with the turkeys and hams in the store's meat section, which were actually weighted plastic replicas. Averted with everything else in the store, which was real (albeit expired most of the time).
  • Follow the Plotted Line:
    • Everyone inevitably ran for the meats first, since they were the most expensive if you grabbed the big cuts. Other popular items were toiletries, sweets (usually they were bonuses), cheeses, and any small things that were pricey.
    • One person went an unconventional (but actually pretty clever) route and used the medicine aisle, which were about as expensive, but smaller and lighter.
  • Groin Attack: One 1991 episode had David getting caught in a collision in the Big Sweep as a player returned their cart, and then again right at the end! Given the footage, his reactions and his slightly higher voice afterwards, it seems he caught the cart with his, umm.. "Brussels sprouts".
  • Homemade Sweater from Hell: David wore one for each episode from 1990 to 1992; from 1993 on, he wore a simple shirt and tie. David himself has lampshaded this a few times, and one of the commercials for the show on the Buzzr network has an actress pretending to be his grandmother, knitting the sweaters at David's request.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: In some early Lifetime episodes, Ruprecht would make a joke involving a grocery product (e.g., "Aren't we all glad to be here?"), then toss said product off-camera to groans from the audience.
  • Long Runner: The Lifetime/PAX version ran for a total of eight years, which is pretty good for a cable game. Throw in the reruns, and it's nearly 15 years.
  • Non Standard Game Over: Originally if the winning team grabbed the last Bonus Sweep item or the $5,000 before finding the other product(s), the round immediately ended in failure. In 1992, this changed to an overhead announcement reminding the team to go in order.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: Several.
    • In the Mini-Sweep, contestants originally had to just find the item and bring it to Ruprecht for the bonus. Likely due to the high success rate, this was quickly changed to finding the product with the Supermarket Sweep logo taped to it. At least once, a contestant found an item without the marking and thus did not get any money for it.
    • The use of cents in Big Sweep totals was discarded after the first Lifetime season (unless two teams totaled within a dollar of each other), although the familiar "running total in corner" display was not adopted until around 1993.
  • Scenery Porn: The Ruprecht-era supermarket, especially toward the end of the run. As you may expect from a real supermarket, there were several people involved in "restocking" the shelves for each taping.
  • Schmuck Bait: The pound-of-coffee/dollar's-worth-of-candy bonuses, originally worth $100 each, were definitely worth stopping for until rising grocery prices reduced them into this trope. Somewhat remedied for the last two seasons (2001-03), where they each doubled to $200, albeit with only one of the two available in each sweep.
  • Sequence Breaking: The Bonus Round forbade it, requiring the contestants to follow the clues in order. See Nonstandard Game Over.
  • Serious Business: A supermarket shopping spree. Hell yeah.
  • Shout-Out: One 1993 episode of the Lifetime/PAX version featured Sesame Street vitamin chewables as the subject of a mini sweep. Amusingly, Sesame Street writer Emily Perl Kingsley actually worked on the original ABC version as associate producer.
  • Signing-Off Catchphrase: "Remember, the next time you're at the checkout counter and you hear the beep (beep-beep), think of all the fun you could have on Supermarket Sweep!"
    • This was used in both the US and UK 90s versions.
  • Spin-Off: The original series was replaced (with the same announcer, host, and production company) on July 17, 1967 by The Honeymoon Race. Three men, driven by their wives in bumper cars, competed in a series of five stunts to win prizes — in other words, a precursor to Shop 'Til You Drop. The show ended on December 1, although only the fifth episode is known to exist.
  • Title Drop: See Catch Phrase, above.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent:
    • An UK version aired from 1993 to 2001 on ITV with host Dale Winston, with a short revival in 2007 on the same network with the same host, then a second revival in 2019 on ITV2 with Rylan Clark-Neal.
    • An Australian version produced by Reg Grundy ran on Nine Network from 1992-1994 with former Australian Price is Right host Ian Turpie. Initially filmed in a Coles Supermarket, it was later changed to a generic grocery set similar to the American version per Grundy tradition.
    • A Canadian version hosted by Tino Monte aired on Global from 1992 to 1995. There was also a French-Canadian version, L'épicerie en folie, sponsored by local grocery chain Metro which aired on TQS in 1994-95 with host Christian Tétreault.
    • An Argentinian version, Sume y Lleve, aired in 1987-88 on Canal 9 predating the Lifetime revival by three years. A revival under the name Clink Caja aired in 1996 on the same network.
  • Waiting Puzzle: Sitting idle for 30 seconds to allow a coffee grinder to run its cycle was the requirement for earning one of the cash bonuses during the Big Sweep. Contestants had to hold the button down in order to keep the grinder running, but could at least use their free hand to keep grabbing items off the nearby shelves until it finished.

This is Johnny Gilbert/Randy West speaking for Supermarket Sweep. Supermarket Sweep has been an Al Howard Production.

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