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Series / Wordplay

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"Does Dick Shawn clean his acumen once a year?
Has Dorothy Lyman ever found a hoodoo hiding in her garage?
If Richard Moll acted avuncular, would a lady slap his face?
We'll find out the answers to these questions and a lot more as we play America's funniest new game show,
Charlie O'Donnell's opening spiel from Wordplay's debut episode

Wordplay was a short-lived Game Show that aired on NBC from December 1986 to September 1987, and ended up being Tom Kennedy's final show. It was produced by Fiedler/Berlin Productions (who would later go on to produce Treasure Mall, Trump Card and Wink Martindale's Trivial Pursuit) and Scotti-Vinnedge Television (best known for producing America's Top 10).

Two players competed to identify the definitions to obscure words (all certified as words by Webster's Dictionary) with the aid of a three-celebrity panel. The game board had nine different words, each worth an amount of money (how much depended on the round and how the game progressed- we'll get to that in a moment). When asked to identify a word, the celeb would give humorous stories, and three different definitions; if the contestant in control picked the right one, they won the money the word was worth. Here, a layer of strategy came in- with each successive word, the words on the board would be connected and therefore offer more money, but an incorrect choice gave the opponent a chance to choose from the remaining definitions. If the word chosen was connected to previously revealed dollar amounts, the contestant won the combined total of all connected money amounts; if both contestants chose a wrong definition, a block went up and all connections to it were dead. Whoever managed to get more money by the end of the game won and moved on to the "Double Definition" endgame.


Not to be confused with the 2006 documentary film about crossword puzzles.

Game show tropes in use:

  • Bonus Round: Double Definitions: Somewhat like the Gold Run from Blockbusters and the endgame of Catchphrase; the player must try to connect a line from one end of the 24-square board (four rows tall, six columns wide), with each square containing two definitions to a word (ie. "Political Family/Our Host" would mean "Kennedy"); doing so within 45 seconds won the player a Progressive Jackpot that began at $5,000.
  • Bonus Space: One word in the main game was the "Bonus Word"; picking that word and guessing the correct definition won that player a trip.
  • Consolation Prize: If Double Definition wasn't won, the contestant got $100 for each box they got.
  • Double The Dollars: For Round 1, each word was worth $25, $50, and $75; this would be doubled for Round 2 to $50, $100, and $150, and again for Round 3, to $100, $200, and $300.
  • Advertisement:
  • Game Show Winnings Cap: Champions were retired after three wins.
  • Home Game: One was released during the show's short lifespan. Rights issues behind the game are one of the reasons the series isn't being reran.
  • Personnel:
  • Progressive Jackpot: The Double Definition jackpot began at $5,000 and grew by $2,500 every day it wasn't won; the highest jackpot was worth $27,500.
  • Unexpectedly Obscure Answer: One of the main selling points was to identify obscure words.

Other tropes in use:

  • Bookends: For Tom Kennedy; this was his last game show, and it happened to be shot in the very same studio at NBC in Burbank where his first game show, Big Game, was taped.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: For at least the first episode (and possibly the first week), the bonus round was named Speedword; they changed it quickly when someone remembered that fellow NBC game Scrabble had already been using that term for a while.
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: The whole point.
  • Pilot: Taped in October 1986, with Peter Tomarken and Rod Roddy as host and announcer, a different set and music, and a radically different game board layout (four rows and three columns with three "blocks").
  • Rule of Three: Three rounds, three celebrities.

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