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Sale of the Century (U.S. game show)

Sale of the Century (stylized as $ale of the Century) is an American television game show that debuted in the United States on September 29, 1969, on NBC daytime. It was one of three NBC game shows to premiere on that date, the other two being the short-lived Letters to Laugh-In and Name Droppers. The series aired until July 13, 1973, and a weekly syndicated series began that fall and ran for one season. Actor Jack Kelly hosted the series from 1969 to 1971, then decided to return to acting full-time. He was replaced by Joe Garagiola, who hosted the remainder of the daytime series plus the one season in syndication.

Sale of the Century
Sale of the Century.jpg
Created byAl Howard
Presented byJack Kelly (1969–71)
Joe Garagiola (1971–74)
Jim Perry (1983–89)
Barbara Lyon (1969–71)
Kit Dougherty (1971–74)
Madelyn Sanders (undetermined; 1969–74 version)
Sally Julian (1983)
Lee Menning (1983–84)
Summer Bartholomew (1984–89)
Narrated byBill Wendell (1969–74)
Jay Stewart (1983–88)
Don Morrow (1988–89)
Theme music composerRay Ellis & Marc Ellis
(1983–89 version)
Opening theme"Mercedes"
(1983–89 version)
Country of originUnited States
No. of seasons5 (1969–74)
7 (1983–89)
No. of episodesapprox. 990 (NBC 1969–73)
39 (SYN 1973–74)
1,578 (NBC 1983–89)
270 (SYN 1985–86)
Production location(s)NBC Studios
New York, New York (1969–74)
NBC Studios
Burbank, California (1983–89)
Running time22–24 minutes
Production company(s)Al Howard Productions (1969–74)
Reg Grundy Productions (1983–89)
DistributorProgram Syndication Services
Genesis Entertainment
Original networkNBC (1969–73, 1983–89)
Syndicated (1973–74, 1985–86)
Picture format4:3
Original releaseFirst Run
September 29, 1969 (1969-09-29)
July 13, 1973 (1973-07-13)
(NBC Daytime)
September 1973 (1973-09)
September 1974 (1974-09)
(Weekly Syndication)
Second Run
January 3, 1983 (1983-01-03)
March 24, 1989 (1989-03-24)
(NBC Daytime)
January 7, 1985 (1985-01-07)
September 12, 1986 (1986-09-12)
(Daily Syndication)

The rights to Sale of the Century were purchased in 1980 by Australian TV mogul Reg Grundy, who turned the show into a success in Australia (see Sale of the Century (Australian game show)) and eventually sold his format of the series to NBC. With Jim Perry as its host, the new American Sale of the Century launched on January 3, 1983, and aired until March 24, 1989. Again, it was one of three NBC game shows premiering on the same date, along with Hit Man and Just Men! (which both lasted only 13 weeks), and like its predecessor spawned a syndicated edition. Also hosted by Jim Perry, this syndicated Sale series premiered on January 7, 1985, and ran daily until September 12, 1986.

Al Howard was the executive producer of the initial 1969–73 version, and for a short time was co-executive producer of the 1980s version with Robert Noah.

A short-lived revival of the series entitled Temptation, like the recent Australian revival, debuted in syndication on September 10, 2007, following a September 7 preview on MyNetworkTV. This series ran for one year.


Game formatEdit

Contestants answered general knowledge questions posed by the host at a value of $5 per correct answer. However, any contestant who answered incorrectly lost $5, and—unlike most game shows—only one contestant was permitted to answer for each question.

At certain points during the game, whatever contestant was in the lead participated in an "Instant Bargain" and were offered the opportunity to purchase merchandise at a bargain price. The selling price for the item, generally the value of one or more questions, was then deducted from the contestant's score, and the prize was theirs to keep regardless of the game's outcome.

Depending upon the version, question values either remained at $5 or increased as the game progressed. Additional Instant Bargains were also offered. The contestant in the lead at the end of the game was declared the champion and used their final score to purchase a larger prize, or played a separate end game, which varied depending upon the version of the show.


From 1969 to 1973, the game featured three contestants, who all began with $25. Midway through the game, the question values doubled to $10. At first, the final round consisted of 30 seconds of $15 questions. Later, this was replaced with five $20 questions (called "The Century Round", as the total value of the questions was $100). If a contestant's total was reduced to zero (or lower), that contestant was eliminated from the game.

