High Rollers

Last Update: August 7, 2001 Ė Ruta Lee information updated (thanks to Dino Alexander for the information).

Airing: Network: 11-11:30 a.m. Monday-Friday through November 28, 12 noon-12:30 p.m. December 1 through the rest of the year, NBC. Syndicated: Weekly in first-run syndication, September 1 through the rest of the year.

Personnel: Alex Trebek, host; Ruta Lee, hostess (NBC edition); Elaine Stewart, hostess (syndicated edition); Kenny Williams, announcer. A Merrill Heatter-Bob Quigley Production. Taped in Los Angeles.

Description: Light quiz with big huge dice and numbers to knock off.

Game Play: Two contestants competed. Trebek would read a question, and the first contestant to ring in correctly had the option of rolling the dice or passing them to their opponent, with that option going to the opponent if they answered incorrectly. After Lee or Stewart rolled the two dice Ė letís say an eight was rolled Ė they had the option of which numbers to take off the board, from 1 through 9, to equal their roll of eight. (Thus, they could take the 8, the 6 and the2, the 5 and the 3, the 4, 3, and 1, etc.) Play continued until the player rolling couldnít knock any numbers off the board with their roll (giving the game to their opponent) or they knocked off the last number, thus winning the game, with the former result far outnumbering the latter. Insurance markers were awarded at any time for throwing doubles; this gave contestants one extra roll of the dice if confronted with a situation where they couldnít take any numbers from the board.

Each number had a prize attached to it (with a car sometimes split between two numbers); contestants only won the prizes attached to the numbers if they won the game (and only won the car if they had knocked off both numbers). Of course, since contestants didnít want to roll the dice as numbers were knocked off the board, quite often the gameís winner had no prizes at all. A best two-out-of-three match determined the champion.

End Game: Same basic play without the questions, with the numbers 1 through 9 available. Each number was worth $100; knocking off all nine numbers earned the champion $10,000.

Background: High Rollers premiered July 1, 1974, replacing Alex Trebekís first American game show, The Wizard of Odds, on NBC. It did pretty well at first, eventually knocking off Now You See It on CBS. It was the first game show to position a camera in mid-air, above the dice table (which would become a standard camera shot on Wheel of Fortune).

Oh Lee of Little Faith: Ruta Lee was an occasional film actress (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), Vegas entertainer, and friend of Frank Sinatra, so her appointment in 1974 as dice roller was a little of a shock Ė comeback or comedown? Anyway, she was okay (in my opinion, a better foil for Trebek than Elaine Stewart was for Wink Martindale on Gambit). Linda Kaye Henning (Betty Jo on Petticoat Junction) and Leslie Uggams occasionally substituted for Lee. On the syndicated edition, however, Heatter used Stewart (also known as Mrs. Heatter) as the dice roller. Rutaís latest role was (oh dear) Koko Kashmere in the series Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue

Rolling Into Trouble: After being slotted against Now You See It and then Tattletales in the first half of 1975, High Rollers wound up against CBSís Gambit, also produced by Heatter-Quigley. NBC moved High Rollers to 12 noon in December 1975, allowing Wheel of Fortune to temporarily expand to one hour. Eight weeks later, however, High Rollers moved again, to 10:30 a.m., allowing H-Qís The Magnificent Marble Machine, which had been displaced by Take My Advice, to return to the 12 noon slot. WoF reverted to the half-hour format.

Unfortunately, High Rollers was now competing with the second half of CBSís hour-long The Price Is Right. This would turn out to be an impossible task for every show that faced TPIR, however. A change in the game rules (numbers knocked off the board now revealed pieces of a puzzle, which when removed showed a famous face) didnít help the few fans who had withstood the time shifts retain their enthusiasm. HR was canceled in June, just short of its second anniversary on the air. Trebek would go on to host CBSís Double Dare and the syndicated $128,000 Question.

High Times: NBC brought back High Rollers in April 1978, and the changes Heatter-Quigley made between the first and the second versions of the game improved it immensely. The digits 1 through 9 were now in three columns, with prizes attached to each column, with a maximum of five prizes in all, which could be worth over $10,000. One column was the designated "hot column" that could be knocked off with one roll of the dice. Contestants were given the rights to the prizes by knocking off the final number in the column, but werenít awarded the prizes unless they won the game. There was no hostess in this version (although Becky Price, Linda Hooks, and Lauren Firestone served as models); contestants rolled the dice themselves. Other than that, game play was the same. This version lasted just over two years, until June 1980, when NBC decided housewives wanted to watch David Letterman for ninety minutes every morning. Trebek hung in with the syndicated Pitfall (1981-82) and two versions of Merrill Heatterís Battlestars (NBC, 1981-82 and 1983) until Merv Griffin tapped him to host the revived Jeopardy! in 1984. Trebekís been there ever since, with occasional additional workloads on Classic Concentration (NBC, 1987-93) and To Tell the Truth (NBC, 1991) as well as ABCís summer run of Super Jeopardy! in 1990.

A Final Roll: Merrill Heatter took another shot revising High Rollers with a 1985 pilot called Lucky Numbers, again with Trebek at the helm. In 1987, he sold HR into first-run syndication (this time a co-production with Century Towers Productions and Orion Television), using the same format previously employed in the 1978-80 version (with the addition of a couple of extra quickie minigames played for extra prizes, and dropping the maximum prizes per column to three). With Trebek running Jeopardy!, Heatter brought in Wink Martindale as host and KC Winkler and Crystal Owens as models/assistants. The show only ran for one year, but reruns hung around on the USA cable network for three years.

The Home Game: Two different editions of "Big Numbers: The High Rollers Game" were released by Milton Bradley, both with Alex Trebek on the cover. Wink Martindale got his turn when Parker Brothers released a High Rollers box game in 1988.

Reruns: NBC, assumedly with Heatter-Quigley acquiescence, destroyed the tapes from the 1974-76 and 1978-80 versions, so weíll never see those again. A couple of the 1978-80 episodes are traded around, however, especially the finale, in which Alex says a few things so completely offbeat one wonders if heíd had a glass of wine or two before the taping. The Martindale version reran on USA Network for three years, and could come back again.

Revivals: Sure, why not? I doubt it will happen anytime soon (I believe the rights are held by MGM, which hasnít much of a TV production arm), but the latter versions of this game are as good as Heatter-Quigley ever got. The 1975 version, well, letís call that a practice run.

Curt Alliaume, Executive Producer: The 1978-80 game was just dandy, and needs virtually no changes.

My Grade: B-. The later versions would get a B or better.

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High Rollers is a copyrighted title of Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley Productions. This page is in no way affiliated with or endorsed by Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley Productions, MGM Television, their subsidiaries, affiliates, or successor organizations. No challenge to their ownership is implied. High Rollers home game copyright 1975 by Milton Bradley. Photos originally appeared on eBay.

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