The $10,000 Pyramid/The $25,000 Pyramid

Last Update: A couple of updates and some YouTube links.

Airing: Network: 2-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday throughout the year, ABC. Syndicated: weekly in first-run syndication throughout the year.

Personnel: Dick Clark, host (The $10,000 Pyramid), Bill Cullen, host (The $25,000 Pyramid); Bob Clayton, announcer. A Bob Stewart Production. Taped in New York City.

Description: Word game, describing a particular word or subject, played against the clock.

Game Play: Two contestants competed, paired with two celebrities, who were on for a full week. The host introduced six categories, often with a pun that barely gave a hint to the actual subject. An example: "Diner’s Club" might lead to things found in a restaurant. Celebrities were the first to give clues, and say anything or make any gesture necessary to lead their partner to the word (for "Diner’s Club," let’s say the first answer was a waiter), except saying all or part of the word itself. (If this occurred, they would be interrupted by a cuckoo sound, and the word would be thrown out). A maximum of seven words were shown in 30 seconds, and once a word was passed, the clue giver couldn’t go back to it (but the receiver could say it later if they thought of it). The two teams alternated turns through the first two rounds, with contestants giving clues to the celebrities in the second round. In the third and final round, the trailing team went first, and could choose which partner would give clues and which would receive. The team with the most points at the end of three rounds went on to the Winner’s Circle. If there was a tie after three rounds, a tie-breaking round was played, with two categories titled "Things that start with the letter [fill in two letters of the alphabet here]," and the team that scored the most points in the tie-breaker would move on. (If there was another tie, the process was repeated until somebody won.)

End Game: Also known as the Winner’s Circle. The contestant chose whether they wanted to give or receive clues (generally the latter). Up to six subjects were shown to the clue giver in 60 seconds (the contestant’s back faced the pyramid). The subjects were obvious, such as "Things found at a baseball game" or "Things a barber might say." But this time, the clue giver could only give a list of items that fit the subject (for the former, hot dogs, umpires, a scoreboard, the pitcher would be acceptable, but not ballplayers, because that would include part of the word). A descriptive clue was also illegal, and would be buzzed. If the celebrity managed to convey all six subjects in less than 60 seconds (in this instance, they could pass and return to subjects), the contestant won $10,000. (In the syndicated edition, the first trip to the Winner’s Circle was worth $10,000, and the same player making the second trip played for $25,000.) Players winning $10,000 on the daytime version retired undefeated; players not winning $10,000 were rewarded for each subject identified ($50 for the bottom three subjects, $100 for the middle two and $200 for the top one) and would continue for another game, switching celebrity partners. There were two full games and two trips to the Winner’s Circle on every show. Contestants played both games on the syndicated edition, switching partners for the second game.

Background: The $10,000 Pyramid premiered at 10:30 a.m. on CBS March 26, 1973, replacing The Price is Right, which moved to 3 p.m. Dick Clark was selected to host, his first employment on a game show since 1964’s Missing Links. It also meant Clark had a nice long commute: the series taped in New York City, and Clark’s business operations were in Hollywood (including American Bandstand). Bill Cullen probably was the nominal first choice of packager Stewart (he had hosted several other Stewart shows), but was busy running NBC’s Three on a Match. The most fascinating part of the show was its gigantic set (the series originally taped in the Ed Sullivan Theater, which now houses The Late Show with David Letterman, except for a few weeks in Los Angeles), which included a large hunk of plywood on the main pyramid. Why? Stewart had originally conceived of the show’s end game with ten categories. (Of course, the original concept was called Cash on the Line, where the opening part of the game was the endgame.) Two days before the first taping, Stewart realized no one could ever solve ten subjects in sixty seconds, and in discussions with CBS, they decided to use a two-by-four to cover the bottom four categories. (Ah, for HDTV in 1973…)

Pyramid was a moderate hit from the start, holding its own against NBC’s Baffle despite numerous pre-emptions early on for Watergate coverage. But in 1974, NBC moved Jeopardy! to 10:30 a.m., and even though it’s doubtful this was NBC’s intent (from their actions through the year, one can only conclude the goal was to burn Jeopardy! out), Art Fleming’s quiz started beating Dick Clark’s. With Goodson-Todman’s Now You See It waiting in the wings, CBS decided to drop Pyramid. Happily, ABC stepped in and snapped it up six weeks later, moving the show to 4 p.m. The new time slot worked for Password, and it worked here as well. ABC would move the game to 2 p.m. in December 1974, following the demise of The Newlywed Game. By this time, it had been joined by a weekly syndicated edition, with Stewart giving the nighttime reins to Cullen.

Pyramid Power: And Pyramid would thrive on ABC, becoming the #3 rated game show in the 1975-76 season and staying there for three seasons.