At certain points during gameplay, all contestants were offered the opportunity to purchase merchandise at a bargain price. The first contestant to buzz in after the prize was revealed purchased that prize, and the price was deducted from his or her score. The prices of all prizes offered were expressed much as one would hear in a department store (ending with "and 95 cents"), and the prices increased as the episode progressed (e.g., $7.95, $11.95, $14.95, $21.95). All prize values were rounded up to the nearest dollar before being subtracted from the score of the contestant who purchased the prize. Each Instant Bargain was hidden behind a curtain, and contestants could not buzz in before the curtain opened. A contestant who did buzz in early was penalized by having the cost of the Instant Bargain deducted from their score and being locked out of purchasing the prize.

The "Open House" round was played in early episodes of the original version, usually about halfway through a particular episode. Five prizes were presented to the contestants and each could buy as many of them as he or she wanted. Unlike Instant Bargains, multiple contestants could buy the same item. This was later replaced with an "Audience Sale" round in which three members of the studio audience guessed the "sale price" of an item. The one that bid closest without going over won the item. The three contestants could increase their score by correctly guessing which, if any, audience member would win.

During the last thirteen weeks of this series, and the aforementioned follow-up weekly syndicated series,[1] two married couples competed instead of three individual contestants. Each couple was given $20 at the start of the game. On the syndicated version, the first round consisted of questions worth $5, and in the second questions were valued at $10. A series of five questions worth $20 each were asked to conclude the game. If either couple's score reached $0, both couples were given an additional $20.

The winning contestant or couple was given the opportunity to spend their score on at least one of several grand prizes at the "Sale of the Century". Contestants either purchased a prize with their winnings and retired, or elected to return the next day and try to win enough to buy a more expensive prize. Champions could buy more than one prize. Also, when contestants chose to return the next day, they were asked which prizes they were considering buying. As long as the contestant kept winning, those prizes remained while others were replaced by more expensive ones.

The 1970s syndicated version featured two different formats. Both offered three possible prizes (almost always a trip, a fur coat, and a car), only one of which the couple could win. Originally, each prize had a sale price, and Garagiola asked questions worth $100 each, which was added to the couple's score from the game. When the amount reached the sale price of a prize, the couple could buy the prize or keep playing for a more expensive prize. Later, this was changed to "The Game of Champions". The three prizes had sale amounts ($150, $300, and $600). The winning couple chose a prize and had to answer three questions (worth $50, $100, or $200 each, depending on the prize) in order to win.


Original formatEdit

Three contestants competed each day, usually a returning champion and two challengers. Each contestant was given $20 at the start of the game; except for Fame Game questions, contestants earned $5 for a correct answer and were penalized $5 for an incorrect answer. A contestant's score, however, could not be reduced below $0.

During an Instant Bargain, only the player in the lead could purchase the prize available. Three Instant Bargains were played per game, and, as before, both the value of the prizes and their costs increased as the game progressed. Depending on the game situation, the host could reduce the cost and/or offer cash in order to entice the contestant to purchase.

In case of a tie for the lead, a Dutch auction was usually conducted for the prize, although sometimes the price remained the same. For a brief time in early 1984, any contestant who bought an Instant Bargain could answer a question, and if correctly answered, won back the value of the prize (called the "Money Back Question").

Additional questions were asked after the first Instant Bargain, following which the first "Fame Game" was played. A "who-am-I?"-style question was posed to the contestants, with clues becoming more descriptive as the question continued. If one of the contestants buzzed-in and answered correctly, he or she played the second half of the round; if not, that contestant was locked out from the round (without penalty) and play continued until one of the remaining contestants either answered correctly or all three failed to answer.

The contestant who answered correctly was given a choice of nine spaces on the Fame Game board, each displaying the face of a celebrity. Eight of the spaces hid either small bonus prizes or various amounts of cash (some also gave the option of taking the cash or picking another space/restarting the randomizer), and one hid a $25 Money Card, which added $25 to the contestant's score. The Fame Game was played three times per episode, with earlier spaces selected removed from subsequent available choices.

The contestant with the highest score at the end of the game became the champion. If the match ended in a tie, the tied players were asked one more question. Buzzing in and answering correctly won the game, while answering incorrectly resulted in a loss. In both cases, the losing contestants kept any and all cash and prizes won along the way, including their final scores in cash.

Bonus RoundEdit

The champion then "went shopping" with the money he/she had earned. A total of six individual prizes, which changed every five shows, were available and each one was progressively more expensive than the one preceding it. The first prize a champion was given a chance to buy was the least expensive prize. This prize had a set value of $85 (by 1985), but the champion was allowed to purchase it for less if he/she won with less money.

Once presented with any prize, the champion would be given a choice to either buy it or hold on to the money and come back for the next show to try to win again, perhaps with enough money to enable him/her to buy the next-highest valued prize. The champion took a risk in returning, as a defeat at any point meant he/she only won whatever had been earned in the main game.

