Press Your Luck was an American television daytime game show that ran weekdays on CBS from September 19, 1983 to September 26, 1986, where contestants collected "spins" by answering trivia questions, and then used the spins on an 18-space game board full of cash and prizes. The person who amassed the most in cash and prizes at the end of the game won. Peter Tomarken was the show's host, and Rod Roddy was the announcer (although John Harlan and Charlie O'Donnell filled in).
The show was memorable for the "Whammy," a red cartoon creature wearing a cape. The Whammy's spaces on the game board took away the contestant's money, accompanied by an animation that would show the Whammy taking the loot - but frequently being chased away, blown up, or otherwise humiliated in the process. The animated Whammies were created and animated by Savage Steve Holland and Bill Kopp, and voiced by creator/executive producer Bill Carruthers. Throughout the show's run, approximately 80 different animations were used, and the Whammy became popular enough that at the end of many episodes, Tomarken would read a "Whammy poem", sent in by a home viewer. "Whammy poems" would also appear after the first round of the Big Board or after the second question round before going to commercial on occasion.
The show originated from CBS Television City in Los Angeles. During its first few months, it taped in studio 33 (also known as the Bob Barker Studio), but by 1984 it regularly shot in studio 41 although for a few weeks every so often it would again shoot in studio 33.
Press Your Lucks history dates back to the 1977 ABC game show Second Chance, a similar game produced by the Carruthers Company. The show premiered on September 19, 1983 on CBS at 10:30 AM (9:30 Central), replacing the Bill Cullen-hosted Child's Play.
Press Your Luck mostly edged out NBC's Sale of the Century from its premiere until January 3, 1986. The show's ratings reached its peak in mid-1984, unsurprisingly after Michael Larson's amazing run against the Big Board. However, with daytime viewers declining in general, Press Your Lucks numbers began to slip in Summer 1985, when Sale of the Century gained the upper hand in the Nielsen Ratings.
On January 6, 1986, CBS relocated Press Your Luck to 4:00 PM (3:00 Central) to make room for the Bob Eubanks-hosted revival of Card Sharks at 10:30 AM, replacing the Tom Kennedy-hosted Body Language. This move caused the ratings to slip further, and the series aired until July 25 with four weeks of shows left unaired.
From July 28 to August 29, CBS aired the 1985 College Week shows followed by episodes from Summer 1984. On September 1, the series returned in first-run to air its last four weeks. The final episode, aired September 26, was not announced as such.
Press Your Luck became the last major network daytime show to air in the 4:00 PM (3:00 Central) slot, two years after ABC ended its last program and seven years after NBC did. The number of affiliates clearing Press Your Luck likely amounted to less than half of the network by that point, as syndicated programming became lucrative for many station managers. Syndicated programming continued to erode the network daytime lineups throughout the 1990s and 2000s - while all three networks continue to air soap operas, only CBS airs a game show (The Price is Right) while only ABC airs a talk show (The View). Much of NBC's daytime programming now belongs to affiliates, the sole exception not produced by NBC News being Days of our Lives.
On September 14, 1987, USA Network began airing reruns of Press Your Luck until October 13, 1995 (with the exception of a brief period from February 13 to April 14, 1995).
Game Show Network began airing the show on September 1, 2001. After March 29, 2009, the show will be removed from their regular schedule for the first time in nearly eight years. It is unknown on whether they will still retain the rights to the show.
On June 8, 2006, Press Your Luck was featured as the fourth round of Gameshow Marathon on CBS.
Three contestants competed on each episode of Press Your Luck. Each episode had four rounds: a question round, then a Big Board round, then another question round, and finally another Big Board round for larger stakes. The player with the most money won.
Each question round included four questions, read by Tomarken. Any contestant could buzz in and answer the question, but was not immediately told if his or her answer was right. The other two contestants would then be allowed to guess the correct answer from three multiple choices (the buzz-in contestant's answer plus two alternative answers). If no contestant buzzed in, or if the contestant who buzzed failed to answer at all, then Tomarken would read three multiple choice answers, and all three contestants would attempt to guess the correct answer (except for the contestant who buzzed in and didn't come up with an answer). A correct buzz-in answer earned a contestant three spins for use in the Big Board round; multiple-choice was worth one spin.
A player could earn a maximum of twelve spins by being the first to buzz in and provide a correct answer for all four questions. Up to 20 spins total could be earned by the three contestants in a single question round. On the pilot, 5 questions were asked, for a possible total of 15 spins for one person and 25 for all three combined. This was the only rule change made from pilot to actual show.
