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Series / Three on a Match

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"It's Three on a Match, with your host, Bill Cullen!"
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Bob Stewart-produced Game Show hosted by Bill Cullen that ran from 1971-74 on NBC, in which three contestants attempted to answer true/false questions, in turn earning money which they could use to uncover boxes on a board and match them up.

To do so, each contestant secretly bid on how many questions they could answer (from 1-4) in one of three shown categories (the third would often be a grab bag category like "The Mixed Quiz" as opposed to a subject). The contestant with the highest number - or, if two contestants tied for the high number, the contestant with lowest bid - won the right to choose a category and play for $10 times the total number of questions bidded (1-2-3 would be worth $60, for example).

Upon winning at least $90 (or $50 with one of the "Free Box" bonuses), the contestant could spend the money on boxes on the giant 4x3 gameboard, calling out a dollar amount ($20, $30, or $40) and a color (Red, Green, Yellow, or Blue): e.g., "$40 on the Blue". A prize was hidden behind each box, and to win a prize a contestant had to find it in the $20, $30, and $40 columns. Upon doing so, that contestant won the game and played against two new challengers. (A column was "closed" if three of its four boxes were chosen.)

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On April 23, 1973, the prizes were removed from the board and replaced with pictures relating to a certain "theme" (movie monsters, actors, animals, etc.). Further, the game was amended to keep three contestants on until one scored three matches (tracked by placards on each podium), which awarded a prize package worth about $5,000. While the trips were lavish enough and other prizes were definitely desirable, they were downplayed as gameplay and Cullen's affable hosting style were emphasized.

The format was changed once again two months prior to the end of the show in April 1974; instead of bidding and selecting categories of true/false questions, now Cullen read open-ended questions with the contestants buzzing in. The value began at $40 and increased by $10; if a player buzzed in and was incorrect, the value of the question would be split among the two opponents. Also thrown into the mix were "Takeaways" where the value of a right answer would be deducted from the opponents' scores.

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Still, despite lasting far longer than any previous show had at the 1:30 PM slot vacated by Let's Make a Deal in December 1968, getting some affiliates to stop pre-empting the slot, and giving away much more with the format update, TOAM consistently ranked a solid third behind ABC's Deal and CBS' As the World Turns in the east (in the Pacific timezone, where it aired at Noon, against ABC's Password and local programming on CBS). Even so, neither its ratings nor its competition are what ultimately did the show in - see Screwed by the Network, under the Trivia tab.

Not to be confused with 1932 movie Three on a Match.


This show provides examples of:

  • The Announcer: Don Pardo. Bob Clayton, Wayne Howell, and Roger Tuttle all subbed for Pardo.
  • Bonus Round: The Big Match, used during the second format and introduced in October 1973, where the day's contestants would try to match two halves of a $1,000 bill to win just that - $1,000 (plus $1,000 for every three shows it wasn't claimed).
  • Bonus Space:
    • One/Two/Three Free Box(es) - gave bonus picks if the contestant won the pot and went to the board right then. The money was spent first, followed by the free boxes.
    • Double Pot - multiplied the bids by $20 instead of $10, for a possible maximum of $220.
    • Instant Match - if a contestant's very first three picks of a game matched, it ended the game immediately and awarded either that prize, a jackpot (see below) and a new car (1971-73) or simply the $5,000 prize package (1973-74).
    • During the second format, any contestant who managed to make seven consecutive matches won a new car and $5,000 cash.
  • Catchphrase:
  • The Cameo: Geoff Edwards appeared on February 11, 1974 to promote Jackpot, and tested Bill with a few Super Jackpot riddles. Jackpot! had only aired for a month at this point, and probably hadn't even debuted yet when this episode was taped.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Larry Blyden guest-hosted the show circa 1973, and was introduced as "the host of What's My Line?" Due to syndication practices of the era, however, some markets were still watching Line hosted by Wally Bruner.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Originally, cars were offered as a prize on the board; it didn't become the prize for an Instant Match until a month in (September 1971). Returning champions were also not introduced until that time.
  • Fan Remake: Greg "Greggo" Wicker did an anime-themed version at anime conventions, using a combination of formats (matching pictures, with one match needed to win the game; about three games were played per show).
  • Game Show Host: Bill Cullen, in one of his more beloved games.
  • Game Show Winnings Cap: The show only introduced returning champions after the first month or so. The limit was five matches during the first format, and seven $5,000 prize packages or 15 matches during the second format. A car would be awarded after winning three games.
  • Home Game: Milton Bradley made one in 1972, based off the original prize-matching format (including the seldom-remembered cash jackpot element).
  • Once an Episode: Bill's knock on the wall behind him after his introduction. During the second format, the Big Match as well.
  • Opening Narration:
    • 1971-73 (first format): "[Contestants], if your first three picks match you win that prize plus a [year and model of car], on Three On A Match!"
    • Another opening had "This is our current champion, (name of contestant). His/her challengers are (name) and (name). They're competing for a (year) car plus these prizes (shown on board). It's Three On A Match!"
    • 1973-74 (second format): "[Contestants], if your first three picks match you win the game instantly and at least $5,000 in cash and prizes! It's Three On A Match!"
  • Progressive Jackpot: Beginning November 1st, 1971, anyone who made an Instant Match was awarded a cash jackpot that started at $1,000 and added $100 anytime someone went to the prize board until it was won. It's not known when this was done away with (clearly some time before February 1973), but it stuck around long enough to make it into the Home Game.
    • As mentioned above, for every three shows it wasn't won, the $1000 offered in the Big Match would increase.
  • Retired Game Show Element: As you can see, the show went through quite a few different rules and formats over the four-year run.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: Australia got a lower-stakes version produced by Reg Grundy and hosted by Bob Moore, which aired for a period in 1973.
  • Whammy:
    • The occasional "No Match" square, which did nothing but waste the amount spent on that box (or a free pick, depending on the circumstances).
    • A "Stop" sign was added for the final two months of the show's run, which forced the player to stop buying boxes then and there.

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