Theme music composer
Country of origin
Bill CarruthersJan McCormack
Bill CarruthersRick Stern
Press Your Luck is an American television daytime game show created by Bill Carruthers and Jan McCormack. It premiered on CBS on September 19, 1983 and ended on September 26, 1986. In the show, contestants collected spins by answering trivia questions and then used the spins on an 18-space game board to win cash and prizes. The person who amassed the highest total in cash and prizes kept his/her winnings and became the champion. Peter Tomarken was the show's host, and Rod Roddy was the primary announcer. John Harlan and Charlie O'Donnell filled in as substitute announcers for Roddy on different occasions. Press Your Luck was videotaped before a studio audience at CBS Television City, Studios 33 and 43, in Hollywood, California. The show was a revival of the earlier Carruthers production Second Chance, which was hosted by Jim Peck and aired on ABC during 1977.
- Board values
- Limits on winnings
- Home Player Spin
- Original run
- Michael Larson
- Whammy The All New Press Your Luck
- Gameshow Marathon 2006 CBS
- International versions
The show was known for the "Whammy", a red cartoon creature with a high-pitched voice. Landing on any of the Whammy's spaces on the game board reset the contestant's score to zero, accompanied by an animation that showed the Whammy taking the loot, but frequently being chased away, blown up, or otherwise humiliated in the process. The Whammys were created and animated by Savage Steve Holland and Bill Kopp, and voiced by Carruthers. Approximately 85 different animations were used.
Three contestants competed on each episode, usually a returning champion and two new challengers.
Each game began with a trivia round where the contestants tried to earn spins, which was then used on the show's gameboard, referred to as the Big Board. A question was posed to the contestants, who tried to be the first to buzz in with a correct answer. Once a contestant gave an answer, his/her opponents were given a choice of that answer or two additional answers provided by Tomarken and selected one. If the contestant that buzzed in with the answer gave the correct one, he/she earned three spins. A correct multiple choice answer was worth one spin. If none of the three contestants buzzed in with an answer within five seconds, three answers were given to the contestants and they earned one spin each if they chose correctly. If a contestant buzzed in but failed to give an answer, that contestant was locked out of the question and it was treated the same way as if nobody had buzzed in.
After four questions were asked, play moved to the Big Board. The board consisted of eighteen squares, each of which had a screen in it that displayed one of three items which changed every few seconds, and a randomizer light which the contestants stopped by hitting their buzzer. The most common spaces offered cash, with an extra spin attached to some of them, and prizes, with some being directional spaces that either allowed the contestant to choose between two squares or moved their position to a different part of the board. Cash amounts and prize values were added to the contestant's score, while landing on any of several Whammy spaces reset the score to zero.
In the first Big Board round, play started with the contestant with the fewest spins unless there was a tie, in which case the contestant seated furthest left started. For each square the contestant stopped the randomizer light on, the value of that square was added to his/her bank and he/she kept playing until running out of spins or deciding to pass. Any passed spins went to the contestant's opponent with the higher amount of money. If there was a tie among the passing contestant's opponents, the contestant who passed the spins had the choice as to which contestant received them. A contestant receiving passed spins had to take them and could not pass unless he/she earned additional spins by hitting the squares offering them or if a Whammy came up during his/her turn, in which case any remaining passed spins became earned spins. Play continued until the contestants exhausted all of their spins. If at any point in the game a contestant hit four Whammies, he/she was eliminated from the game and any unused spins remaining were lost.
Once each contestant had completed his/her turn on the Big Board, they played a second round of trivia questions with the same rules as before. A second Big Board round followed, with much higher stakes in play. This time, contestants played in order from least amount of money to highest amount of money unless there was a tie between two or more contestants, in which case the contestant with the least amount of spins started the round. Any passed spins, as before, went to the contestant with the next highest amount of money.
The contestant in the lead at the end of the second Big Board round became the day's champion, kept his/her winnings, and got to return on the next show as long as the show's winnings limits were not reached (see below). If two or all three contestants finished the match tied, they returned on the next show. In the rare occurrence that two contestants Whammied out of the game and the remaining contestant had spins left, he/she was given a choice to end the game immediately or keep spinning to try to win more money. The choice was given after each spin the contestant took, and the game continued until he/she ran out of spins, stopped the game, or Whammied out. If the contestant managed to Whammy out, the game ended with no winner and three new contestants played on the next show.