As the champion continued playing and winning, the prizes offered became more and more valuable; examples included expensive jewelry, fur coats, and opulent vacations which included first class accommodations. Another major prize offered to champions, should they win enough money to purchase it, was a luxury automobile.

The ultimate goal for any long-term champion was to earn enough money to purchase every single shopping prize on the stage. For the first four months of Sale's run on NBC, a champion had to accumulate $510 in total and the prizes would be augmented with enough cash to make the entire package worth $95,000. Later, a seventh prize level was added and the same $510 would entitle the champion to an accumulating cash jackpot which started at $50,000 and saw $1,000 added every day until it was claimed. When the jackpot was added, the price for the entire lot of prizes increased to $600. If the champion managed to accumulate that much money, he/she would walk away with a prize package in excess of $100,000.

The syndicated series featured a similar shopping round when it premiered in January 1985. Like its parent series, eight prize levels were available and a champion could elect to buy a prize at any time and retire. The final prize level, as before, was all of the shopping prizes and the cash jackpot. The difference was that the syndicated series did not offer the cash jackpot by itself as a prize. Instead, the car was the last individual prize offered and the penultimate prize level gave the champion an opportunity to purchase all of the shopping prizes without the jackpot. For the first three weeks of episodes it took $830 to win the entire lot, with $720 needed for just the shopping prizes. Beginning on January 28, 1985, and continuing until the shopping format was discontinued in November 1985, accumulating $640 won the prizes and $750 won them and the jackpot. During this period, the lot was won a total of four times, with the first win coming in February 1985 and the last in September 1985.

On rare occasions, a champion would enter a match needing a certain amount for one prize and finish with a high enough score that, when added to his/her current bankroll, would enable him/her to buy the prize that was on the next level. For instance, the champion could have been aiming for a fur coat but ended up accumulating a high enough score during the game to give he/she an opportunity to buy the next prize in line, i.e. the car.[2] When such a situation arose, the champion was allowed to buy either of the two prizes if he/she wished, but not both.[2] If the next level involved multiple prizes, like the lot on the NBC series or all the shopping prizes on the syndicated series, there was no choice given between prizes. In the former case, the champion simply retired as he/she would be at the highest possible prize level[3] In the latter case, the champion faced the same decision he/she continued to face after each victory; in this case, the decision was either to take all the shopping prizes and leave or try to add the cash jackpot to them.[4]

All the shopping prizes were swapped out for different ones every five shows. If a contestant's reign was to continue past the Friday of a particular week, Jim Perry would offer a reminder that a different set of prizes would be offered beginning on the next show and would tell the champion where he/she stood and what else would be available.[5][6]

Later changesEdit

Main gameEdit

By July 1983, the Fame Game underwent two changes. The first involved adding two more Money Cards to the board, worth $10 and $15. These cards would be added to the board one at a time, with the $10 card going on the board for the first Fame Game and the $15 for the second. With the change, the $25 card was no longer made available during the entire game and was only available during the third and final Fame Game. On occasion, a fourth money card worth $5 would be placed on the board with the $10 card. Later on, the famous faces on the Fame Game board were replaced by numbers, and for a brief time in late 1984, there was a "$5+" money card, entitling the contestant who found it to immediately pick another number, netting him either a second money card (to add to the score), or a prize or cash on the same playing. Even later, a randomizer was added to the Fame Game board and the player in control of the board selected a number by hitting their buzzer, which stopped the randomizer. When this change was made, the locations of the Money Cards were shown to the players and the $5 card was done away with.

The regular game format also underwent a significant change in March 1984 when the series followed the Australian Sale's lead by adding a 60-second speed round to close the match following the final Fame Game. Prior to that, the match ended with a series of three questions. To coincide with this change, Sale also increased the value of the shopping prizes. The price of the cash jackpot increased from $510 to $650 while the total amount needed to purchase the entire lot of prizes went from $600 to $760.

Beginning in May 1984, a "Sale Surprise" was occasionally added to any one of the Instant Bargains, which consisted of a cash bonus of anywhere from $300 to $1,200. However, the bonus was not used for every show, and was only revealed after the contestant chose to purchase or pass on a prize.

In March 1986, the show added the "Instant Cash" game in place of the third Instant Bargain. The leading contestant (or, in case of a tie, the winner of an auction) was offered a shot at a cash jackpot for the cost of their entire lead over the second place contestant. Every time the game was played, the contestant was given the choice of one of three boxes. The selected box was then given to the contestant, and whatever was inside was his/hers to keep. Two of the three boxes had $100 bills in them. Selecting the correct box won the contestant the jackpot, which started at $1,000 and increased by that amount each day it went unclaimed.

