Letís Make a Deal

Last Update: August 6, 2001 -- Reruns section updated.

Airing: Network: 1:30-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, January 1-December 26; 12:00-12:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, December 29 through the rest of the year, ABC. Syndicated: weekly in first-run syndication throughout the year.

Personnel: Monty Hall, host; Jay Stewart, announcer; Carol Merrill, hostess/model. A Stefan Hatos-Monty Hall Production. Taped in Los Angeles.

Description: What would you rather have: this cash, whatís in this box, or whatís behind the curtain?

Game Play: Hall would enter the trading floor, filled with 33 people in costumes chosen before the program taped. Hall would pick one, two, three, or more people to work with on a particular deal, swapping items for small dollar amounts or prizes and then offering them possible larger prizes, depending on their hunches. Other games involved pricing groceries (similar to The Price is Rightís Grocery Game), or competitions between couples. The danger was always that the contestant(s) would trade their prizes for worthless prizes, called zonks Ė examples of this include a giant jar of peanut butter, a cow, and so on. There were very few standard mini-games on the show, and much of the showís strength was Hallís ability to handle the multitude of options offered contestants.

End Game: With about eight minutes left in the show, Hall would offer two contestants who had won real prizes to trade for a chance at the Big Deal of the Day, which was generally worth several thousand dollars (about $5,000-$10,000 by 1975, more in the syndicated edition). The risk was if they didnít catch the Big Deal, they might trade for prizes of a lesser value. If one contestant refused, Hall would go on to another winner (sometimes needing to pick four or five contestants before finding two who were willing to go on). The contestants were then offered a choice of three doors, with the first contestant picked for the Big Deal choosing first.

After the End Game: Hall would continue to offer small cash amounts to audience members not chosen during the game with odd items on hand that Hall asked for ("Iíll give you $50 for every clothespin you show me!"). This would continue until time literally ran out. (And this could backfire: in his book, Monty tells the story of a woman who gave Hall a baby bottle for a small cash prize. Hall took it, and then said, "For $200, show me another nipple!")

Background: Letís Make a Deal debuted December 30, 1963 at 2 p.m. on NBC. Hosted by Hall (who had previously run several local New York shows and Heatter-Quigleyís Video Village) and produced by Hall and Stefan Hatos (who had previously worked together on NBCís Your First Impression), Deal had been extensively tested beforehand. Hall and Hatos had put on homemade versions of the game with charitable organizations, Weight Watchers groups, and so forth Ė without any prizes, zonks, or costumes. Hatos and Hall discovered the game would work in any case, because people had to know what was under the box or behind the curtain. They knew the show worked, but convincing network executives was something else. ABC turned the show down at first, and so did NBC, despite successful run-throughs. Jerry Chester told Hatos and Hall, "Sure it looks great today, but what do you do tomorrow?" Eventually, however, NBC gave in with the evidence of a successful pilot.

At the beginning of the series, contestants were dressed simply in street clothes. But that would change quickly, according to Hall. "About a month into the show, a woman came to the show and brought a sign that said ĎRoses are red/Violets are blue/I came here/To deal with you,í" Hall told author Jefferson Graham. "And I picked her. Well, for the next couple of weeks we had signs flourishing like crazy [the show was probably live early in the run], and then somebody started wearing a crazy hat to attract my attention. Then it went crazy. They all started wearing all sorts of things." Hatos called a meeting and said they had to stop the costumes, but had no answer for a writer who asked why they had to do that. The writer said, "Donít you realize thereís never been a show like this before? People are dressing up, and the medium is called TV, and you put these people on, and it makes the screen come alive." So the costumes stayed.

Letís Make a Deal was a very successful show for NBC. In his book, however, Hall noted NBC didnít seem appreciative of the showís success, having successfully competed against two very tough shows on CBS, Password and As the World Turns. The show cut deeply into the prime time ratings of The Ed Sullivan Show and The F.B.I. in 1967, but when Hatos and Hall asked for more money when the network requested a second evening run the following year, they went with The Hollywood Squares instead. That set the stage for the negotiations to follow, in which NBC only offered a token increase in payments to Hatos and Hall. After dickering briefly with CBS (which at the time had a top prize on their games of less than $1,000), the show moved to ABC on December 30, 1968, occupying the same 1:30 time slot it had on NBC. This proved to be a huge mistake for the Peacock Network Ė Dealís exit resulted in the loss of millions in revenues, and a drop in daytime ratings from neck-and-neck for first (with CBS) to deep second and occasionally third (behind ABC, which had far fewer affiliates). ABC also quickly added a regular evening edition, which ran for over two years, after which the show was seen once a week in first-run syndication, usually at 7:30 at night.

