Pyramid (game show)

From Academic Kids

Pyramid was an American television game show where contestants tried to guess a series of words or phrases, based on descriptions that were given to them, in the shortest amount of time. It has won nine Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Game Show, second only to Jeopardy!, which won its 10th in 2005.


Broadcast history

Pyramid was created by Bob Stewart, the quiz-show producer who also invented To Tell the Truth, The Price Is Right and Password during his years at Goodson-Todman Productions before forming his own company. It went through several name changes over the years, with the title originally reflecting the top prize that contestants can win in that version.

The show debuted as The $10,000 Pyramid on March 26, 1973. It ran for one year on CBS before it was canceled. ABC revived the show on May 6, 1974, and it became a hit. For three consecutive years, it was the number-three-rated game show on television.

On January 19, 1976, the show was renamed The $20,000 Pyramid. A once-a-week nighttime syndicated version, called The $25,000 Pyramid, ran from September 12, 1974, until September 1979.

A network primetime celebrity half hour special, The All-Star Junior Pyramid aired on Sunday, September 2, 1979, at 7:30pm (Eastern) and featuring Susan Richardson and Tony Danza playing the game for charity with young future stars from the new ABC shows debuting in the fall of that year (one of them on that particular episode was a youthful looking Rob Lowe). That led to the daytime version reverting to a full-time Junior Partner Pyramid format featuring civilian adult-children teams (with no celebrities at all) between Monday, October 1 and Friday, November 9 1979.

A special Celebrity Junior Pyramid week followed suit with celebrity guests Susan Richardson, LeVar Burton and Michael McKean, but, beginning with the Monday, November 19, 1979, telecast, the daytime show went back into its normal $20,000 Pyramid format.

ABC's daytime version ended its run on June 27, 1980. A total of 1,808 telecasts had aired on both CBS and ABC.

After a short-lived syndicated revival, known as The $50,000 Pyramid, failed in 1981, the show returned to CBS as The $25,000 Pyramid on September 20, 1982. That meant a permanent move to CBS Television City in Los Angeles. The show had been based in New York City, first at the Ed Sullivan Theatre (CBS Studio 50) and then the Elysee Theatre (ABC TV-15), since its 1973 premiere, save for a few weeks at the start of the 1973-74 season, during which tapings briefly were done at Television City.

Within a few weeks of its CBS return, the show was retitled The New $25,000 Pyramid to avoid confusion with reruns of the 1974-79 Cullen version, which still appeared in syndication (the "New" was eventually dropped from the title on the January 28, 1985, episode [#608]).

During the updated Pyramid run on CBS, a second five-day-a-week version also aired in late-afternoon or nighttime syndication as The $100,000 Pyramid from September 9, 1985, to September 2, 1988. The gameplay was identical to the daytime version, except the three players with the fastest winning time in the end game returned to play for an additional $100,000 jackpot.

The updated Pyramid ran on CBS until the last episode on December 31, 1987, but viewer demand caused CBS to bring the show back to its daytime schedule on April 4, 1988, after the game show Blackout failed in Pyramid's time slot. The revival only lasted until July 1 of that year, as CBS premiered its new version of Family Feud the following week. GSN has aired this version.

Pyramid returned to syndication again from January 7 to December 6, 1991, as The $100,000 Pyramid.

In the fall of 2002 Pyramid — without any dollar amount in the title — returned in syndication. Sony Pictures (the production company that currently owns the format rights) has announced it will not return for its third season, and through 2004-2005, will do reruns of its previous two seasons. PAX has picked up the show and is currently airing reruns.


Dick Clark hosted all network versions, the syndicated $50,000 Pyramid, and the first $100,000 Pyramid. Bill Cullen hosted the 1974-79 version of The $25,000 Pyramid, and John Davidson hosted the 1991 revival of The $100,000 Pyramid.

Donny Osmond hosted the modern version of Pyramid.

Main game

Two teams, consisting of one celebrity player and one contestant, competed against each other. Six categories, each of which had a name pertaining to what that category was about, were placed on the pyramid-shaped game board. A contestant chose one of those categories, and after the host explained the subject of that category, the contestant was given 30 seconds to guess seven words (originally eight), phrases, or names (20 seconds for six in the most recent version of Pyramid) using clues given by his/her celebrity partner. If any descriptions were deemed illegal by the judges -- usually when all or part of the word or phrase was given -- a cuckoo sound was played, the clue was immediately thrown out, and the contestant couldn't earn any points for it. If a word was passed, the giver could not go back to that word, but if the receiver knew the word later on and guessed it, the team still earned a point.

Once time had expired or the contestant guessed all of the necessary clues (whichever came first) the opposing team followed the same procedures.

Three rounds, with two categories per round, were played in the main game. While the celebrity gave the clues and the contestant received them in the first round, the roles were reversed in the second round -- the celebrity received the clues. In the third round the contestant had the option to give or receive, with the team trailing going first. If the score was tied after three rounds, tiebreaker rounds were played using words that begin with a letter of the alphabet. In the event of a 21-21 tie (perfect scores) after three rounds, the winner of the tie-breaker received a bonus cash prize.

