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Series / Winning Lines

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A BBC game show from the creators of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, produced as a tie-in with the British National Lottery. The game started with 49 numbered players (the Lotto draw which aired during the show had 49 balls), who played an elimination game based on questions with numerical answers. If a contestant thought their number was the answer to the question asked, they could buzz in. The player with the correct answer advanced to the next round, but only if they buzzed in. Those who guessed incorrectly were eliminated. (Starting from the second series, each player had a keypad to answer general numerical questions; the fastest player to answer correctly would advance.) This process continued until 6 players remained/qualified. Viewers whose telephone numbers contained all 6 of the "ones" digits of the advancing players could register to become a contestant on a future episode too.

Then came the next round, "Looking After Number One", where the field would be reduced to one player. A question was asked on the buzzer whose answer was one of the numbers of the remaining players. If a contestant answered correctly, the contestant with that number would be eliminated. If the player with the matching number guesses correctly, they're saved. Wrong answers eliminated the person who guessed. This was repeated until one remained.

The winner got to ceremonially start the Lotto drawing, and then play the Wonderwall bonus round for a chance to win progressively better trips (ranging from a bed and breakfast at Spaghetti Junction to a trip "around the world") by answering questions with one of 49 answers on a giant video screen in three minutes. They had to give both an answer and its number in order to move on, and could take two 15-second "pit stops" to study the board again if needed. Twenty correct answers were needed to win the top prize.

Winning Lines ran for six series on BBC One, hosted by Simon Mayo from 1999-2000, and Phillip Schofield from 2001-04. During Schofield's time as host, the winner was given a chance to play a second round of Wonderwall to win up to £5,000 in spending money for their trip.

To cash in on a recent fixation with primetime, high-stakes game shows triggered by Millionaire in the United States, Winning Lines came stateside in 2000, produced by Stone-Stanley Entertainment for CBS, with the hosting role filled by veteran television personality (and game show host) Dick Clark. The show was a faithful adaptation nonetheless, sans Lottery cross-promotion, but with a lottery-sized grand prize of $1,000,000.

Game Show Tropes in use:

  • The Announcer: Chuck Riley for the American version.
  • Bonus Round: The Wonderwall, which is essentially a trivia version of Where's Wally?/Waldo?. The player begins with 15 seconds to study a large video wall with 49 possible answers on it. Then, they got three minutes to answer 20 questions by responding with both the answer and number from the board. Each prize level is a vacation of increasing prestige, ranging from a trip to a bed and breakfast at Spaghetti Junction to a trip around the world. Two "Pit Stops" are issued to stop the clock for fifteen seconds each (although the player may not answer during a pit stop). No penalties were issued for incorrect answers, except on the American version.
    • The American version is almost identical, but with some additional changes. The trips were replaced by a money ladder ranging from $2,500 to $1,000,000, and the contestant could pass up to two questions. However, the biggest addition of all was a way to lose: each incorrect guess earned a strike. Getting three strikes or running out of time dropped the player right back down to the $2,500 level. Additionally, every question had a 15-second time limit in addition to the main 3 minutes; running out of time on that also cost a strike. Once the player either got two strikes or ran the clock down to 15 seconds (whichever came first), they could press a button to bail out of the game altogether and keep their current prize. The Italian version of the show also used this variation, but without any passes or bail out opportunities available.
    • In Italy, Wonderwall was taken out of Winning Lines and played as a segment of the long-running show Domenica In (Sunday In) on Rai Uno presented by Carlo Conti between 2000 and 2001.
  • Consolation Prize:
    • British: In "Looking After Number One", the last eliminated player won a holiday to the Countryside.
    • American: Each eliminated player in "Sudden Death" received $1,000.
  • Home Game: An electronic board version in the UK.
  • Home Participation Sweepstakes:
    • British: If your phone number contained the ones digits of the final six contestants' numbers, you were eligible to become a contestant.
    • American: If your phone number contained the ones digits of the final six contestants' numbers and the ones digit from the number of the last correct answer given in the Wonderwall round, you could enter a drawing to win $50,000.
  • Lifelines: The two Pit Stops and passes in the Wonderwall round.
  • Personnel:
    • Game Show Host: Simon Mayo and Phillip Schofield for the British version, Dick Clark for the U.S. version.
    • The Announcer: Chuck Reilly served as the announcer for the U.S. version; the only other game show he had voiced was, oddly enough, another short-lived series based off a British game — in this case, the syndicated Trump Card (named because it was filmed at Trump's Castle in Atlantic City), an adaptation of Bob's Full House that aired during the 1990-91 season.
  • Who Wants to Be "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?": The original British run zig-zagged it: both Millionaire and Winning Lines were produced by Celador, and premiered only a year apart. Winning Lines does share some stylistic similarities with Millionaire (the dark and futuristic look, and even the same composer). At the same time, it subverts the cliches by not being a single player game (only the Wonderwall was, but that's a typical characteristic of a bonus round), and the aforementioned Wonderwall is actually designed to be a Speed Round, averting padding (but the main game, is another story). Also, unlike most Millionaire-inspired shows, it was a BBC/National Lottery game show, so giving away a million pounds was out of the question. They saved that for the lottery.
    • However, in America, the similarities were played straight, and were exacerbated by the higher stakes. The average viewer may have considered Winning Lines to be another show trying to cash in on the Millionaire craze, rather than a de facto sister show.
  • Zonk: The British version offered a stay at a bed and breakfast overlooking the Gravelly Hill Interchange in Birmingham (popularly known as "Spaghetti Junction") as a prize for getting only one question right on the Wonderwall. They weren't kidding, and they even had copy and a video package ready just in case.

This show provides examples of:

  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: In the American version, a heartbeat would underline the soundtrack when a contestant's bail-out button was active, which occurred when they were down to their final strike or fifteen seconds left to play.
  • Info Dump: Dick Clark in the American version would usually chime in on how much time/strikes/passes/pit stops the contestant had got at that point in the Wonderwall round. As usually said by him beforehand, "I'll tell you where we are along the way."
  • Timed Mission: The Wonderwall only allots three minutes. The American version further complicates matters by putting an additional time limit on each individual question and penalizing players for each miss.
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change:
    • In "Looking After Number One" (known as "Sudden Death" in the American version), the theme shifts a pitch higher after every player elimination.
    • The Wonderwall theme does this after each Pit Stop used to mark the game's progress, the theme shifting a pitch higher when gameplay is resumed.