“It is the game where knowledge is king and lady luck is queen! It’s The Joker’s Wild!”
It is the phrase that was well spoken on every edition by the likes of those like Charlie O’Donnell. This was by far one of the most popular quiz games in its time created and hosted by Jack Barry and produced by his partner Dan Enright, who had both resurrected their careers after the quiz show scandal in the 1950’s. It involved a heavy slot machine full of categories, cash, Jokers and Devils and among that a prize package to play for including a trip.
The Joker’s Wild debuted on CBS on September 4, 1972 with Barry as host, but was not the logical choice after the quiz show scandals. Allen Ludden hosted two pilots in which the format was far from the one we all remember during the syndicated version. Ludden, Tom Kennedy, Wink Martindale and even Bob Barker were the top choices. Martindale chose to host Gambit and Barker was convinced to host The Price Is Right which he did so for 35 years, and Ludden had started hosting the Password revival on NBC.
With no other choice, Barry was signed on as host but only during a trial run. With the ratings good and no backlash from the scandal, Barry was signed on as permanent host by CBS until the show ended on June 13, 1975. Barry had already hosted a localized version of the game on KTLA in Los Angeles which was based on the common format in 1971, but with a few exceptions. Not all of the common format we all know was not the one to start off the show however.
The common race to $500 was set, but once a champion was crowned they played a different bonus game called Jokers and Devils. They spun for a prize each time and if they got three Jokers, they win that prize. The Devil coming up at any time forfeited all that was won. Most importantly for the champion, they played for a Joker’s Jackpot starting at $2,500 and if the champion lost, they lost the $500 which went into the Jackpot but kept whatever prizes they won in the bonus game.
After each game, the champion was given the choice to take the money and walk away, but if they won three consecutive games they win the Joker’s Jackpot and retired. This was changed in 1974 where the champion won $500 and played Face The Devil for up to $1,000 in cash and a prize package, which is the format we remember as of today. Winning five consecutive games automatically awarded them an automobile.
The preliminary format was set by categories each player had to spin. One category was $50, a double worth $100 and a triple worth $200. Jokers spun were wild cards to double or triple what category appeared and if needed, went off the board for any other subject in some cases to keep their opponent from stealing if it meant winning the game. Three Jokers meant one opportunity to end the game immediately with the category of their choice but if they missed, the game carried on.
Barry hosted all CBS and most syndicated episodes up until 1984 where he handed the show over to his substitute Jim Peck (known commonly as the host of 3’s A Crowd and a reporter for Divorce Court), but died of cardiac arrest after the season. Bill Cullen replaced Barry for the final two seasons until 1986. Only one revival was launched during the 1990-91 campaign and was hosted by Shop Till You Drop host Pat Finn. The Finn version was far different from the common version.
All episodes are still in existence as the first two CBS seasons were found in 2000 at WCBS-TV in New York restoring the entire collection, with the exception of the KTLA version in which its status is currently unknown. All have been rerun on GSN and USA Network, but select episodes can be seen on YouTube. So far only two pilots were attempted in 2006.