Zonks a Lot: So youíve traded away your washer/dryer for 25 pounds of cottage cheese. What do you do? Mercifully, you donít have to buy a much larger refrigerator. Letís Make a Deal gave away an estimated 10,000 zonks during its first run, but per network rules, those prizes had to be honored. Most contestants signed a certificate of forfeiture and received another prize in place of the giant lollipop Jay Stewart was sucking on. Depending on the value of the zonk, contestants could even receive a stereo or a television. (And who knows, maybe some of the contestants were happy to take home a Holstein cow.)

Letís Give a Quote: Mark Goodson said in 1969, "I had been one of those who had said that a game of pure luck would not succeed. Monty is brilliant the way he does itÖ the tension he has built up. He makes those people feel that what they are deciding is decidable on the basis of a judgment they have to make, when indeed itís not. I mean the fact is they could probably do just as well by flipping a coin every time. But he creates tension and there is also that marvelous thing of vicariously sharing the win with someone else."

Hall in 1973 on the media backlash against the show: "At first we laughed off the needling we got from the press as good free promotion. But nowÖ I just feel lacerated. It really, really hurts. Letís Make a Deal has nothing to do with greed. The human weakness it plays on is the gambling urge Ė and letís face it, weíre a nation of gamblers. Itís not even a game show, really. Itís a happening. People having fun. Under the bizarre costumes is a spectrum of the American public Ė lawyers, doctors, plumbers, housewives Ė not a bunch of crazies. The fact that we offer them an unknown, which is gambling, is not bad taste, and the fact that when they lose, they still kiss meÖ thatís good taste." (Yes, but do those kisses taste good?) Hall was on the receiving end of an estimated 20,000 kisses during the showís first run.

Partners in Dealing: Announcer Jay Stewart and model Carol Merrill had important roles on the show, and not just from what their job titles suggested. Stewart often appeared on camera, helping Hall out with his deals (especially grocery pricing games), or appearing as Baby Jay in zonks, often with huge props. Merrill told Jefferson Graham how complicated her job was Ė remember, unlike TPIR, she was the showís only model. "Itís characterized as a no-brains job. But I had to think fast and understand what was going on, because there were all different ways to play. If a contestant wanted this, I went there, and the backstage crew would get so confused they would just follow me." Merrill was actually pregnant in 1967, but hid it by wearing tent dresses. Claudia Brock and Barbara Lyon filled in for her during her maternity leave, which was short; Merrill stuck with the show until her eighth month, and was actually cleared by the producers to stay on the show until her date of delivery. (Good for Stefan and Monty Ė very few producers would have been this accomodating in that era.)

Hall of Fame: Refer to Monty Hall as a game show host to his face and youíre liable to get a dirty look. Although Hall was proud of Deal, he hated the idea that his name would be synonymous with the show (which, of course, it is anyway), and looked to get Vegas bookings, talk-show engagements, sitcom work, and so on. He hosted the NBC Comedy Playhouse in 1968 (reruns of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater), and appeared on The Love Boat and as a guest voice on Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. But his most famous appearances were as himself on two episodes of The Odd Couple, one of which featured Oscar and Felix on a New York-based episode of LMaD, as the front and rear ends of a horse.

Yeah, But Whatís the Deal?: Wonder how the show went so seamlessly? It was scripted. Not rigged; the contestants made their own decisions, but much of what Monty said was written down (although he was a facile ad-libber), and the script covered all possibilities offered the contestants. Hereís a sample deal, courtesy of TV Game Shows! (written by Maxene Fabe). This actually aired June 9, 1969, and note Ivan Ditmarsí orchestra was live in the studio.

MAN AND WOMAN

"SAME CIRCUMSTANCES"

MONTY

Iím going to find out how a man and a woman trade under the exact same circumstances!

(PICK A MAN AND WOMAN. NAMES)

(MEANWHILE JAY ENTERS WITH HIS TRAY)

Letís see how you do with this box of macaroni, and whatís under this box on Jayís tray.

MUSIC: APPROPRIATE

JAY (MONTYíS MIKE)

This is a two-pound box of Creamettes, the quick cooking macaroni. Creamettes are of the highest quality and finest texture Ė selected from special Durum wheat, formula enriched and made into macaroni.

This box sells forÖ 47Ę!

MONTY

Now, you can trade what you brought today for either one of these items. If you both take the same thing, Iíll duplicate it.

What do you want to trade for?

(WHICHEVER WAY THEY GO, REVEAL THE JAY BOX)

(COMMENT ON HOW THEY TRADED)

Jay, whatís in the box?

(JAY REVEALS CAMERA)

Itís a Polaroid camera and case!