Contestants now used their spins earned in the question round on the "Big Board", which consisted of 18 spaces, each of which could display three possible values.
Contestants took turns taking their spins. In the first Big Board round, the order of contestants' play was determined by the number of spins they had earned in the question round; the contestant with the fewest spins played first, and the contestant with the most spins played last. (If two players, or all three players, had the same number of spins, the player seated farther to the left of Tomarken's podium would spin first.) In the second Big Board round, play order was determined by the contestants' scores in the first Big Board round; the contestant who ended that round with the lowest score played first, and the contestant with the highest score played last, with ties again broken by seating position. Even when receiving passed spins, the order of play is preserved; if the first player to play passes spins to the last player to play, the last player waits until the second player has completed their turn before taking those passed spins.
When a contestant took a spin, the gameboard changed at random until the contestant hit the red button in front of them to stop the rotation. The contents of each space on the "Big Board" changed just under once per second, alternating among the three possible values for each space. One space would be highlighted by lights indicating the space the contestant's "spinner" was on; the highlight would jump from space to space several times per second. When the board stopped, if the highlighted space contained money or a prize, it (or its cash value) was added to the contestant's score. However, if the highlighted space contained a Whammy, the contestant would lose all the cash and prizes they had earned, and the contestant's score would fall back to $0. An animation would appear on-screen, featuring the Whammy "stealing" or "destroying" the contestant's score in one of a variety of ways and a Whammy marker would then pop up out of the player's podium. Furthermore, a contestant who picked up four Whammies would be instantly eliminated from the game. Any prize hit was replaced on the board with a new prize; cash values and Whammies were left on the board unchanged no matter how many times they were landed on.
A contestant could choose to pass their earned spins at any time during their turn, if they had "a fear of the Whammy" or otherwise did not want to continue using spins. Passed spins always went to the opponent who currently had the highest score; if the two opponents were tied, the passing contestant could choose who to pass the spins to. Any contestant receiving passed spins was forced to play those spins until exhausted or they hit a Whammy, in which case the remaining passed spins were moved to the "earned" column. Once the passed column was cleared, the contestant was then free to take or pass any earned spins.
The first Big Board round's board had relatively low valuescash amounts ranging from $100 to $1,500 (up to $1,250 until October 1983), and prizes typically worth several hundred dollars but no more than $2,000. The second and final round board had much higher valuescash amounts from $500 to $5,000, and prizes that could be worth upwards of $7,000 including exotic vacations and small cars.
The Press Your Luck game board did not exclusively contain cash, prizes, and Whammies. A number of other special spaces filled up the game board, adding to a player's score, giving a player additional spins, sending a player's spinner somewhere else on the board, and/or giving the player a decision to make.
Some special spaces gave a contestant money and an additional spin. Spins acquired in this fashion were always considered earned spins. If they were acquired during an earned spin, this replenished the spin that had just been taken, causing the contestant's spin total to remain the same. If they were acquired during a passed spin, the spin was effectively transferred from the passed column to the earned column. In the interest of an exciting finish, more of these spaces appeared in the second Big Board round than the first one.
Directional squares sent a player's spinner to another square on the Big Board after they stopped the board's rotation. The player won the contents of the destination square as if they had landed on it in the first place. With the exception of Pick A Corner, a player could never hit a Whammy as a result of a directional square. Directional squares included:
Beginning in March 1984, the second round had a special "Double Your $$" space, and hitting it gave the contestant cash equal to their current score. The space was changed to "Double Your Money + 1 Spin" in mid-April 1984. Both "Double Your Money" and its "+ 1 Spin" counterpart were one-time-only spaces; if they were hit, they were replaced by a prize.
Beginning on the September 17, 1984 episode, the second round featured a "$2,000 Or Lose 1 Whammy" special space. A contestant landing on this space could choose either to add $2,000 to their score, or to eliminate one Whammy from their lectern. The contestants typically chose the cash unless they had three Whammies. It briefly went on hiatus during the third installment of the Home Player Spin in the Fall of 1985 and was replaced by a $500+Spin space. It returned in late November 1985 after the Home Player Sweepstakes ended.
Beginning on September 5, 1985, Round One featured a special "Add-A-One" space. This space would give the contestant enough cash to place a "1" in front of their current score ($0 became $10 and $1,000 became $11,000). Like "Double Your Money", "Add-A-One" was a one-time-only space, and when it was hit it was replaced with a prize.