The winner of the game played the Winner's Circle bonus round (see below).

In the daytime version, when a contestant lost the main game, he/she left with parting gifts. In the syndicated and 1980s version, contestants played on the entire show, and in the 1980s version, whomever had the highest score at the Winner's Circle returned on the next show. If both players matched their Winner's Circle totals, both returned the next day.


One randomly-chosen category in each game contained a hidden bonus, which allowed the contestant to win additional cash or prizes if all of the clues were guessed correctly.

The 1970s versions featured the "Big 7," where contestants could win $500 for seven correct answers. The 1982-88 versions featured the "7-11" in the first game, where contestants won $1,100 for seven correct answers in that subject, and the "Mystery 7" in the second game, where contestants won a prize (most of the time either a trip or a car) for seven correct answers without receiving the subject of that category from the host. The most recent version of Pyramid featured a "Super Six" in each game, where contestants won a prize for guessing all six clues correctly within the 20-second time limit.

The Winner's Circle

The Winner's Circle round, named for the circular structure around the chairs that the celebrity and contestant sat in, also featured a pyramid of six subjects: three on the bottom level, two in the middle, and one at the top. Each subject, however, was revealed one at a time, and whomever gave the clues (usually the celebrity, but the contestant always had the option of giving or receiving) had to give a list of objects that fit into that subject. The subjects increased in difficulty toward the top of the pyramid.

Any descriptions other than a list of items resulted in immediate disqualification of that category. The strictness of the judging has varied over the years, but this generally included all of the following: using hand gestures (the cluegiver had arm straps to help discourage this), saying a key part of the answer (e.g. "a building" for "Things You Build"), using synonyms (e.g. clueing "Things That Are Attractive" with "a beautiful woman"), using long descriptive phrases (e.g. "the train on schedule" for "Things That Arrive"), and describing the category itself (e.g. "open your mouth I'll drill your teeth" for "Things A Dentist Uses") rather than naming items. Using hand gestures were allowed for a short time in the early CBS days and during special weeks in which the contestants were blind.

The start of the clock produced one of TV's (and Dick Clark's) most famous catch phrases: "Here is your first subject. GO!"

The contestant had 60 seconds to get to the top of the pyramid by guessing all six subjects correctly; doing so won the grand prize, which had changed with each incarnation of the show:

  • The original version offered $10,000 as its top prize. If won, the contestant retires undefeated with the $10,000 and any other winnings to that point.
  • By 1976, the top prize offered was $20,000. The contestant who went to the winner's circle the first time played for $10,000; the second time for $15,000 and the third and subsequent times for $20,000. Players in this version continued up to five days or is defeated.
  • In the 1981 syndicated version, the first trip to the Winner's Circle was worth $5,000 and the second time was worth $10,000.
  • From 1982 on, and during the syndicated 1974-79 version, the first trip to the Pyramid was worth $10,000 and the second $25,000.

If the top prize was not won, the contestant was awarded $50 for the bottom subjects, $100 for the middle subjects, and $200 for the top subject. The syndicated version's awards were $100, $200, and $300 respectively. From 1982 to 1991, the first subject was worth $50, and increased in value by $50 for each subject up to $300 for the top subject. In the 2002-2004 version, the bottom three subjects were worth $200, the middle two $300, and the top subject $500.

In most versions, each subject was displayed on a trilon that concealed the name of the subject, the dollar amount (if the contestant guessed that subject correctly), and a pyramid (if an illegal clue was given or if the subject was unused). The 2002-2004 version used television monitors instead.

In the early years on occasion, if there was no time for the second bonus round, it would be played at the top of the next show.

Tournaments were frequently held on The $100,000 Pyramid where the three contestants who reached the top of the pyramid in the shortest amounts of time played until someone won the Winner's Circle, where $100,000 was awarded. The last version of Pyramid also held periodic tournaments where a contestant could win $100,000.

Other comments

When Pyramid first began in 1973, game play was slow at times, but as the ABC version progressed, the main game play became better and the Winner's Circle rounds on the CBS version were easier than others. The $100,000 round was more harder than before, which resulted in the top prize not being won for days, if not weeks.

The CBS and 1985-88 $100,000 versions are often considered the best of the Pyramid franchise, for their production and gameplaying values. Guests like Nipsey Russell, Anita Gillette and Soupy Sales from the 70s versions showed great enthusiasm in resuming their panelist roles. And newer viewers got to see Vicki Lawrence, Markie Post and Henry Polic II shine just as brightly as Russell and the others did during the first runs.

Post and Polic were often brought back as panelists during tournament weeks on the mid-80s $100,000 versions.

Betty White also became a semi-regular during the 80s version, displaying the same word-game proficiency on Pyramid that she did for Stewart on Password. It was on a 1987 week of CBS Pyramid shows playing opposite White that Bill Cullen made his last network TV appearance.

Versions outside the USA

Foreign editions have been produced as well, among them, The Pyramid Game in the United Kingdom, Pyramide in France and Germany, which was later called Hast Du Worte?.

External links


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