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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 ó 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).

One fateful day in the 1960s, an advertising executive and copywriter named Al Howard and his wife Alice had to deal with a rather common annoyance: waiting in a very long line at the supermarket to check out with their groceries. In boredom, Al turned to Alice and said "How would you like to run wild through the market and grab everything you can get your hands on, and it won't cost you a cent?"

That one conversation eventually led to the creation of a popular Game Show based on the idea of running wild through a grocery store, one that has survived multiple cancellations and revivals.

Supermarket Sweep is a 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 during the show, 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.

Supermarket 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 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) ó 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 Television, 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. The revived series premiered in October 2020, with a top prize of $100,000.

This show provides examples of:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 and the 2020 revival), 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. In the Ruprecht era, failure to do so earned $200 for each item.
    • This led to problems at least once ó 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 forfeited 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").
    • The first season of the 2020 revival ups the stakes to $25,000. Any team that wins it can either take the money and quit, or give it back to add 20 seconds on the clock and find a fourth item for $50,000. The team must then choose to take that money and quit, or trade it in for another 15 seconds and go after a fifth item for the $100,000 grand prize. If the team falls short at any point, they win nothing for the Super Sweep but still keep their Big Sweep total in cash.
    • Season 2 of the revival gives the team 90 seconds for the Super Sweep, with no time extensions or stoppages during the round. However, itís much more generous with the cash, because there is now no risk associated with going on; the first item found awards $5K, with the money climbing to $10K, $25K, $50K, and $100K for all five items.
  • 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.
  • Boring, but Practical: Go to the deli isle and stock up on the big meat and cheese items, then rush to health care isle and stock up on medicine, beauty, and baby products. Since these are routinely the most expensive items in the store, it was common to see contestants fall into this strategy; to the point where near the end of the 1990s series, every contestant opened their sweep this way.
  • Bowdlerise: The pilot episode was shot in a real supermarket; as such, the contestants grabbed things like tampons and condoms for the first sweep, since they were small items that added a ton of value. Besides being a Game-Breaker, these items were considered too risque for TV, and were removed from the studio stage once the show got picked up.
  • 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.).
  • Catchphrase:
    • "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 
  • 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.
  • Disqualification-Induced Victory: At least one team from the 2020 revival benefited from something similar, because the other two teams took more than their allotments of some items (in addition to the standard limit of no more than five, certain big-ticket items, such as Yeti coolers, only allowed one) and took significant score penalties for it (Leslie didnít say exactly how much the penalties were). Before the Bonus Sweep, Leslie even straight up told the team that they were the only team that followed the rules.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: A few episodes have had one team managing to answer all the questions before the other contestants can, resulting in the contestants only having the starting 1:30 and the other team having 4:00+ time for the sweep. Needless to say, they usually end up winning the sweep.
  • 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.
      • The first tapings of the series had $50 and $100 pennants. The latter could only be retrieved by getting a Lobster from the Lobster Tank. The former was eventually replaced with the $50-$200 (later $50-$250) bonuses, and the latter would be dropped in Season 2 (Fall 1990).
    • When the inflatable bonuses were eventually added, they were originally in small slips of paper that were pasted on them. They were replaced with peelable stickers a few tape dates later.
    • The sound effects for buzzing in, correct and incorrect guesses, were very different in Season 1. Season 2 replaced them with the familiar ones.
    • There was no Mini-Sweep originally; teammates simply raised their hands when David asked who was going first. For the first segment in Season 1, David would show a product, announce that it didn't cost a certain amount, and ask if the actual retail price was higher or lower. This was the only time the Up & Down arrows were in use when contestants locked in their answers (every other time was 1, 2, or 3). In Season 2, this segment was dropped, and now typically began with the Above or Below segment (contestants had to decide which one of three items was valued at a certain amount). Season 3 introduced the Mini-Sweep.
    • For some reason, Season 2 had smaller-than normal shopping carts.
    • 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.