If a contestant had a total of four Whammies during the Big Board rounds, that player was immediately and permanently eliminated from the game. The contestant's remaining earned and passed spins were simply discarded, and all of their scoreboards were turned off. If a contestant with several Whammies was lucky enough to hit the "$2,000 or Lose 1 Whammy" special space during the game, they could reduce the risk of elimination by choosing the "Lose 1 Whammy" option, which subtracted one Whammy from their total (and thus meant that the player would need to hit an additional Whammy to be eliminated). Contestants who "Whammied out" could not return on the next show, even if all other players ended on $0.
On rare occasions, two contestants were eliminated from the same game. In that case, if the surviving contestant had any remaining spins, he or she could play "against the house" and stop spinning at any time, at which point the game would simply end and the surviving player would be declared the winner. In most situations such as these, the surviving player would terminate the game early, without using the remaining spins.
The winner of the game was the contestant with the highest score (reflecting both the cash and the dollar amount of prizes) after the last spin of the second Big Board round was taken. Only the winner would be allowed to keep their earnings and return for the next show. In the event of a tie for first place at the end of the game, all of the tied players would receive their winnings and return.
The winner(s) of each game normally returned for the next show; but any contestant who won five games would retire undefeated. There was also a limit on the dollar value of contestants' earnings. During the show's first season, contestants who won over $25,000 would retire undefeated with the full amount won in their appearance(s), since at that point CBS had a maximum winnings limit of $25,000 for its game shows. After Michael Larson's appearance, the earnings cap was officially raised to $50,000 on November 1, 1984, and any amount past $75,000 that was won could not be kept, though no player had reached past that amount since.
There have been two games where all three players won $0 and returned the next day: one in Fall 1984, the other in Spring 1986. Several other champions won their games with nothing while one or both of their opponents had Whammied out.
In the event of a production problem, if a question in the game was flawed, or if an irregularity during game play happened, a contestant would return even if eliminated from the game. On most game shows, these events would happen with little or no fanfare; however, a question regarding Looney Tunes and the phrase 'Sufferin succotash' led to an edit of one show's credits, featuring a "call" from Looney Tunes voice actor Mel Blanc as the Looney Tunes characters to explain the need to bring back that show's contestants.
The board consisted of 18 squares, arranged in a rectangle surrounding the PRESS YOUR LUCK logo, upon which the contestant was superimposed during a spin. Behind each square were three slide projectors, each displaying a different slide (a monetary amount, a Whammy, a prize, etc.), one at a time. Every second or so, the first projector would turn off as the second projector illuminated, changing the display on the square. Slide projectors were used to give the effect of squares "morphing" from one item to the next. A band of lights surrounded each square, illuminated one at a time to indicate which square would be selected when the player stopped the board. This was called the "spinner" by the production staff.
As the board shuffled, the spinner would jump from tile to tile in a seemingly random pattern. In fact, the spinner followed one of only five pre-programmed spinner patterns, and "Whammy" only appeared in 9 of the 18 tiles on the board (8 in Round Two from December 5, 1983 to January 13, 1984).
The flaw of the spinner patterns was exploited to great effect by Michael Larson. Larson had the chance to find the timing of pressing action during first Big Board Round, and adjusted the timing to land on certain squares at second Big Board Round, both of which not only never contained a Whammy, but always carried money with an extra spin regardless of the tile shuffling during spinning. Shortly after his appearance, the patterns were changed twice, to throw off people who might attempt to memorize them; soon after that, the number of possible patterns were increased to 32.
When the board made the switch from multi-colored blank slides to game slides, it would use a sort of "domino effect" or "cascade" effect, in which the game slides would appear, one by one, beginning in the upper left-hand corner square, and going around the board in rapid sequence, until all squares had loaded. This would be seen in the during the show's opening, as well as during the commercial intro at the end of each question round.
On the pilot episode, the cash slides appeared in shades of blue and green. When the show went on the air, new colors were added: pale blue, red, chartreuse yellow, off-white (used only for the first eight episodes and used only on $300 and $2000 spaces) and hot pink (used only on $1,500 + ONE SPIN in Round 2). The show's third season used "neon" colors: navy blue, aqua blue, blue-purple, red-orange, and lime green.
The board was known to malfunction on some occasions. Some of these malfunctions included:
Keeping in trend with modern times, both the 2002 revival, Whammy!, and the 2006 Gameshow Marathon episode featured a computerized version of the classic Big Board.