(APPLAUSE)

JAY (MONTYíS MIKE)

This is the exciting Model #350 Polaroid camera and case. It was chosen from the wonderful selection of merchandise of the well-known E.J. Coley Company of Chicago, Illinois. The E.J. Coley Company is known for its quality and value.

MONTY

(IF BOTH TRADED AWAY SAME ITEM, REVEAL MONEY HIDDEN IN IT.

OTHERWISE, REVEAL HIDDEN MONEY ONLY WHEN ITEM IS TRADED AWAY OR HELD AT END OF DEAL.

CAMERA REVEAL

(WITH APPROPRIATE COMMENTS, SHOW THAT THEREíS $400 INSIDE)

CREAMETTES REVEAL

(OPEN BOX AND SHOW THIS WAS A RICH STRAIN OF WHEAT -- $400 IN HERE)

MONTY

Again, letís see how a man and woman trade under the same circumstances.

Either or both of you can trade what you now own for whatís in that big box on the Display Floor! Whaddya say?

(WHICHEVER WAY THEY GO, YOUíRE GOING TO REVEAL THE DISPLAY FLOOR BOX.

BUT IF EITHER CAMERA OR MACARONI IS TRADED OFF Ė FIRST REVEAL MONEY)

DISPLAY FLOOR BOX REVEAL

Now Ė letís see whatís in that box! Carol?

(BOX ROLLS TO REVEAL STEREO.)

Itís a stereo console!

(APPLAUSE)

MUSIC: APPROPRIATE

JAY (MONTYíS MIKE)

Hereís the General Electric console stereo with exclusive Porta-Fi that lets you enjoy music from anywhere in your home. Plug the Porta-Fi receiver into any wall outlet. Sound conveneience with no custom wiring necessary. From General Electric.

This unit sells forÖ $399.85!

MONTY

Hereís the final test! Wanna keep what you now ownÖ

OR would you rather trade for whatís behind the curtain Carol Merrill is now pointing to?

MONTY

(IF ANY UNKNOWNS REMAIN, REVEAL WHAT THEY KEEP LAST)

CURTAIN #2 REVEAL

Letís see whatís behind that curtain!

(CURTAIN #2 OPENS ON THE STEERS)

Itís a small herd of small steers!

(APPLAUSE)

MUSIC: APPROPRIATE

You can now start your own beef trust!

But donít trust them Ė theyíre quite young and havenít any manners!

(COMMENT ON THE DEAL)

Believe me itís been fun Ė and thatís no bull.

(APPLAUSE)

PROPS: Jay tray: on it the open, a large box of Creamettes. Hidden in it Ė $400. Also on tray, a lift-off box to hid a Polaroid Camera, from Coley. (Camera catalog number Ė V55W43553 Ė $169.88. Case number Ė 55W4315-M $18.98. Both are on Page 336 in Spiegel catalog. In it Ė $400.

-------------------------------

-------------------------------

†MS JAYíS TRAY.

†CU BOX OF CREAMETTES.

MS JAYíS REVEAL OF CAMERA.

CU REACTION.

CU POLAROID CAMERA AND CASE.

CU COLEY FLIP IN LIMBO.

FOLLOW THE ACTION.

FOLLOW THE ACTION.

WS MODEL AT BOX ON DISPLAY FLOOR.

WS BOX REVEAL OF STEREO

CU REACTION.

SHOTSA G.E. STEREO.

CU PORTA-FI.

WS MODEL AT CURTAIN #2.

WS OF CURTAIN #2 OPENING ON STEERS AND CAROL.

CU REACTION.

CU STEERS.

STAY ON TRADERS

Dealing Down: As is generally the case, Dealís ratings started to drop after over ten years on daytime television, partially accelerated by the expansion of Days of Our Lives to one hour in April 1975, with the first half hour facing Deal. (CBSís As the World Turns would also expand in December 1975.) ABC tried to help the show out by moving it to 12 noon on December 29, 1975. As most daytime television experts know, moving a show to 12 noon to help it is like giving a smoker two dozen cases of smokeless tobacco Ė most stations run local news at that hour, resulting in pre-emptions or odd time slots for the network show. LMaDís last show in that run was July 9, 1976. The syndicated edition hung on for another year after that, with production shifting to the gambling capital of the world, Las Vegas, adding a Super Deal, which gave the Big Deal winner a chance to trade up even more. Hall would return to NBC as host of the short-lived word game Itís Anybodyís Guess in 1977, then did his first game in almost 20 years outside of his own production company, hosting Goodson-Todmanís The All-New Beat the Clock for CBS from 1979 to 1980.

Letís Find the Show: LMAD had a very brief return for a year in September 1980, taping in Vancouver, Canada and hosted again by Hall. Little-seen in the States, itís hard to find many people who remember this one.