Pyramid Moments: Star Trek stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy faced one another for one week. (There remains a clip from the early years of Shatner soloing in the Winner’s Circle. One of the most devoted Pyramid players, Shatner was allegedly eased out of a recurring celebrity role after tossing a chair out of the Winner’s Circle.) Tony Randall and Jack Klugman also faced one another. (And why didn’t The Odd Couple ever get around to doing an Odd Couple-on-Pyramid episode? Klugman and Randall both played the game frequently, and they wouldn’t have had to use the "special week in New York" excuse, since Pyramid taped there and Odd Couple was set in NYC.) Anita Gillette once got a bit carried away listing "Things that are stiff" (use your imagination). And the first person to rip out the straps in the Winner’s Circle chair was… Sandy Duncan.

10,000 Celebrities: One of the great complaints I’ve heard about Pyramid was the use of the same celebrity partners over and over and over again. (In some cases, especially in the 1980s version, one might question what some of these celebrities did other than playing Pyramid.) In my opinion, Pyramid celebrities tended to appear more often because of the high stakes involved. When ten or twenty thousand dollars was on the line, the last thing the producers wanted to see was a deserving contestant lose out because they were partnered with a clueless celebrity. The 1982 and later versions helped fix this problem by letting contestants stay for both games in one day, but in the 1973-81 versions, if you lost a game, you got the Chunky candy bars and the Waring blender, and that was it.

Kris Lane’s page (link below) has allowed me to compile the record of which celebrities played the game most often. (Please note not all the celebrity information is available.) And the winners are:

Some of the biggest stars to play the game: virtually the entire cast of M*A*S*H (Loretta Swit, Mike Farrell, Alan Alda, Larry Linville, Gary Burghoff, McLean Stevenson, Wayne Rogers, and Jamie Farr), David Letterman (five appearances in the 1970s version), Billy Crystal (who holds the record for the fastest win in the Winner's Circle), and Michael J. Fox (six appearances in the 1980s version). Among the game show hosts who appeared on the show: Soupy Sales, Nipsey Russell, Bill Cullen (on both the ’70s and ’80s Dick Clark versions), Betty White, Vicki Lawrence, Dick Cavett, Geoff Edwards, Jay Johnson, Gene Rayburn, Steve Allen, Larry Blyden, Joe Garagiola, Garry Moore, Lynn Swann, Jimmie Walker, Dick Clark (on Bill Cullen’s nighttime Pyramid), Henry Polic II, Elaine Joyce, Don Galloway, and Tom Poston.

Pyramid Changes: Sometime during the show’s run (possibly in 1975, but I’m not certain), the Big 7 category was added to the game. When revealed, if the team got all seven clues, they won a $500 bonus. On January 19, 1976, the daytime show became The $20,000 Pyramid, whereupon the first time a contestant went to the Winner’s Circle it was worth $10,000, the second trip was worth $15,000, and all subsequent trips were worth $20,000. ABC moved the series to 12 noon in 1978, where it stayed until its cancellation in 1980. (An attempt to launch an occasional children’s version, called The Junior Pyramid, never caught on, probably because veteran celebrity Susan Richardson won each of the ten games that week against newcomer Jimmy Baio.) Beloved announcer Bob Clayton (pictured at the right), who had hosted Concentration earlier in the decade and announced several Bob Stewart games afterward, died in 1978 as well. The syndicated $25,000 Pyramid ended its run in 1979.

Pyramid Minus: Seven months after the demise of The $20,000 Pyramid, a new daily syndicated version, The $50,000 Pyramid, premiered in 1981. Hosted by Clark (Cullen was hosting Blockbusters in Los Angeles by this time), contestants went for $5,000 on the first visit to the Winner’s Circle that day and $10,000 the second (cheap, you say?), with the contestants with the fastest times returning in a tournament for $50,000. Smacking of "We’re trying to get all the mileage we can out of this property," it only lasted until September, and marked one of the last games to tape in New York City (along with To Tell the Truth).

Pyramid Plus: But given a chance to right a wrong from eight years before, CBS delivered. On September 20, 1982, Pyramid returned to their daytime lineup as The $25,000 Pyramid, hosted again by Dick Clark (who by this time was pretty synonymous with the show). On this version, game play was somewhat similar to the previous $25,000 syndicated edition, with contestants sticking around for both shows. The Big 7 was replaced by 7-11 in the first game (if a contestant got all seven points, they won $1,100) and the Mystery Seven in the second game (where a seven-point score was worth a bonus prize). Tie-breakers were simplified: the first team was on a timer with a maximum of 30 seconds to get seven, counting in tenths of seconds. If they got all seven in, say, 26.9 seconds, the second team had to get all seven in their subject in less than 26.9 seconds to win the game.