In the first Big Board round, cash amounts ranged from $100 to $1,500 and prizes typically were worth no more than $2,000. The second round featured cash amounts from $500 to $5,000, and prizes potentially worth $6,000 or more. Three special squares also appeared throughout the course of the show. The first, Double your $$, added a cash amount equal to the contestant's score at the time. This square later became Double Your $$ + One Spin, awarding a spin in addition to the cash amount. Add-A-One added a "1" to the front of the contestant's current score (e.g., $0 became $10; $500 became $1,500; and $2,000 became $12,000). The third, $2,000 or Lose-1-Whammy, offered the contestant a choice of adding $2,000 to his/her score ($2,000 was automatically added if (s)he has no Whammies), or removing a Whammy received earlier in the game. Add-A-One was only featured in the first Big Board round, with the others only appearing in the second Big Board round.
One square present in both Big Board rounds was Big Bucks. This square, appearing third from the right in the bottom row, automatically moved the selector light to the corresponding position in the top row. The top dollar values in this square in round one were $1,000, $1,250 and $1,500. For the second round, the top dollar values were $3,000, $4,000, and $5,000, all of which awarded an extra spin.
In both rounds, the value of a prize was announced only after it had been claimed, and a new prize was put on the board in its place.
Limits on winnings
Any contestant who won five games or exceeded the winnings cap retired undefeated. From September 19, 1983 to October 31, 1984, any contestant who won over $25,000 retired undefeated, but contestants could keep up to $50,000. The CBS game show winnings cap was raised to $50,000 on November 1, 1984, with contestants being able to keep up to $75,000.
Home Player Spin
"Home Player Spins" were featured at various points over the course of production. Each of the three contestants was assigned a postcard with the name of an at-home player prior to the start of the episode. One spin in the final round was designated as the Home Player Spin at the start of the round, and when that spin occurred, whatever the contestant landed on during that spin was added to their own total and also awarded to the home player. If the contestant hit a Whammy, the home player received $500. If the contestant landed on a space that awarded money and an additional spin, the in-studio contestant received the money and the spin, but the home player only received the money.
At the close of the October–November 1985 contest, that episode's in-studio winner drew a card from a bowl containing the names of each of the 75 at-home participants featured over the five-week period. After drawing the name, the contestant took one spin on a modified board that showed only cash values and directional squares (no Whammies, prizes, or squares that offered additional spins were present). The value landed on, multiplied by the total number of spins earned by the three contestants in the second question round, was then awarded to the home player whose name was drawn.
Peter Tomarken, who had just ended a 13-week stint as the host of Hit Man on NBC, was tapped as host for Press Your Luck. The pilot was taped on May 18, 1983, and the actual show began both tapings and airings four months later on September 10 of that year. The show premiered on September 19, 1983 on CBS at 10:30 a.m. ET (9:30 CT/MT/PT), replacing Child's Play, and placing it between The New $25,000 Pyramid and The Price Is Right. Press Your Luck competed against Sale of the Century for first place in the 10:30 a.m. morning time slot over the next two years.
On January 6, 1986, CBS relocated Press Your Luck in order to make room for a Bob Eubanks-hosted revival of Card Sharks. Press Your Luck replaced Body Language in the network's 4:00 p.m. afternoon time slot. Tomarken stated that by the Fall of 1985, the contract for The Price is Right was up for renewal, but CBS was unable to pay Mark Goodson Productions the kind of money they wanted to continue that show on their network. Goodson came up with the solution of taking over the 10:30 a.m. timeslot. Although some CBS affiliates carrying the program in 1986 outside of the 4:00 p.m. ET time slot tape-delayed it for broadcast the next morning (including the network's owned-and-operated stations in New York and Los Angeles), many CBS affiliates dropped the program. The last episode of the show aired on September 26, 1986, but it was not acknowledged as the finale. The final tapings took place in August of that same year, when its cancellation was first announced. After the show ended its run, CBS returned the 4:00 p.m. timeslot to its affiliates.
In early 1987, 130 episodes of the show were packaged by Republic Pictures for Syndicated reruns to a handful of local stations. These episodes originally aired on CBS from February 25 to August 23, 1985, and were also the first to be shown on USA Network from September 14, 1987 (the day USA Network picked up the show for its block of afternoon game show reruns) to March 11, 1988. Press Your Luck remained on the schedule until October 13, 1995.
The series was later purchased by FremantleMedia, who also owns the Goodson–Todman and Reg Grundy libraries. Since then, the company has handled revivals and video game licenses, such as with Whammy! and the 2009 video game. On June 8, 2006, Press Your Luck was featured as the fourth round of Gameshow Marathon on CBS.
