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Break the Bank is an American quiz show which aired variously on Mutual Radio and ABC, CBS and NBC television from 1945 to 1957. From October 1956 to January 1957, NBC Television aired a short-lived prime-time version called Break the $250,000 Bank.

Break the Bank
Break the $250,000 Bank
GenreGame show
Presented byBert Parks (1948-1957)
Bud Collyer (1948-1953 with Parks, 1953 daytime)
Country of originUSA
Running time30 minutes
Original networkMutual (1945-1946, 1954-1955)
ABC (1946-1949, 1954-1956)
NBC (1949-1952, 1953-1955, 1956-1957)
CBS (1952-1953)
Original releaseOctober 20, 1945 –
January 15, 1957

Broadcast historyEdit

Sponsored by Vicks, the series began on radio October 20, 1945, heard Saturdays on Mutual until April 13, 1946. Initially, it featured different hosts each week, including John Reed King and Johnny Olson. Bert Parks became the full-time host in 1946. With Vitalis Hair Tonic as the sponsor, the series returned Friday, July 5, 1946, on ABC for a run until September 23, 1949. Bud Collyer and Bob Shepherd were the announcers, and Peter Van Steeden provided the music.[1]}}

The questions were written by Joseph Nathan Kane, the author of Famous First Facts, who hand-delivered the sealed envelopes to the radio studio. Jack Rubin directed for producers Walt Framer and Ed Wolfe. On October 5, 1949, the series moved to NBC, continuing until September 13, 1950. It was heard weekdays on NBC in 1950-51 and weekdays on ABC (1951–53). With Miles Laboratories as the sponsor, it moved back to weekdays on NBC (1953–55), overlapping with a weekdays series on Mutual (1954–55).[1]

In 1948, Radio Mirror called Break the Bank "the highest-paying quiz program in the world." That same year, the series moved to television with Bert Parks and Bud Collyer co-hosting.


Contestants were drawn from the studio audience and brought up on stage to play a quiz game. The contestant was asked a series of questions, each worth progressively more money. The goal was to provide enough correct answers (eight, later seven) before making two mistakes. The final question was the "break the bank" question worth all the money in the bank, which began at $1,000. The first incorrect answer returned the player to the previous cash level, and a second miss ended the game and the contestant kept his or her current winnings. The same amount would then be added to the bank. At first, the question values before the bank were $10, $20, $50, $100, $200, $300, and $500. By the mid 1950s, the first right answer won the contestant $25, and the values increased to $50, $100, $200, $300, $500, and finally the bank. On the short-lived daytime edition, the values were $10, $20, $30, $50, $100, $200, $300, and the bank which started at $500.[2]

Break the $250,000 BankEdit

In this 1956 NBC prime time revival, the rules slightly changed. The contestant picked a category and was asked five questions on that category worth $100 a piece with one wrong answer ending the game. If they get all five right they could walk with $500 or risk it and answer on one question that would up the score to $5,000. The contestant would then return for the next several weeks to answer more $5,000 questions. Prize money increased as the player continued, up to $250,000. A wrong answer along the way simply ended the game. Each multiple of $25,000 would be guaranteed in case of a miss.


The record bank win was $9,020 until Break the $250,000 Bank was created in response to The $64,000 Question and other big-money shows. However, that version ran for only three months (October 9, 1956, to January 15, 1957), and no contestants won any more than $60,000 (won by dentist Harry Duncan).

The most notable contestants during this period were actress Ethel Waters, who in January 1957 won $10,000 she said would go toward back taxes, and two escapees from the 1956 Hungarian Revolution who competed in a special category – "Fight for Freedom". Waters appeared on the last episode before the show was cancelled. She was announced for a new quiz show program Hold That Note, also hosted by Parks, which replaced Bank the following week and ran through April 2.

Episode statusEdit

Some episodes survive, including three at the UCLA Film and Television Archive (two from 1950, one from 1955). An episode from October 19, 1949, survives at the Paley Center for Media.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved 2019-08-08.
  2. ^ a 1956 episode

External linksEdit