Game Show created by former Jeopardy! contestant Jay Wolpert, and one of his first works after leaving Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions. Hosted by Tom Kennedy, the show premiered on CBS on April 23, 1979.
The rules... oh, boy. Stay with us here. In each round, one contestant played an offensive role (the "Charger"), and the other played defense (the "Blocker"). The board had five "levels" of five boxes each with dollar amounts from $10 to $50, plus a sixth with three worth $200, $350 and $500. The Charger's goal was to advance up the board in 60 seconds by correctly solving "bloopers" — clues containing a humorously-incorrect statement (e.g., "Bob Barker is the host of The Price Is Too Damn High", with the correct answer being The Price Is Right). If the Charger answered incorrectly, they could try another clue in the row.
Before the Charger started to play, though, the Blocker hid six "Blocks" on the board (no more than three in a row on the first five levels, and no more than one in the sixth row), which imposed a five-second penalty if hit. If the Charger was running out of time and hadn't yet reached the sixth level, they could call a "Longshot" and skip right to that row — however, the Blocker got to place an extra block using one of three "secret buttons". The Charger won the round either by advancing through all six levels, or by calling a Longshot and then finding/correcting a blooper. If the Charger ran out of time, or called a Longshot and then either missed a blooper or hit a block, the Blocker won. Games were played best-of-three, with the players switching roles each round and the champion deciding who played which role in the third round if needed.
On November 5, 1979, the format was slightly altered to use teams of one contestant and one celebrity. This venture, appropriately called Celebrity Whew! and originally promoted to run for three weeks, ended up remaining until the show's end on May 30, 1980. Among those who participated were Trish Stewart, Jamie Farr, Gary Collins, Mary Ann Mobley, Robert Vaughn, Marcia Wallace, John Saxon, and Betty White.
Whew! was initially aired against NBC's All-Star Secrets, which Whew! handily outperformed. NBC then moved The Hollywood Squares into the timeslot- with Squares winning the ratings battle decisively (although Squares would end a month after Whew! did). Its cancellation left CBS with only one game show — The Price Is Right — from June 1980 through January 1982, when Tattletales returned to the network's daytime schedule.
Game Show Tropes in use:
- Blinking Lights of Victory: When a contestant won the $25,000 bonus round, all of the lights in the studio would flash and blink, including the cyclorama background which would shift from red to blue.
- Bonus Round: The Gauntlet of Villains. Tom would ask a series of rapid-fire bloopers, and each correct answer awarded $100 and one step past each Villain (a series of cartoonish characters); a wrong answer meant that "Villain" displayed the correct answer on their "Telly Belly". (The contestant also had to respond within two seconds, or the answer would come up automatically.) Getting past all ten Villains in the given time awarded $25,000. The contestant received 60 seconds, plus one for every $100 earned in the main game. The theoretical maximum, assuming the contestant only answered and blocked the highest-valued bloopers, at one per level, was 77 seconds ($750 in the two rounds they would have won, plus $250 in the round they lost, makes $1,750).
- Actually, the maximum was 75 seconds (you only win the money for the rounds you win).
- When the show became Celebrity Whew!, the format was adjusted so matches wouldn't straddle between episodes. To help this, players who won the first two rounds then played a third round against the house for additional money/Gauntlet time. The six Blocks were placed by the Villains, with a seventh added on Level 6 if the Longshot was used.
- Celebrity Edition: The show switched to two celebrity-contestant teams in November 1979, but unlike many other examples of this trope Celebrity Whew! didn't really suffer all that much - other than the aforementioned "no straddling" alteration, the only real change was that the teams split duties in Charging, Blocking, and running the Gauntlet.
- Game Show Winnings Cap: Any player who beat the Gauntlet retired immediately, as CBS had a $25,000 winnings limit in effect at the time. A five-Gauntlet limit was added sometime between mid-June and late July 1979 (shortly after one contestant managed to win seven matches, and won the Gauntlet on his seventh try, leaving with $32,750).
- Lifelines: The Longshot, as described below.
- Sound Proof Booth: While the Blocker placed Blocks on the board, the Charger sat behind a scenic flat wearing headphones that played white noise.