Game Show Network (GSN) aired the show from 2001 to 2009, airing episodes from February 1984 – November 1985. GSN resumed airing the show in 2012, airing episodes from the September 1983 premiere to February 1984. From 2014 to 2016, GSN aired episodes 561 to 696, which originally ran from November 1985 to May 1986 (the channel is currently airing 1984 episodes). From 2001 to 2003, Larson's episodes did not air on the network until they were incorporated in Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal – including footage not aired during the original CBS broadcast.
Press Your Luck has been part of the lineup for Fremantle's over-the-air digital subchannel Buzzr since the channel launched in 2015. To date, episodes from the September 1983 premiere to early 1984 plus the 2 part Michael Larson episode run, the September 1984 first anniversary episode, and the July 4, 1985 episode have been shown on the channel.
In 1984, a self-described unemployed ice cream truck driver named Michael Larson made it onto the show. After watching the show at home with the use of stop-motion on a VCR, Larson discovered that the presumed random patterns of the game board were not actually random and he was able to memorize the sequences to help him stop the board where and when he wanted. On the single game in which he appeared, an initially tentative Larson spun a Whammy on his very first turn, but then played 45 consecutive spins without hitting a second one.
The game ran for so long that CBS aired the episode in two parts, June 8 and 11, 1984. In the end, Larson earned a total of $110,237 in cash and prizes, a record for the most money in cash and prizes won by a contestant in a single appearance on a daytime network game show. In 2006, when Vickyann Chrobak-Sadowski won $147,517 in cash and prizes on the Season 35 premiere of The Price Is Right, it was not enough to surpass Larson's inflation-adjusted record.
Larson, through meticulous watching of the show, had figured out patterns to key off of the square next to the square in the upper left-hand corner of the board (which, in that he numbered the squares from the upper-left clockwise, was numbered "2") and that, several squares later, ended up either on a spot on the right side of the screen in which all three slides contained smaller amounts of money plus a spin (numbered "8") or the spot in the top center of the screen (numbered "4") in which the "Big Bucks" (the largest amounts of money) plus a spin always resided. Not only would he not hit a Whammy if he landed on those two squares, but he would also be guaranteed to continue gaining more spins as long as he desired.
Although CBS investigated Larson, they determined that figuring out the patterns was not cheating and let him keep his winnings. The board was subsequently reprogrammed with up to 32 new patterns to help prevent against another contestant from being able to memorize the board as Larson had. Later, in 1994, TV Guide magazine interviewed Larson and revealed the background of this episode including his decision to pass his remaining spins after he lost concentration and missed his target squares.
The story, and this strategy, were told in a two-hour documentary on GSN titled Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal in March 2003. GSN aired a special rematch edition of Whammy! The All-New Press Your Luck, featuring the two runners-up from the show, host Tomarken and Michael Larson's brother James. (Michael Larson had died of throat cancer in 1999.) In July 2010, Michael's brother James, and his former wife at the time of winning, were interviewed for PRI's This American Life for the episode Million Dollar Idea.
Aside from Michael Larson, several contestants later found fame outside of game shows:
Whammy! The All-New Press Your Luck
In 2002, a new version titled Whammy! The All-New Press Your Luck (shortened to Whammy! in 2003) hosted by Todd Newton and announced by Gary Kroeger premiered on Game Show Network. New episodes initially aired through 2003, and reruns continue to air on GSN.
Several changes to the rules and aesthetics of the game were made. Three new contestants appeared on each episode with no returning champions, much less cash was available as well as more prizes, the board was entirely computerized (as well as redesigned), and the first question round was eliminated. Additionally, "Big Bank" spaces were added to the board in season two, which placed an accumulating jackpot to a contestant's bank when that contestant landed on the space and answered a question correctly.
Gameshow Marathon (2006, CBS)
On June 8, 2006, Press Your Luck was the fourth of seven classic game shows featured in CBS's month-long Gameshow Marathon hosted by Ricki Lake and announced by Rich Fields and it was one of the "elimination rounds" in the tournament. The contestants were Leslie Nielsen, Kathy Najimy and Tim Meadows.
The format was exactly like the original CBS run but with much higher money value. Najimy won the game in this episode.
This episode was also dedicated to the late Peter Tomarken who died in a plane crash along with his wife Kathleen Tomarken at the time. In addition, announcer Rich Fields "accidentally" said that the show premiered in 1981 when the show originally premiered in 1983.
