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Series / The Challengers

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Are you ready to step up to the challenge?

Revival of the 1969-74 NBC current-events quiz The Who, What, or Where Game hosted by Art James, now a syndicated series with three players (one a returning champion) and Dick Clark at the helm (co-producing as well alongside creator Ron Greenberg and Buena Vista Television). While the basics of the game remained the same through the run, certain aspects of the game were tweaked along the way.

Each show was introduced by announcer Don Morrow giving the date (e.g., "Today is Monday, September 3, 1990") and began with a 60-second rapid-fire current events question round called the "Challengers Sprint", with $100 per correct guess and $100 deducted for an incorrect guess. (This was later changed to just one toss-up question to decide who started, but the Sprint eventually returned.) The contestant with the most money after the Sprint got to select from a board of questions. Each round had six categories of three questions about current events and popular culture; each question was worth $150, $200, and $250 (later $100/$150/$200).

The contestants secretly chose which question they wanted to answer. If a question was chosen by one player, they were read the question with cash added or subtracted depending on if a right answer was given. If two players selected the same question, Clark read it toss-up style, with the first to buzz-in getting to answer. (For some episodes, if the buzzing contestant failed to answer correctly, Clark gave the other contestant a chance to answer if they wanted to. In others, he just gave the answer and moved on.) If all three contestants chose the same question the values doubled, with the player answering correctly first getting to answer one or both of the remaining questions for extra cash. Two rounds of six categories were played, with second round values doubled. See below for how things progressed after that.

The Challengers is notable for being one of the very few TV shows to prominently display each episode's airdate during the open and on a screen behind Clark, primarily because episodes were taped close to their airdate to keep with current events. However, this feature was dropped during their sweeps-period tournaments, so that they could be rerun during the summer hiatus without being literally dated.note 

Game Show Tropes in use:

  • Bonus Round: Technically, there were two:
    • First, the Final Challenge. All players with positive scores after two rounds played based on one category and three as-of-yet unannounced questions, each rated by difficulty (the easy question paid at even odds, the medium-difficulty question paid at 2:1 odds, and the most difficult paid at 3:1 odds). The contestants secretly chose which question they chose to answer and how much of their current winnings (up to all they had) to bet. If two or all three contestants chose the same question, the player with the highest wager got to answer. If two players wagered the same amount on the same question (as happened at least twice, on January 14 and August 1), those contestants would be asked to re-wager on that same question and re-declare. All three contestants kept their winnings, either on a Citibank Visa card or in cash, with the high scorer returning the next day.
    • Then there was the Ultimate Challenge: champions who won three games got to play the Ultimate Challenge for $50,000 plus $5,000 per failed attempt (later $25,000 plus $1,000 per show unclaimed). Clark announced one of two categories from which all questions were taken; if the contestant answered all three questions correctly in the chosen category, s/he won the cash jackpot; there was no Game Show Winnings Cap. (Starting on November 21, the Ultimate Challenge was played on every show and worth $10,000; later on, it was dropped altogether.)
  • Bonus Space: To an extent— whenever all three players picked the same question to answer in a category, the dollar amounts for all three questions would be instantly doubled; the player who got the first question correct could then try to answer the other two.
  • Double the Dollars: The second round; also see above.
  • Home Participation Sweepstakes: At least two, which ended up hurting them because A) they took up at least two questions worth of playing time, leaving some categories untouched at the end of the round, B) opening questions such as "What is the color of a cue ball?" made the show look even more dumbed-down in the eyes of Jeopardy! fans and C) they made reruns very difficult without heavy editing.
  • Personnel:
  • Speed Round: The Challengers Sprint.
  • Think Music: While the contestants make their "Final Challenge" wagers.

This show provides examples of:

