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Series / The $1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime

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Syndicated Game Show that ran from 1986-87 and was the first to offer a $1,000,000 grand prize years before it became the popular thing to donote . Hosted by Jim Lange, it pitted two couples against each other to play a word game with elements of Scrabble and Wheel of Fortune.

In each round, one player from each couple competed to solve words with the letters being filled in one at a time. Doing so won money and the right to select two letters to fill in a master puzzle, to which the buzz-in words gave a hint. Each letter placed in the puzzle added the amount of the original question to a pot, and the team that solved the puzzle added all the money from the pot to their score. There was one catch, however—at the beginning of the round, the computer lit all letters that were in the puzzle plus one extra, called the "Stinger"; selecting it resulted in the couple forfeiting their turn (and hence the chance to solve the puzzle) then and there.

Play continued for as many rounds as could fit within a set time limit; the couple with the most money won the game and advanced to the Bonus Round. Solving six words from a chosen category in 60 seconds won them a choice: walk away with a $5,000 on the first day, $10,000 on the second, or return the next day to defend their title. Upon a third bonus win, the couple won $40,000 a year for 25 years in Season 1, over $36,000 a year for 25 years plus $100,000 in prizes (including two cars and 20 round-trip plane tickets) in Season 2.

Not to be confused with It's Your Chance of a Lifetime, a short-lived Who Wants to Be "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" import from Australia.

This show provides examples of:

  • The Announcer: Johnny Gilbert. Mark Summers (not to be confused with the host of Double Dare (1986)) announced for the first few weeks; Gilbert dubbed him over during some reruns in the summer of 1986.
  • Beeping Computers
  • Big Win Sirens: A cacophony of sirens, klaxons, and clanging bells sounded when someone won the million in Season 1. This was changed to stock sirens and bells for Season 2.
  • Blinking Lights of Victory: Taken to an extreme, but not overboard, considering the eponymous exorbitant amount of the grand prize; flashing strobes and fireworks upon the flashing $1,000,000 light display both in the background, flashing keys and lights on the computer stage prop in the foreground, chasing neon lights on the money podium in front, and sweeping studio lights of multiple colors.
  • Bonus Round: You had to win the upfront game and the bonus round three times to win $1,000,000. If the champions lost at either point, they went home with only their front-game winnings.
  • Confetti Drop: Of epic proportions, when a couple won it all. In a couple of Season 1 episodes, they shot fireworks onstage. The pilot brought in a marching band!
  • Consolation Prize: Contestants kept their front-game winnings if they lost a bonus round or were defeated in the main game on their second or third day.
  • Double the Dollars: $25 is awarded for solving clues, as well as for each space filled in on the puzzle board. This amount is doubled to $50 in the second round, then doubled again to $100 in the third.
  • Game Show Host: Jim Lange.
  • Golden Snitch: Everything was worth $25 in Round 1, $50 in Round 2, and $100 for every round thereafter. It wasn't difficult to blow past a couple who won the first two rounds.
  • Home Game: One was released by Cardinal in 1986 and was relatively faithful, although there was no bonus game, there were only 48 puzzles (16 games without repeating), and the whole thing was on the cheap. Departing contestants received a copy, which is quite ironic since the game contained a contestant application.
  • Large Ham: Jim Lange whenever someone won the million: "YOU WON A MILLION DOLLARS!"
  • Lovely Assistant: Karen Thomas, in Season 2.
  • Press X to Die: Along with the lit letters for a round that belonged in the puzzle, one extra key was lit that did not belong in the puzzle (The Stinger). If it was hit, the couple’s turn was lost.
  • Press X to Not Die: The keyboard had a star key in addition to the 26 letters in the standard alphabet. If it was lit, there was at least one punctuation mark or numeral in the puzzle and played just like any other letter (and was never the Stinger).
  • Promotional Consideration: During some Season 1 episodes, Jim Lange would make public service announcements on behalf of Find the Children about a missing child and encourage viewers to contact the organization’s toll-free hotline if they had any information as to their whereabouts.
  • Show the Folks at Home: Before a round started, the home viewer was shown which letter was the Stinger.
  • Sound Proof Booth: The Bonus Round was played in one; the couple could only hear Jim.
  • Speed Round: If time grew short during a round, the letters to the puzzle in play were filled in one at a time, with the first couple to buzz in with the correct answer winning the pot.
  • Stage Money: The giant lighted pedestal onstage contained a massive pile of it, flanked by two security guards. Champions who won their first or second bonus round were offered a stack that stood for the day's buyout offer. During season 2, each day's champions were also given a stack at the end of the main game representing the money they had just won.
  • Studio Audience: Usually seen when the couple's family was shown before they went for the million.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: Southern ITV franchise TVS brought a lower-stakes version, All Clued Up, to the British airwaves in 1988. It proved popular and lasted for four series, only getting canned in 1991 because TVS lost its ITV franchise to Meridian.
  • Whammy: The "Stinger".
  • Who Wants to Be "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?": Subverted as the show predates Who Wants to Be a Millionaire by 13 1/2 years. Also played straight, albeit without Lifelines or a money ladder.