September 16, 1985- September 12, 1986
(Gene hosted until December 13, 1985)


Daily syndication


Michael Hanks


Kline & Friends for Blair Entertainment


“This is our prize vault! Hidden inside the vault is a fortune in cash, fabulous prizes, and one of television’s most fun-filled bonus games!...Time is the key that will open this vault for one of these lucky couples, as they try to…”

The series lasted 39 weeks, but Gene was gone after the first 13. That’s okay, this show didn’t deserve him anyway.

 Two married couples compete. Gene asks a series of general knowledge questions; the correct answer to each question serves as one of six clues to the identity of a famous person, place, or thing. The first couple to ring in with a correct answer wins a specified amount of time (5 seconds for the first answer, 10 for the second, 20 for the third, 40 for the fourth, 80 for the fifth, and 100 for the sixth) and the chance to solve the puzzle.

Solving the puzzle correctly wins the round, 2 out of 3 rounds wins the game and a chance to go into the Prize Vault (unlocked by Julie Hayek by entering the winning couple’s time as a combination) for a chance to break the bank.

In the Prize Vault, the couple used their time to complete as many of eight “events” as possible. Each event was represented by a prize and five bank cards (for forty bank cards total). Among the events used in the vault:

Demonstrating how a musical instrument works; answering true-false questions about a celebrity, asked by a look-alike of that celebrity; Identifying activities being performed by a mime;  and finishing old jokes read by Charles Nelson Reilly. Every event completed wins a designated prize and one of the five bank cards.


Also, at some point, a bell sounds, sending the couple to the Number Jumbler. The couple stops the Jumbler on a number between 0-5, and the couple wins that number of bank cards without having to complete the attached event.


When time runs out, the number of bank cards is tallied, and Gene, the couple, and all their helpers go to the bank. The couple inserts their bank cards, one at a time, into a scanner. After spitting out a series of numbers, the display above either reads “WRONG CODE” or “BREAK BANK!”

When the couple has only four cards left, Gene begins offering $1,000 in cash for the couple to quit after each card. But if the couple decides to take the risk and they have the one card out of 40 that will give the ‘BREAK BANK’ message, they win everything in the bank, including a car, cash ($500 for every day not won), and prizes (one prize for every day not won).

This was the first game show produced by Kline & Friends, a company formed by ex-staffers from Barry & Enright, whose dumpster Kline & Friends apparently raided before this series went into production. The wall behind the contestants in the main game came from “Hot Potato,” the Number Jumbler came from a squashed pilot for a new version of “Twenty-One,” and sound effects throughout the show came from “Tic Tac Dough,” “The Joker’s Wild,” and “Hot Potato.”

But Kline & Friends apparently weren’t friendly with Gene, as he recalled years later. In a game where you had to identify what a mime was performed and sing “On Top of Old Smokey” with a model accompanying you, the producers routinely criticized Gene for telling jokes during what they intended to be a serious and suspenseful show. I wish I was creative enough to be making that up.

There’s also the question of how much of a pre-show briefing they were actually willing to give the guy in charge of enforcing the game. In TV’s most fun-filled bonus game, Gene is clearly lost, walking in the wrong direction and searching aimlessly for the appropriate spot for the different events. And the man who was known spontaneity during the past 40 years absolutely will not take his eyes of the index cards in his hands.

Gene was fired by the producers after 13 weeks. With a broken format (Yes, the contestants ARE technically being rewarded for not being able to solve the puzzle quickly) and cheesy presentation, the fact that the show was failing was clearly the fault of the emcee with 40 years experience and “highest rated game show in daytime history” on his resume…right?

As a parting shot, Gene negotiated a deal stating that the episodes of this series which he hosted could never be rerun. That’s right…he decided he’d rather lose residual fees than let his work here be shown again. If you’ve never seen this show, that should probably tell you everything you need to know about it.


Up two levels to GENE RAYBURN'S WORLD

Up three levels to GAME SHOW UTOPIA