Long ago, back when Pong was pretty much the only Video Game on the market, pinball games were enjoying a surge in popularity. Also popular at the time were Game Shows, so Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley decided to fuse the two...and The Magnificent Marble Machine debuted July 7, 1975 on NBC. The host was Art James, fresh off the flopped Blank Check.
Two contestants, one a returning champion, competed with a celebrity partner to answer general-knowledge questions. The questions were displayed on an electronic ticker, with a series of dots on the bottom and a clue scrolling in on the top (i.e., "They hang lampshades"/ ; the answer is TV Tropes); the contestants and celebrities took turns for each question, and if nobody buzzed in once the clue was fully exposed, random letters of the answer would appear until someone did. The first team to score five points won the game and played the titular Machine.
The Machine, sitting in the center of the set, was 20 feet high and 12 feet long. Each member of the team used a button that controlled two flippers, and attempted to keep the two balls in play for up to 60 seconds each. 500 points were scored for hitting bumpers, while noisemakers and lights awarded 200 points per hit.
But the main focus were the seven large numbered bumpers on the table, called the Thumper Bumpers, which awarded prizes if hit (displayed below the score on the top half of the Machine); the ones marked "2" and "3" each represented half of the grand prize, such as a car or trip, and both had to be hit for that prize to be awarded. (Later in the run, a bonus prize was added for hitting all seven numbered bumpers at least once.)
Once the two minutes expired, or the balls were lost through one of the two "out holes" (one below the main flippers, the other behind the "6" bumper), the game ended...but if the team managed to score at least 15,000 points (minus 1,000 each time the goal wasn't met), they played a "Gold Money Ball" for another 60 seconds and won $200 each time it hit a noisemaker or bumper. (Later in the run, the goal began at 13,000 points and the Money Ball awarded $500 for each bumper hit.)
Marble debuted in a time swap with the neutered Jackpot!, going up against CBS' hit soap The Young and the Restless and ABC's problematic game Showoffs. It moved to 12:30 PM on December 1, and not only went up against CBS' Search for Tomorrow and ABC's All My Children but had to run just 25 minutes to accommodate NBC's 12:55 newscast. It was actually canned on January 5 in favor of Take My Advice, but the relationship show failed and Marble returned two weeks later at Noon...and switched to all-celebrities, a move which failed against ABC's faltering-but-still-kicking-your-ass Let's Make a Deal. But while Marble ended on March 12, its replacement (The Fun Factory) wasn't actually ready to debut...so repeats aired through June 11.
Probably the most bizarre thing about Marble was its very unexpected and completely uncredited appearance toward the end of The China Syndrome (1979), where it was the "regular programming" interrupted by KXLA in favor of the news report inside the plantnote . The clips are of Joan Rivers playing a normal ball on the Machine sometime before the end of the Money Ball Marathon...although the music, sound effects, and Art's comments were all dubbed over with generic music and sounds.
Game Show Tropes in use:
- Bonus Round: The titular Machine, as detailed above. The Money Ball was a bonus-Bonus Round.
- Celebrity Edition: When Marble returned on January 19, it switched to all-celebrities playing for members of the studio audience. Didn't work.
This show provides examples of:
- Obvious Rule Patch: The producers watched the tape of each Machine playing to make sure every hit had registered, but as the series went on the scoring errors increased...and so the Machine was altered.
- First, the Machine was altered so that only the Thumper Bumpers added 500 points for each hit. The Money Ball round was overhauled into the "Money Ball Marathon", with the highest-scoring player after every ten shows getting a Money Ball round.
- After five marathons (ten weeks), the Money Ball was dropped entirely and the score displays were covered up; the Machine, which burst from the starting gate as "Big-Money Pinball", limped to the finish line with only its Thumper Bumpers retaining any sort of purpose (awarding the six prizes).
- Pinball: The whole point of the show, although Heatter-Quigley seemingly failed to realize that for most people, playing pinball is more fun than simply watching it.
- Serious Business: Pinball for prizes and cash, where being a Wizard on the Machine will make you rich. Hell, yeah.