The series was presented by Ian Turpie with John Deeks as announcer on Seven Network from 1987 to 1988. Grundy Worldwide packaged this version, with Bill Mason as executive producer. This version used the same Whammy animations as the original, as well as a similar set (a Grundy tradition); however, the Big Board used considerably lower dollar values. Prior to this, there was an Australian version of Second Chance that aired in 1977 on Network Ten hosted by Earle Bailey and Christine Broadway and also produced by Grundy.
A German version entitled Glück am Drücker ("Good Luck on the Trigger") aired on RTLplus in 1992 with Al Munteanu as host. It had an animated vulture named "Raffi" steal cash and prizes from contestants instead of Whammies.
Another remake, Drück Dein Glück ("Push Your Luck"), aired daily in 1999 on RTL II with Guido Kellerman as host. And just like Glück am Drücker, Instead of Whammies, a shark named Hainz der Geldhai ("Hainz the Money Shark") "ate" the contestant's money. This version also had a unique rule where landing a car won the game automatically, regardless of the scores.
GMA Network aired a version called Whammy! Push Your Luck based on the short-lived 2002–03 GSN remake called Whammy! The All-New Press Your Luck from 2007 to 2008 hosted by Paolo Bediones and Rufa Mae Quinto. The program used the same (redubbed) Whammy animations as the 2000s updated American version.
A Taiwanese variety show called Slugger Attack aired a segment based on this game on Taiwan Television from 1985 to 1995. It used a naughty ghost instead of animated whammies.
An ITV version ran for two seasons from June 6, 1991 to September 20, 1992 on ITV in the HTV West region, with Paul Coia as host. The series was made on a small budget, using a point-based system with the day's winner receiving £200. This eliminated much of the excitement present in other versions, and declining ratings led to a switch from prime time to Saturday afternoons during the first season. When the show's second season premiered in 1992, it was moved to Sunday afternoons. The show was canceled following the second season due to budget cuts that resulted from the ITV franchise auctions, as well as lower ratings figures.
In 1988, GameTek released a home computer game of Press Your Luck for IBM PC compatibles and the Commodore 64. Ludia Inc. (now part of RTL Group, which owns the show franchise) along with Ubisoft released an adaptation called Press Your Luck: 2010 Edition on October 27, 2009 for PC, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Nintendo DS and Wii. Prior to this, on August 24, 2010, the game was released for the PlayStation 3 (via PSN) as part of the Game Show Party bundle pack (PS3 only) that also included Family Feud: 2010 Edition and The Price is Right: 2010 Edition. and on PlayStation 3's PSN download service from August 24, 2010.
Shuffle Master was the first to develop a video slot machine version based on the show in 2000. It was also featured in the PC game "Reel Deal Casino: Shuffle Master Edition" in 2003. Currently, WMS Gaming develops video slot machines based on the show like the "Big Event" version with Todd Newton of Whammy! fame in 2008, a "Community Bonus" version in 2010 and a "3-reel mechanicals" in 2011. A now defunct online slot game was once developed for online UK casinos.
GSN featured a short-lived interactive version of Press Your Luck that featured a play-along element as rerun episodes of the show aired simultaneously.
A kiosk version debuted at Planet Hollywood in 2011.
In 2006, Imagination Entertainment released a DVD TV game hosted by Todd Newton of Whammy! The All-New Press Your Luck fame, with Peter Kent as the announcer. The DVD game included three Question Rounds and three Big Board Rounds.
An electronic handheld game was released by Irwin Toys in 2008.
Several U.S. states have included Press Your Luck scratcher games in their state lotteries.
In January 2012, an app developed by Fremantle subsidiary Ludia and based on Press Your Luck debuted on Facebook. Ten contestants compete in a single-question round together, all answering the same multiple-choice questions. There are six questions in total, each worth between $500 and $1,000, or a Whammy. A correct answer earns the question's value multiplied by the number of contestants who answered incorrectly or ran out of time (e.g., answering the $500 question correctly with three other contestants answering incorrectly earns $1,500). Bonus cash is given to the three contestants who answer the questions correctly in the shortest amount of time. Answering the Whammy question incorrectly causes the contestant to lose any money accumulated to that point.
The top three contestants go on to the big-board round, with each getting five spins. Gameplay is similar as on the 1980s series.
In September 2012, Ludia released Press Your Luck Slots on Facebook.