Letís Make a Comeback: The most successful revival of Deal occurred in 1984, with a two-year run taping in Los Angeles and hosted again by Hall. The models were Melanie Vincz and Karen LaPierre, and Brian Cummings and Dean Goss served as announcers. This edition was most noted for a Door Number 4 option, chosen at random on certain shows. It was a close call for a third season, but the show packed it in after two years, with Carol Merrill and Jay Stewart dropping in for the last show. Reruns of this edition ran from December 1986 to December 1988 on USA and from June 1993 to the end of 1995 on The Family Channel.

Deal NBC In: 22 years after the showís departure from NBC, Letís Make a Deal returned on July 9, 1990 in a 10 a.m. time slot, with some significant changes. The show taped in Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida, veteran announcer Bob Hilton took over for Hall as Host, and Dick Clark packaged the show, with Ron Greenberg and Clark as executive producers. Hall was only a consultant at first, but Hilton wasnít accepted by the viewing public and looked ill at ease on the job (hosting LMaD is probably one of the hardest hosting jobs around), so in October a silver-haired Monty Hall took the reins again. It made no difference, as NBC dropped the series January 11, 1991. Hosting changes always confuse audiences, and I suspect 10 in the morning was a bit early to be dealing. The retirements of Hatos and Hall have been permanent since then. Stephan Hatos died March 2, 1999 of an apparent heart attack. He was 78.

Deal Fox Out: The fifth version of Letís Make a Deal aired at 7 p.m. Sunday nights for about six weeks in the fall of 1996 on the Fox network, with more significant changes, such as the title: Big Deal. Playing up the odd costume-driven characteristics of the game, the one-hour show required contestants to do wacky stunts to earn their prizes (such as impersonating Elvis or throwing baseballs at their own houseís windows), a la Truth or Consequences. Hosted by Mark DeCarlo (who earlier had helmed Studs), this version was produced by Stone-Stanley Enterprises, Big Deal was a rush replacement for L.A. Firefighters, a drama that stalled in preparation (and again when it finally aired). LMaD fans were not enthused by this new version, and a plan to return to the air in a half-hour version later in the season was scrapped.

Key Quotes:

The Home Game: A couple of them. Milton Bradley issued one version in the mid-Ď60s, and Ideal did the same in 1974. Thereís a current hand-held electronic model out from Tiger as well. This isnít the easiest show to do as a home game, but Iíll wager it plays better than some of the celebrity games of the era did. Keep an eye out for other LMaD collectibles such as a documentary about the show, Deal, which was issued on videotape in the 1980s. Hall has also written an autobiography, which occasionally pops up on eBay. I purchased it last year and will add useful information sometime.

Reruns: Look for them soon. Game Show Network will start rerunning the show August 27, with four-hour marathons every day that week. Monty will be hosting the marathons. Most of the eras of the show will be represented -- the exceptions being the 1990-91 edition (because of the co-ownership with Dick Clark) and Big Deal. Actually, I wouldnít be optimistic about seeing any of the 1963-68 episodes either, but you never know.

Revivals: The sixth version of Letís Make a Deal was slated for a fall 1999 launch as an hour-long show in first-run syndication, to be helmed by talk show host and To Tell the Truth m.c. (for a very short time) Gordon Elliott. The New York and Los Angeles markets chose not to pick up the show, however, so Buena Vista Television dropped the idea. Monty told Steve Beverly heís working on a revised version, but would not confirm the theory Rosie OíDonnell was slated to become host. Hall will not host again, but he will executive produce at the start -- judging by his comments, he wasnĎt happy about the way Big Deal turned out without his participation. My own opinion is Rosie wonít be able to go through the show without hinting broadly whether the item behind the curtain is a car or a baby carriage, but letís see what happens.

Curt Alliaume, Executive Producer: This may be one of those games where the format is so uniquely suited to the hostís talents that a revival may be well nigh impossible. Two revised versions havenít done well at all, and the Gordon Elliott pilot couldnít make it to the starting gate. But the news that Monty would be involved in a new version is promising.

My Grade: A-.

Read More About It:

Sound + Vision:

  • í80s TV Theme SuperSite to download the theme music from the 1984-86 version.
  • Themes OnLine includes whatís advertised as a show opener from the 1990-91 edition, but itís actually from the 1984-86 version.

E-Mail Me With Your Memories of Letís Make a Deal

Back to Game Shows í75

Letís Make a Deal is a copyrighted title of Hatos/Hall Productions and Stone-Stanley Productions. This page is in no way affiliated with or endorsed by Hatos/Hall Productions, Stone-Stanley Productions, their subsidiaries, affiliates, or successor organizations. No challenge to their ownership is implied. Photos originally appeared on eBay.