- Sudden Death: Any time "Longshot!" got yelled out, which typically happened when the Charger knew s/he wasn't going to get to Level 6 before time ran out. Yelling "Longshot!" stopped the clock, with the sound effect of screeching tires and a crash, then immediately brought said Charger to Level 6.
- Once the Blocker put a "secret Block" among the three amounts (Tom reminded the Charger that there may already be a Block on Level 6), the Charger had to find a blooper and correct it to win. If the Charger couldn't at that point (by either finding a Block or not solving the blooper), the Blocker won.
- The Charger couldn't call a Longshot if he/she was already on Level 6, or whenever the five-second penalty for hitting a Block was being counted down.
- Whammy: Downplayed. When they hit a block (indicated by one of the Villains), the Charger would have to wait five seconds before getting to select another value on that Level. The Blocker, meanwhile, was awarded the amount attached to it.
This show provides examples of:
- Animated Credits Opening: Done by none other than Hanna-Barbera. A young lady dodges the Gauntlet's characters in what appears to be a Scooby-Doostyle haunted house, eventually reaching a large pot of gold. A word bubble comes out of her mouth, which turns into the show's logo before dissolving to the same logo on-set.
- Big "NO!": After at least one Gauntlet win, the Villains' monitors displayed "OH NOOOOOO!!!!!"
- Calvinball: Just look at the freaking rules, although it becomes a lot easier to understand upon watching an episode or two.
- Comeback Mechanic: The Longshot. No matter how many blocks or wrong answers the Charger runs into, this call will let him/her jump straight to Level 6 for a chance to win the round by finding and correcting one last blooper.
- Creative Closing Credits: The crew members' names were enclosed in comic-strip Speech Bubbles in the shape of the show's logo.
- Downer Ending: Randy Amasia, a high-profile member of the online game show community, was a contestant on August 27-28, 1979 and searched for years for his second episode (in which he won the $25,000 in his first attempt at the Gauntlet). Just hours before a copy was secured, he died of throat cancer.
- Both of his episodes circulate as master copies, but his first day also circulates from its original broadcast. The person who taped it, a co-worker of Randy, then forgot to tape the second episode (with the $25,000 win); Randy stated years later that he felt it wasn't a coincidence that said co-worker quickly became a former co-worker.
- Excited Show Title!
- Grand Finale: The last show had a final Block configuration (composed by the Villains, as per the format) of $20 and $40 on Level 2, $30 on Levels 3-5, and $350 on Level 6 - resulting in what was either a finger with the $350 space as its green nail, or a penis. In either case, Tom seemed to notice what they were going for.
- The Villains also had special messages on display: "Hi... Anxiety" at the start, and "Try And Collect" when the contestant lost.
- Game Over: The mocking comments displayed on the monitors built into the Villains if the contestant lost the bonus round. Also, see Greek Chorus below.
- Greek Chorus: "TIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIME'S UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUPPP!", from the Villains.
- Hurricane of Puns: They flew fast, freely, and furiously here, including one about an announcer named "I Beg Your" Pardo.
- Mercy Kill: If a contestant used up all five spots on a Level and didn't correct any bloopers, s/he automatically moved on to the next Level. Although this may seem like rewarding failure, using up all five spots (especially if three were Blocks) led to a higher chance of forcing the contestant to use the Longshot.
- Non Standard Game Over: If the Charger couldn't correct any bloopers on the sixth Level with any time remaining, the Blocker automatically won the round.
- Pilot: Three were taped in December 1978, though aside from some audiovisual differences (more colorful set (including lights on the Charger's podium to count down the five-second penalty following a block being hit), some different music, and the bloopers not being underlined) it was largely identical to the aired show. Clips appeared in CBS debut promos, and Pilot #3 was uploaded by Wink Martindale in January 2020.
- Run the Gauntlet: The Bonus Round, what else?
- Sarcasm Mode: The Villains' screens displayed mocking comments both before and after the Gauntlet, whether the contestant won or lost.
- Sore Loser: See Sarcasm Mode for what happened if the contestant won the Gauntlet. Examples included "We went easy!", "Cheater!", and "The IRS is coming!" (Although early episodes, or at least those that circulate, did not have the mocking remarks - the monitors simply read "Whew!" after a win.)
- Timed Mission: 60 seconds in the front game, 60 seconds plus one second for every $100 earned from Charging and Blocking in the Gauntlet.