Do You Remember? #83: Merv Griffin’s Crosswords

Ah, game shows, how you used to be all over the place in daytime television? I can remember staying home from school while I was sick or just for the hell of it, I would always tune the TV to game shows whether it was classic stuff like Scrabble and Classic Concentration to perennial favorites like The Price Is Right, Jeopardy!, & Wheel Of Fortune, it was an excellent time to be alive.

By the mid 2000s however, the daytime game show was no longer the hot thing in town and a hit daytime game show was more harder to come by. Sure, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Family Feud were successful during this timeperiod but longtime staples like Supermarket Sweep and Shop Til’ You Drop were long gone and even the Game Show Network was steering away from game shows and trying to go for more reality programming, it was just a bad time for daytime game shows.

In 2007, Merv Griffin, the man who created Jeopardy! & Wheel Of Fortune, tried to give us the last great game show before his untimely death right before the show aired, and that show was Merv Griffin’s Crosswords:

By the way, retro game show fanatics will remember this theme as the Buzzword theme on Wheel Of Fortune in the late 80s/early 90s:

Merv Griffin’s Crosswords (commonly shortened to Crosswords) is an American game show based on crossword puzzles. The show was created by its namesake, Merv Griffin, who died shortly after beginning production on the series. Ty Treadway was the host, and Edd Hall was the announcer.

The series ran in daily syndication from September 10, 2007 and aired first-run episodes until May 16, 2008, with reruns airing in most markets until September 5, 2008; it has remained in continuous reruns on various outlets since then.

The show was produced by Yani-Brune Entertainment and Merv Griffin Entertainment, and was distributed by Program Partners.

Crosswords initially pitted two contestants in direct competition, filling in answers in the day’s crossword puzzle one at a time in random order. The answer boxes denoting the number of letters in a word was shown with a crossword clue and a dollar value. As the game progressed a word could have multiple blanks already filled in.

After the clue was read, the contestants could ring in, with the order they did so denoted on the screens on the front of their podiums. A contestant had to give a correct answer and then spell it correctly in order to earn the money attached to the clue. If the contestant misspelled the word, did not come up with the correct solution, or failed to give an answer, the amount of the clue was deducted from their score.

Okay, simple concept, taking a beloved daily newspaper game and turning it into a game show and done by Merv Griffin no less, this should be amazing and for the most part, it was.

So, what happened? Why did it only last one season? Well, a couple of things come to mind when I look at this series again.

One is, like I said, the timing of the show’s debut. This debuted in 2007 and like I said, syndicated game shows were not the norm that they used to be at the beginning of the decade and I also remember this show not being marketed very well, it was kind of buried on most of the networks because most of the half-hour game shows would either be played back to back or just forced down to late night hours. This was also around the time Family Feud was lagging in the ratings with John O’Hurley at the hosting duty before Steve Harvey took over in 2010 and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was also juggling around the schedule too around that time so there was never that logistical slot for the show to find a big enough audience.

Two, the second half of the show. At the beginning of Round 2, three more contestants, dubbed “spoilers”, joined the game and stood in a row of three podiums behind the players that started the game. The spoilers were able to ring in, but the front row players always had priority when answering and a spoiler could only attempt a word if nobody on the front row either got it right or rang in. If a spoiler gave a correct solution to the clue, he/she instantly moved to the front row and traded places with one of the players. If both of the main players got the answer wrong or failed to ring in, the spoiler had a choice of which podium to take. However, if only one contestant got the answer wrong the spoiler had to take that position. Ringing it with an incorrect answer locked a spoiler out of play, and spoilers could only return to the game if one of the other two answered correctly and took a position on the front row or if they each gave an incorrect answer, at which point all three spoilers would be let back into the game.

The player standing at the podium with the highest money total when time ran out at the end of Round 3, regardless of whether his/her score was positive or negative (the latter occurred once during the show’s run), won the game and whatever money was in the podium, and advanced to the bonus round. The losing player and spoilers received a Croton watch with the show’s logo on it.

I mean, you can see why that isn’t fair to the two players in the beginning to just have three random people show up and they end up taking your earnings that you worked your ass off all show to win. Hell, there were even episodes where one person had been in one podium for the majority of the show and only on the last clue, one of the spoilers got the right answer and got that podium and the game was over. And it would’ve been the person who just got lucky on that one answer because when you got to the final round, dude ended up losing.

So, there is this disadvantage to the show that could make it more complicated than Jeopardy! & Wheel Of Fortune.

And the biggest thing that I think hurt the show was the show’s inconsistency with the bonus prizes, they would have two bonuses, the Crosswords Extra, a bonus word played once in Round 1 and twice in subsequent rounds (originally once in each round, with the second word added following the removal of the Getaways). Similar to the Daily Double in Jeopardy!, the Extra clue was revealed upon correctly guessing another word. The contestant then wagered all or part of his/her score (or up to $500, $1,000, or $2,000—depending on the round—if he/she had less than those amounts). A correct answer added the wager, while an incorrect answer deducted it.

In several episodes (five of which aired in double-run markets in late September 2007), there were alternate “Crossword Extra” rules. The Crossword Extra word was not part of the main puzzle (so it was truly an “extra” word) and announced before certain clues in each round. A correct Crossword Extra answer was worth $300 in Round 1 and $600 in Round 2 with no deduction for a wrong answer or no answer at all. There was no Crossword Extra in Round 3.

And then there was the Crosswords Getaway, one word in each of the first two rounds was designated the “Crossword Getaway,” placing a trip in the bank of the contestant who solved that particular word. Trips were usually to resort destinations in California, Nevada, and Arizona. If a Getaway-designated word went unsolved, the prize was not awarded and gameplay continued without it. So, okay, why not give them a piece of the puzzle to solve to get the trip? Isn’t that the reason you’re on a game show, to answer questions to win prizes so why even bother to have the show them if you’re just giving them the prizes?

These things would happen at random, usually you can pinpoint on a game show like Jeopardy! where the bonuses are going to be at but here, they just show up at complete random and have no consistency to them whatsoever.

Something that even shows up in the video game for the show:

I actually played this game on the Wii and trying to get those letters in time before the clock ran out were a bitch and a half. Also, nice job on the voice work, I totally believe that these people involved are invested in what’s going on *wink, wink*.

Even Ty Treadway isn’t really trying to that hard to host the show, he literally looks like he’s reading off a cue card in the game. I can assure you that in the show, he was invested in what was going on in the show.

Merv Griffin’s Crosswords was a show that I think should’ve gotten more attention but unfortunately, they just couldn’t find that audience who could give the show a lengthy run, also it doesn’t help that Griffin died a month before the show debuted so that unfortunately took a sting out of the premiere but again, it’s a shame, I really think with a little more time and fine tuning, this could’ve been something great but as it stands, it’s a piece of TV history that could’ve been much more.

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Posted in Do You Remember?

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