Beginning in late December 1987, a prize was awarded to the winner of the match. Originally, there were six prizes on offer each week, each hidden behind a number,[7] and the winner of the match got to determine their prize by picking one of the numbers (originally, the number was chosen by the defending champion during the game and the prize went to the winner even if the champion was dethroned later in the show). Later, the prize was predetermined before the show began and Jim Perry would announce it before the match started.[8]

Bonus round #2: The Winner's BoardEdit

The shopping bonus round was later replaced with a game called the "Winner's Board", which was introduced in October 1984 on NBC and on November 18, 1985 in syndication. On the Friday before the switch was made on both series, the champion was awarded the shopping prize he/she was entitled to based on how much money had been accumulated to that point.[9]

Unlike before, where a contestant had to continue winning and build his/her bank to a certain amount to have a chance at one of the major prizes on the stage such as the car, the Winner's Board guaranteed that the contestant would have a fair shot at any of ten bonus prizes that were offered during that given week.

Every new champion's reign started with a full board of 20 squares, and once he/she found a matching pair he/she won a prize. The prizes, like before, varied from jewelry to vacations to fur coats and other items. The highest valued prize, as before, was a car, and the prizes changed every five shows. Three constants were two cash prizes, which were worth $3,000 and $10,000, and a pair of cards marked "WIN" that served as wild cards; if a champion uncovered one, he/she won the next selected prize automatically. (A "WIN" card was necessary for the car and the $10,000 cash prize; these two were the only ones without a matching pair.)

The champion had a final decision to make after clearing the Winner's Board involving a $50,000 bonus. In order to win the bonus, the champion had to agree to return for an eleventh match on the next program and defeat two more challengers. The champion could also choose to take all his/her prizes and retire, because if he/she decided to continue playing and lost, all ten of their Winner's Board prizes would be forfeited. However, if successful, the champion would retire with winnings exceeding $100,000.

Bonus round #3: The Winner's Big Money GameEdit

In December 1987, the show changed bonus rounds again and introduced a new round called the "Winner's Big Money Game". The champion was given a choice of three envelopes (red, yellow, blue) before the start of the round. Inside each of the envelopes was a series of six-word puzzles that served as clues to a famous person, place, or thing. To win, the champion had to solve a set amount of them within a time limit: originally five puzzles in 25 seconds, which was later reduced to four in 20 seconds. The clock began when the first word of a puzzle was revealed and stopped when the champion hit a plunger to stop the clock and give an answer. Passing was allowed, as was one incorrect guess. A second incorrect guess ended the round.

As in the original shopping round, the Winner's Big Money Game had a series of eight prize levels. Each of the first six were cash prizes that increased in value each time regardless of whether the round was won the day before or not. A new champion played for $5,000 on his/her first trip to the bonus round, $6,000 on the second trip, and so on up to $10,000 on the sixth.

If the champion managed to make it to the Winner's Big Money Game for a seventh day, the reward was twofold. A win not only won the champion a new car, but he/she also was able to return for one final match where a win would result in the bonus round being played for $50,000. It was an all-or-nothing proposition, however; if the champion failed to win the car he/she was forced to retire.[10]

From the time the round was introduced until the series ended, the $50,000 Winner's Big Money Game was played twice. The first player to reach it was Rani White in May 1988, who won the $50,000 prize.[11] Five months later, in October 1988, the $50,000 level was reached by Phil Cambry. However, he was unsuccessful in his attempt to win the prize.[12]


Jim Perry hosted Sale of the Century from 1983 to 1989.

The 1969–73 version began with Jack Kelly as host, who was replaced by Joe Garagiola in 1971. Bill Wendell, then on the staff of NBC, served as announcer for the entire 1969–73 version. Madelyn Sanders, an African-American model, served as hostess for most of the run.

The 1980s version was hosted by Jim Perry, who was initially joined by Sally Julian as co-host. Two months later, Lee Menning replaced her until December 28, 1984,[13] when Summer Bartholomew joined the program and remained as co-host until the 1989 finale. Jay Stewart announced until his retirement in January 1988, when he was replaced by Don Morrow.

Production informationEdit

Broadcast historyEdit

Sale of the Century premiered on September 29, 1969, on NBC's daytime schedule at 11:00 AM (10:00 Central), replacing the three-year-old Personality, which was hosted by Larry Blyden. It aired at that time slot for the whole of its initial three-and-a-half years on the network, ending its first run on July 13, 1973, after which The Wizard of Odds, the first American program hosted by Alex Trebek, would make its debut.