Whammy!, however, featured an almost completely different game board than that of Press Your Luckan irregular scattered board in the shape of an oval. The same number of squares (18) and their overall pattern were intact; per Press Your Luck "tradition", the highest dollar value was still seen at the top of the board. The board on Whammy! generated random prizes, whammies, and light patterns for each space, done by using a personal computer running at a speed of 200 MHz, as well as an unlimited number of patterns for game play.
During Press Your Lucks three year run, the show had "Home Player Spins" for 3 sweeps months, in May-June 1984, January-February 1985 and October-November 1985. The spin number of the Home Player Spin was revealed before the final money round began (i.e., if the number was "5", then the fifth spin into the round would be the Home Player Spin). The Home Player Spin always sounded with an assortment of unusual sound effects (similar to the double showcase win effects on The Price Is Right). The contestant who was about to spin the board played the Home Player Spin, and read the name of the home player who would play along; names and addresses were on postcards situated in front of the contestants. In the Home Player Spin, the player won whatever their player hit:
NOTE: The last Home Player Spin of January-February 1985 landed on "$2,000 or Lose 1 Whammy". The contestant took the $2,000, and the money was also given to the home player. Since it was uncertain as to what the home player were to receive in the event the contestant elected to lose a Whammy, the "$2,000 or Lose 1 Whammy" space was removed from the board for the October-November 1985 Home Player Spins.
As stated at the end of each Home Player episode, runners up were named by the two contestants who didn't participate during the Home Player Spin and received a Whammy t-shirt. The May-June 1984 and January-February 1985 Home Player Contest took place over 20 days each (the final Home Player Spin of May-June 1984 was part of the infamous Michael Larson episode), and in late 1985 it lasted for 25 days.
At the close of the October-November 1985 contest, that episode's in-studio winner drew a card from a bowl containing the names of each of the at-home participants featured over the five-week period. After drawing the name, the contestant took one spin on a modified board that showed only cash values (no whammies, prizes or squares that offered additional spins), with the value landed on multiplied by the total number of spins earned by the three contestants in the second question round. The player whose name was drawn received this bonus cash amount.
See main article: Michael Larson. On one Press Your Luck episode (aired June 8 & 11, 1984), a self-described unemployed ice cream truck driver named Michael Larson made it onto the show. Watching the show at home, and with the use of stop-motion on a VCR, Larson discovered that the presumed random patterns of the game board were not random, and was able to memorize the sequences to help him stop the board where and when he wanted. On the single game in which he appeared, an initially tentative Larson spun a Whammy on his very first turn, but then played 45 consecutive times without hitting a second Whammy. He earned a total of $110,237 in cash and prizes, a record for a single appearance on a daytime network game show which lasted until 2006.
Although CBS investigated Larson, they determined that figuring out the patterns was not cheating and let him keep his winnings. The board was reprogrammed that allowed for dramatically more patterns to prevent another player from ever being able to memorize the board like Larson had.
Later, in 1994, TV Guide magazine interviewed Larson and revealed the background of this episode including his decision to pass his remaining spins after he lost concentration and missed his target squares.
Besides Michael Larson, the show had other notable contestants. Among them were:
See main article: Whammy! The All-New Press Your Luck. The show enjoyed a revival on the Game Show Network in 2002, and was renamed Whammy! The All-New Press Your Luck (shortened to Whammy! in 2003). The show was hosted by Todd Newton and initially aired until 2003; reruns continue to air on GSN. There were several differences: The board was entirely computerized (as well as redesigned), the first question round was eliminated, and (starting in 2003) a "Big Bank" feature was added to the board. If a player hit the "Big Bank" space and answered a trivia question correctly, they won all the prizes and cash taken away by the Whammies.
All 757 episodes exist and were purchased by FremantleMedia, who also owns the Goodson-Todman and Reg Grundy libraries. The company will also handle any future revivals (as they did with Whammy! from 2002-2003).
GSN has aired only episodes with original airdates from February 21, 1984 to November 15, 1985.
Prior to airing on GSN in 2003, the Michael Larson episodes had not been rerun on any network since the original CBS broadcasts. Clips were incorporated into the made-for-TV documentary by Lions Gate Films, Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal, including footage not aired during the original CBS run. Later, the episodes themselves were shown on GSN.
Almost the entire series was reran by USA Network with the exception of September 1983, the May-June 1984 Home Player Sweepstakes (including the Larson episodes), the last seven episodes of December 1985, March 1986, and September 1986.
An electronic handheld game was released in 2008.