Press Your Luck | Bonehead Picks

TV Revival List: Press Your Luck

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Who didn’t love Big Bucks and Whammies back in the day when players took a shot at the Big Board? The most popular phrase was always “Big Bucks, no Whammies” and became a common catchphrase in the early to mid 80’s. Sometimes when you hit Big Bucks, everyone goes crazy. When you hit a Whammy, not so much. Everyone remembers what was known in some cases the longest short lived popular game shows in recent memory called Press Your Luck.

Press Your Luck was originally known as Second Chance which premiered on ABC in 1977. It had similarities with almost the same format with only slight differences. Jim Peck was the host and asked three questions instead of the current four used. When Peck asked a question, three players had five seconds to write down their answer. Once revealed, Peck would inform them if they were right or wrong and would give multiple choice for an opportunity to earn spins.

A correct answer directly would earn three spins while a second chance answer in multiple choice earned one spin. In this format, there was always a chance all three players would have a maximum amount of spins which was nine. They would all go to the Big Board where the game play is similar, but the only difference is that the amounts never changed. The only time it did change was in the final round where the “Big Bucks” square amount changed from $1,000 to $5,000 and earned a free spin.

Instead of Whammies, they used Devils and like the Whammies, if you hit four you are out of the game. Only three Devils were seen on the board and four prize squares which oddly enough were hit more constantly than cash. Though this game looked to be just as exciting as its successor, it only lasted from March 7 to July 15, 1977 mainly due to the rising popularity of the CBS soap opera The Young and the Restless. Letters were even reportedly sent to help keep the show on.

It was a little over six years later in 1983, creators Bill Carruthers and Jan McCormack retooled the show and named it Press Your Luck and became the more popular version we remember it as of today with Peter Tomarken as host. While it was an instant hit, the game had its drawbacks throughout its three year run. The show was in its prime in 1984 until the infamous incident occurred where contestant Michael Larson took the show for nearly every cent it had. This was most likely in my opinion the beginning of Press Your Luck’s downfall.

Larson memorized the light patters which were only around five. He took over 50 consecutive spins without hitting a Whammy and won $110,237. The game went so long, CBS had to make a two part episode and did everything possible to keep the episode from being aired because of the embarrassment. I for one remember that episode as I thought at the time it was a case of extremely good luck hitting the spaces with the spin on them. It turned out years later it wasn’t the case.

CBS did everything in its power to prevent Larson from leaving with the money as they tried to prove he cheated. The limit back then was $25,000 and was allowed to keep everything that they’ve won. According to the rules, Larson met all the requirements and there was nothing CBS could do to stop him. Carruthers had mentioned that allowing Larson on the show was the biggest regret he ever made until his passing in 2003. This is when the show was never the same again and began declining.

While the show was moved to the afternoons to accommodate the revival of Card Sharks, affiliates reportedly began to drop the show. After exactly three years and seven days after its debut the show was cancelled. The closest it came to revival was repeats being aired on USA Network from 1986 to 1995 with the exception of the Michael Larson incident. The episode was never seen again until a documentary called “Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal” premiered on Game Show Network with Tomarken as narrator in 2003.

GSN began airing PYL repeats in late 2001 which a year later finally brought the revival to light as Whammy: The All New Press Your Luck hosted by Todd Newton. The show got a second season around the time the documentary started and while the show was highly successful, it was cancelled after 2003 for reasons unknown. There was speculation that GSN was going through a big transition into creating reality shows which nearly scrapped its original format of old game shows.

The only other thing close to a revival was Game Show Marathon in 2006 on CBS which was part of a block to help possibly revive old game shows in its original format. This version premiered around the time Tomarken and his wife were killed in a plane crash off the coast of San Diego and was dedicated to his memory. This was the last version of the show that had been attempted for revival.

For the entire package, only three episodes (one pilot) of Second Chance and one audio clip of the final episode is known to exist. All 758 PYL episodes exist and while GSN only airs a select few, BUZZR which is owned by Fremantlemedia airs all of them since they now own the rights to the show. Just recently GSN began to air reruns of Whammy with Newton.

Press Your Luck should be next to fully revive in its original format along with others that have returned.

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