The year was 1985; Reg Grundy Productions had recently hit paydirt in the United States with its two NBC game shows, Scrabble and Sale of the Century. With that in mind, it was about time to go for a hat-trick: The result was Time Machine, a series that tested contestants' knowledge of things they have experienced in the past, but never quite like this.
In its original format, three contestants, the last of whom is a returning champion, played pricing gam—er, minigames involving history and pop culture from the past, to earn prizes for their "Prize Bank". Much like that show, Time Machine had a library of different games that could be played, including:
- 3 in a Row: The player was given a tic-tac-toe board and had to make either an orthogonal or a diagonal line to win a prize (or a diagonal line for a larger prize, such as a car). All of the spaces were marked with years from a decade, and the player also had to place three "poison cards" on the board. A list of nine events was given, and the contestant had to name off the events that did not occur in the years marked by poison cards. The game ended once a line was made, or all three poison cards were lit.
- Later in the first format, the game was changed to use events written on randomly selected pieces of paper, and the contestants now had to avoid getting a diagonal.
- As Time Goes By: Guess the year a celebrity photo was taken within five years to earn spins on a clock. Stop the second hand at 12 o'clock with your back turned to it to win.
- Before or After: A simple "did this event happen before this year, or after?" game; the contestant started with $200, which doubled on each correct answer. After three questions, the contestant could risk the money on one more.
- The Main Event: Five clues to a mystery subject were hidden behind categories on a board; a year was given, and one of the clues could be revealed for free, but a contestant had to earn the privilege of revealing a clue by answering questions from the categories. After the questions were asked, the contestant now had to guess the subject; the contestant won $5,000 if they could guess the subject from one clue, while additional clues deducted $1,000 from the prize on the line.
- Sweet Sixteen: Given four products, guess the year each was first made publicly available. For every year the contestant was off, they lost $100 from the $1,600 given at the start of the game.
- Tube Game: The contestant was given a year and one of the big three networks, and asked which one of two shows aired on said network in the specified year; the prize was hidden behind one of the networks, and to be won, it had to be behind one of the networks that the contestant got right.
After all three games, the contestants then played the Time Capsule round: Four events and a popular song from a certain year were given. The contestant whose guess was closest to the answer won their Prize Bank, became champion, and moved on to the Bonus Round.
Time Machine flopped out of the gate so hard that it was revamped only five weeks into its run; the biggest change under the new format was that it was no longer a blatant clone of The Price is Right. The first three games were now played by two contestants for points, and the prize bank was scrapped in favor of just winning the prize automatically. Some of the existing games were salvaged and modified for the new competitive format (e.g., "As Time Goes By now used an educated guess format, and the clock was divided into segments denoting dollar amounts, with $1,000 on the 12 o'clock space), while a few new games (such as the Jukebox Game) were added. However, there were only two sequences of three games that were used per-episode.
The winner of the first half now faced the returning champion in the "Challenge Round", which was just a re-named Time Capsule round with a car as a bonus prize instead of a cash/prize jackpot. Even with these changes, Time Machine became ancient history on April 26, 1985, after only 16 weeks on the air.
This game show is not to be confused with the 2004 British documentary series, narrated by Jeremy Vine.
Game Show Tropes in use:
- Bonus Round: The first was simply a "which of these four events occurred in this year?" question.
- In the second format, Before or After was salvaged to become the new bonus game: the champion was given four events, and had to guess which occurred before or after a certain year to win a prize package and progressive cash jackpot. After the adoption of Format #2, the prize package was replaced by a car. In both cases, the number of questions required to win were reduced for each day they were champion, and they automatically won after their fifth consecutive day as champion.
- Golden Snitch: How the main game worked during the second format. Winning the first two minigames were worth one point, the last was worth two.
This series provides examples of:
- April Fools' Day: The show's one-and-only chance at this went normally until the bonus round, when a gag prize was revealed rather than the standard car...except the actual car could plainly be seen in the background.
- Double Unlock:
- The Main Event requires you to both "unlock" a clue by answering its corresponding question correctly, and then sacrifice $1,000 from the pot to actually use it.
- The entire first format was like this. No matter how well you did in your minigame, you had to win the Time Capsule round to keep your prize.
- Expy: Format #1 was clearly meant to be The Price Is Right WITH HISTORY;
- Tube Game was essentially a clone of Bonus Game with television shows.
- Sweet Sixteen was a clone of Cliff Hangers.
- The Time Capsule round had shades of Contestant's Row and the Showcase.
- Minigame Game
- Pilot: Shot in 1984, with clips used in this promo. 3 In A Row was titled "Name Your Poison", and Main Event had a much brighter paint job.
- Scenery Porn: The set was huge- the first format's intro had a darkened overhead shot of the circular center area (comprised of multiple rectangular panels that could slide up and down as needed; the panels had patterns with chase lights within them to resemble clocks) to show the contestants and it looked awesome.