A major change was in determining champions: the high scorer in the Winner’s Circle returned the next day. (Winner’s Circle categories were valued in increasing increments of $50 in this version, starting at $50.) The program was actually retitled The New $25,000 Pyramid for almost two years to avoid confusion with the Cullen version (which, despite being produced by Stewart, was owned by Viacom and briefly made the rounds in syndicated reruns). The revived Pyramid enjoyed a run of over five years on CBS and spawned a second daily edition (this one for late afternoon or early evening syndication), The $100,000 Pyramid, hosted again by Clark. This edition was also played for $10,000 and $25,000, but the three players with the fastest times returned for a $100,000 tournament.

CBS dropped The $25,000 Pyramid on December 31, 1987, only to return it to the air a mere three months later, when its replacement, Blackout, was found wanting. Three months later Pyramid would leave CBS for good. The syndicated edition continued until September 1988. Reruns of the CBS edition popped up on USA network in October 1988, and the syndicated edition joined it in 1992. Clark would continue to host games occasionally, running The Challengers (syndicated, 1990-91), Scattergories (NBC, 1993), and It Takes Two (The Family Channel, 1997). Most recently he hosted CBS’s short-lived prime-time game Winning Lines, while his production company ran Greed on Fox, and he hosted The Other Half, a male-oriented daytime talk show, in syndication from 2001 to 2003. He suffered a stroke in 2004, and hasn't been seen on television much since then.

One More Time: Bob Stewart took one more crack at The $100,000 Pyramid in 1991. With Dick Clark hosting his own package, The Challengers, John Davidson became the third Pyramid host, and suffered somewhat in comparison to his predecessors. 7-11 and Mystery Seven were replaced by Double Trouble (45 seconds for seven two-word phrases, with a $500 payoff) and Gamble for a Grand ($1000 for seven correct answers in 25 seconds). This version lasted slightly more than a year in syndication.

21st Century Pyramid: After a few bad revival attempts that never made it past the pilot stage, Sony brought the show back for a two-year run in 2002. The big surprise was the host, Donny Osmond, who turned out to be well-suited for the job. It wasn't a great revival, but it certainly deserved to last a bit longer -- Sony made the mistake of dumping the show in favor of a couple of long-forgotten daytime talkers just before Friends featured logic-challenged soap star Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) on an episode, which might have made a difference.

Key Phrases:

The Home Game: Milton Bradley issued eight editions from 1974 through 1981 (with varying dollar amounts from $10,000 to $50,000, depending on what the show was using at the time). Cardinal Games issued a new version in 1987, and there was a Game Tek computer version as well. While not playing quite the same as the TV version, the box games are lots of fun.

Reruns: Happily, here is one show with plenty of episodes around. We thought almost all of the first few years of $10,000/$20,000 Pyramid were gone, but episodes still remain from about 1978 through 1980, and Game Show Network dug up a few 1973 episodes, which almost seemed like a different show than the Pyramid airing every day in reruns. The Viacom-owned syndicated $25,000 Pyramid episodes may or may not be around; they’re not saying, which means we won’t see them in any case. And all of the CBS $25,000 Pyramid and syndicated $100,000 Pyramid episodes remain. All the versions hosted by Clark (except the MIA $50,000 Pyramid) have rerun on Game Show Network (apparently no one wants to see John Davidson’s version), with the one week of Junior Pyramid having aired about a trillion times for children on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. Currently both The $25,000 Pyramid and The $100,000 Pyramid from the 1980s run weekdays.

I wish I had thought to update more recently -- Game Show Network just reran eight episodes from 1978 and 1978 with David Letterman as a celebrity guest. He wasn’t bad, but didn’t give away any big money, either.

Revivals: Nothing on the horizon as far as I know.

Curt Alliaume, Executive Producer: My idea for reviving Pyramid is closer to the classic game, but with the twist of adding… well, body language. The clue giver is center stage (like Showoffs) and has sixty seconds to communicate as many words as possible in a category (not just seven) to their partner. They can do it by walking, talking, gesturing, writing, anything they want, except the actual word itself. The first round is worth $100, the second $150, and the third $200. Ties are split between the two teams. The team with $300 at the end of the third round wins the game and goes on to the Winner’s Circle for $25,000. If neither team has earned $300, a three-word playoff round is played, with the team accomplishing the three words in the least time going to the Winner’s Circle. That part of the game remains unchanged.

My Grade: A.

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Sound + Vision:

  • YouTube clips are as follows. Please note most of these were stolen from Page O' Clips.com without proper credit: - A $10,000 win, circa 1978, with Loretta Swit. - The William Shatner freakout. - Geoff Edwards and a $20,000 win circa 1977. - A $100,000 win from 1986, picked primarily because Mary Cadorette is so damn cute (and she's as thrilled as the winner).

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    The $10,000 Pyramid and The $25,000 Pyramid are copyrighted titles of Bob Stewart Productions. This page is in no way affiliated with or endorsed by Bob Stewart Productions, Columbia/Tri-Star Television, their subsidiaries, affiliates, or successor organizations. No challenge to their ownership is implied. Photos originally appeared on eBay. The $10,000 Pyramid box game copyright Milton Bradley Company.