  • April Fools' Day: Following the Sprint on April 1, 1991, the day's categories popped on the board "Pre-Columbian Architecture", "The Politics Of Burundi", "Quantum Physics", "14th-Century Philosophers", "Anaerobic Zoology" (which Dick didn't even try to read), and "Existential Poets". He had the contestant pick a category (Pre-Columbian Architecture), then asked "Come on, now, what is going on? Let me see what the subjects are-" and then the video wall displayed "APRIL FOOL!" You can watch the episode here.
  • The Artifact: Once the Ultimate Challenge was dropped, the hexagonal spot in the center of the set with the rotating light pattern wasn't used anymore.
  • Catchphrase: "Look to the video wall", "Cue the wall", "Step up to the challenge", "Ladies/Gentlemen, the challenge is yours..."
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Some categories - such as "Hannibal, Vegetable, and Mineral" - giving you questions on... Hannibal, Vegetable, and Mineral.
  • Expy: Of Jeopardy!. Some think it's a dumbed-down copy, while others take it as a more enjoyably-relaxed copy that doesn't take itself too seriously. Some have actually suggested that it might be smarter than J!, since the format encouraged viewers to keep up with current events.
  • First-Run Syndication
  • Gratuitous French: The "Parisian Holiday" category from October 15, 1990 had questions about ze food, ze buildings, and ze politicians.
  • Just For Pun: A trademark of the show. For example, "Animals in Motion" had questions on "Ewe-Turn", Fox Trot, and "Duck!"
  • Obvious Beta: This promo contains quick shots of the September 15, 1989 pilot taped on a slightly different set with different graphics.
  • Opening Narration: "Today is (Date), This is our champion (Player A's name, amount s/he won so far), This is (Player B, occupation), This is (Player C, occupation). (Player A), you're our champion. (Players B and C), you are...THE CHALLENGERS!"
    • One episode started with "Today is Cindy Clark's birthday: Tuesday, January 8, 1991".
    Dick Clark: Oh, thanks, Don! Now my son will want the same thing on his birthday!
    • On at least two occasions, Don Morrow noted how all three contestants came from the same city (first Boston, then New York), and hence called them The Boston Challengers or The New York Challengers.
  • Pilot: Aside from the above-mentioned 1989 pilot, The Who, What, or Where Game had one taped in 1966, hosted by Jack Narz.
  • Porky Pig Pronunciation: One blooper clip shows Dick tripping over "Bill Blass" repeatedly, then remarking "I can't say Bill Blass to save my ass."
  • Product Placement: Each contestant got their winnings on Citibank Visa cards, and news items were researched through Newsweek magazine.
  • Pun: Question topics would often set up a Rule of Three joke, generally with a pun as the punchline.
    • "They Have Pockets" had questions on Pool Tables, Baseball Gloves, and Captain Kangaroo (all three contestants picked the Captain, but couldn't quite pronounce his real last name close enough to suit the Judge).
    • "Wise Guys" had questions on Socrates, Plato, and Don Rickles.
    • "Wonders of Nature" had questions on March Storms, April Showers, and Mae West.
    • "Chilli Dogs" had questions on St. Bernards, Alaskan Huskies, and Mexican Hairless.
    • "It Ain't Over Till..." had questions on Nell Carter, Cass Elliot, and Roseanne Barr.
    • "Things That Fall" had questions on the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Stock Market, and Gerald Ford.
    • "Jack Nicklaus's Favorite Movies" had questions on Driving Miss Daisy, Bye Bye Birdie, and Ironweed.
    • "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" had questions on The Good Mother, The Bad News Bears, and The Ugly American.
    • "Take a Stab at It" had questions on olives, pickles, and Julius Caesar.
      Dick Clark: It was a sick, sick man that came up with that one.
      The Judge: Thank you.
    • "It Makes Scents" had questions on perfumes, flowers, and skunks.
    • "Ready... Aim..." had questions on firearms, fireworks, and fire science.
    • "They Hold Their Liquor" had questions about bottles, barrels, and Bob & Doug McKenzie.
    • "They're All Ears" gave questions on Dumbo, Mr. Spock, and Clark Gable.
    • The category "Ventriloquist Dummies" gave questions on Charlie McCarthy, Lambchop, and Milli Vanilli.
    • "Dining with Shakespeare" gave us Julius Caesar Salad, The Merchant of Venison, and Omelette.
      The Judge (after both Clark and the Studio Audience start to loudly groan at the puns): I proudly stand behind my writers...very far behind them.
    • "Food at the Firehouse" has smoked salmon, barbecued steak, and chard.
    • For "Great Greeks": You get Socrates, Sophocles, and Savalas.
    • "Call Me Al": Al Bundy, (sports announcer) Al Michaels, and Albatross.
    • "The Sounds of Silence": "Silence Is Golden", The Silence of the Lambs, and Harpo Marx.
    • "Strange Mammals": We have the platypus, the sloth, and Pee-Wee Herman. The last one prompts Dick to give an Aside Glance to the camera as the audience breaks out into laughter. All three contestants go for the Pee-Wee Herman question!
      Dick: Pee-Wee wins the race!
    • For "Ladykillers", there's Bruce Willis, George Michael, and (as Dick stifles his laughter) Henry VIII.
      Dick: There's a lady killer if ever there was one!
    • "Have a Ball" with baseball, football, or Lucille Ball.
    • "Our Favorite Carols"? There's Carol Burnett, Carol Channing, and "Good King Winceslas".
    • "Immortal Immortals": Zeus, Hercules, and George Burns.
    • "Feats of Clay": Building Clay, Ceramic Clay, and Cassius Clay.
  • Punny Name:
    • "Fun with Last Names" had questions on Gary Oldman & Henny Youngman, Fred Frendly & George Meany, and Sammy Cahn & Immanuel Kant.
    • The same round had "Men in Motion" questions on Dan Rowan, Christopher Walken, and Ted Danson.
    • "On Your 'Marx'" had questions on Karl Marx, Groucho Marx, and Richard Marx.
    • "Hoo, Watt, or Wear" had questions about owls, James Watt, and the fashion industry.
  • Scenery Porn: The video wall, a nice setup of 16 screens that displayed the questions as well as pictures for visual questions and live video during the end credits, while it would sometimes show the same scene the main camera was catching.
  • Those Two Guys: Dick Clark and the Judge.
  • Unperson: Contestants who were at $0 or less couldn't play the Final Challenge, and their names were notably removed from their lecterns once the show returned from commercial.