    • In the first taped episodes of the Ruprecht-hosted revival, Sweep totals were given in dollars and cents. Late in the 1990 season, this changed to the totals being rounded off to the nearest dollar; cents would only come into play if the teams were tied on number of whole dollars. This wouldn't happen until the 2020 revival.
  • 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 end cap 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). The 2020 revival completely averts this; in at least one interview, a member of production staff stated that the food was real, and was donated to food banks when they were done with it.
  • 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 (which were usually involved in bonuses), cheeses, and any small things that were pricey.
      • On that last point: the pilot episode had teams grabbing things like tampons and condoms, since they fit into the "small but pricey" category nicely. These were considered a little too risque for daytime TV, especially in the Sixties. When the show got picked up, the studio stage had these products entirely absent.
    • One person went an unconventional route and used the medicine aisle, which were about as expensive as the large cuts of meat, but smaller and lighter.
  • Game Show Host: Bill Malone on the original, David Ruprecht on the Lifetime/PAX version, Leslie Jones on the 2020 ABC revival.
  • 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 ó always claimed, always a guarantee of a good Sweep total.
  • 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".
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: In the Super Sweep in the 2020 revival, if the team finds the first three items for the $25,000, or successfully converts the fourth item for $50,000, the contest music is replaced with another version with a simple bass drum beat reminiscent of a heartbeat while the team decides to accept the extra time and the double-or-nothing gamble. If the team does decide to play on, this mix continues until the team opens the envelope, restarting the clock.
  • Home Game: Milton Bradley made a board game based on the ABC version in 1966, complete with a miniature replica of a grocery store.
  • 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.
  • My Greatest Second Chance: Any time a team invited back for a Sweep of Champions or Second Chance week went on to win the $5,000.
    • The were also at least a few instances of a team being invited back after being affected by a(n unspecified) technical issue during their first appearance. At least one of these teams went on to win the $5,000.
  • 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.
  • No Indoor Voice: Leslie Jones' preferred method of hosting often involves her screaming at the top of her lungs.
  • 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.
    • There were multiple attempts to try and break the "start at the deli and stock up on meat, go to health care isle and stock up on medicine and beauty products" strategy many of the contestants would fall into. This ranged from the market monsters (forced the contestant to leave the isle if caught), shopping list items (generally the only thing kept after introduced), stocking a candy bag to a pound for 100 (generally not worth it), and secret items worth more money that can be gotten through the television screens. Aside from the shopping list items, all these were either hated by the audience and/or Awesome, but Impractical, and at most would be done after the aforementioned strategy was completed.
  • Palette Swap: Some bonuses in the Big Sweep were essentially re-skins of others, such as the giant Cheer/Gain detergent box, Cracker Jackpot/Jolly Time is Money, and Manager's/Red Tag Special.
  • 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. This didn't last long, as the Monsters got the ax in 1991.
  • 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.
    • Exaggerated in the 2020 revival, in which the equivalent bonus areas (thus far, a flower stand and a coffee counter) are manned by "employees" who dawdle and waste the contestants' time. Fortunately, there is a variant of the coffee bonus where the contestants control their own destiny by looking for a coffee cup with their name on it.
  • Sequence Breaking: The Bonus Round forbade it, requiring the contestants to follow the clues in order. If they didn't, it was originally a Non-Standard Game Over; later, they would be directed to leave the item, find the missed ones, and then double back.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Songs in the Key of Panic: "Nearing the End" variant in the Big Sweep and Super Sweep in the 2020 revival. When 10 seconds remain, the music rises in pitch in a similar style to the drowning music from the Sonic the Hedgehog games (but without setting as scary of a mood).
  • 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 ó 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.
  • Tiebreaker Round: On the very rare chance two teams tie after the Big Sweep, the winner is determined by cents. A 2020 episode had this happen.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent:
    • An UK version aired from 1993 to 2001 on ITV with host Dale Winton, with a short revival in 2007 on the same network with the same host, then a second revival from 2019 to 2020 on ITV2 with Rylan Clark-Neal.
    • An Australian version produced by Fremantle 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 Television Network 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:
    • Downplayed for the coffee bonus. 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.
    • On the 2020 revival, a contestant can take a time penalty by visiting a florist or a barista and waiting for an order to be filled for a cash bonus. This takes the form of the employee fumbling around deliberately until the time penalty has elapsed before giving the contestant the item.

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