The 1983 revival debuted on its original network, NBC, on January 3 of that year at 10:30 AM (9:30 AM CT/MT/PT) and remained there until January 2, 1987; the show faced competition against Press Your Luck (which aired on CBS) between September 1983 and January 1986. On January 5, 1987, the network moved the show back thirty minutes to 10:00 AM (9:00 AM CT/MT/PT). Sale of the Century stayed in that timeslot for the remainder of its run, enjoying respectable ratings and airing its 1,578th and final episode on March 24, 1989.

Its place on the schedule was taken by Scrabble, which had been airing in the afternoons for several years, in a shuffle that also saw Super Password end after four-and-a-half seasons (its timeslot of 12:00 PM was given back to its affiliates) and the soap opera Generations inherit its place and Scrabble's old timeslot.

The revival series spawned an accompanying daily syndicated edition that premiered on January 7, 1985, and was distributed by Genesis Entertainment. The syndicated Sale of the Century ran for one and a half seasons and came to an end in September 1986.

Episode statusEdit

Most episodes of the original 1969–73 series are believed to have been destroyed, but nine episodes of that run are held by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.[14]

USA aired reruns of the entire 270–episode 1985–86 syndicated series, and 120 episodes (August 1988 – March 1989) of the NBC daytime series from September 14, 1992 to July 29, 1994, for a total of 390 episodes. GSN carried the series from April 1, 2013[15] until March 27, 2015.

The network initially started out by airing the final sixty-five episodes of the NBC series. As part of the weekend beginning with that year's Black Friday, the network aired a four-hour marathon of episodes from the first season of the syndicated series to pay tribute to many retailers offering sales. GSN added the syndicated episodes to its daytime lineup in place of the network episodes that Monday and aired most of the run before dropping Sale from their schedule.

On October 18, 2015, Buzzr added the syndicated episodes to their Sunday night lineup, which later moved to the weeknight lineup in the summer of 2017. In July 2018, the show moved to the weekday morning lineup.

Theme musicEdit

The original 1969–74 theme was composed by Al Howard and Irwin Bazelon.[16]

The main theme on the 1980s version was composed in 1982 by Ray Ellis and his son, Marc, and was more or less a reworking of Jack Grimsley's original 1980 recording for the Australian version of the show.[citation needed]

Licensed merchandiseEdit

Milton Bradley released two home editions based on the 1969–74 version.[17] A version based upon the 1983–89 version of the show – made by American Publishing Corp, and featuring the Quizzard game – was released in 1986.[18]

As part of their "Game Show Greats" lineup, IGT released a video slot machine in 2003.[19]


  1. ^ Schwartz, David (1999). The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows. Checkmark Books. ISBN 0816038473.
  2. ^ a b Sale of the Century. 21 May 1985. Champion Jan Robes was faced with this specific situation.
  3. ^ Barbara Phillips' lot win from 1983. She had entered the match trying to win the jackpot but earned enough money to win all of the prizes. Airdate unknown.
  4. ^ Syndicated Sale episode airing September 20, 1985. Tim Holleran's total at this point is almost enough to win him every prize on the stage; Jim Perry informs him that if he had won enough on that episode he would not have been able to choose between the car and the prizes.
  5. ^ Sale of the Century. 4 February 1985.
  6. ^ Sale of the Century. 17 May 1985.
  7. ^ Sale of the Century. 15 January 1988.
  8. ^ Sale of the Century. 24 March 1989.
  9. ^ Sale of the Century. 15 November 1985.
  10. ^ Sale of the Century. 22 March 1989. champion Darrell Garrison is retired after failing to win a Jeep in the Winner's Big Money Game.
  11. ^ Sale of the Century. May 1988. Champion Rani White wins the Winner's Big Money Game for $50,000.
  12. ^ Sale of the Century. October 1988. Champion Phil Cambry loses the Winner's Big Money Game and does not win the $50,000.
  13. ^ Weekly Variety Magazine; December 26, 1984 issue; Page 35
  14. ^ "UCLA Library Catalog". Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  15. ^ "GSN acquires new series Sale of the Century and new episodes of Press Your Luck to launch April 1". Retrieved 2017-03-31.
  16. ^ Schwartz, David (January 1999). The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows. Checkmark Books. p. 192. ISBN 0816038473.
  17. ^ "The Sale of the Century Home Game Home Page". Retrieved November 30, 2013.
  18. ^ "Sale of the Century Quizzard". Board Game Geek. Retrieved September 25, 2013.
  19. ^ "IGT – Games: Sale of the Century™ Video Slots". Archived from the original on May 5, 2005. Retrieved November 30, 2013.

External linksEdit