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Three on a Match (game show)

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Created by  Bob Stewart
Original network  NBC
First episode date  2 August 1971
Presented by  Bill Cullen
Genre  Game show
4.9/10 TV

Country of origin  United States
Audio format  Monaural
Final episode date  28 June 1974
Program creator  Bob Stewart
Three on a Match (game show) i3ytimgcomviFp1HYwhDPVcmqdefaultjpg

Narrated by  Don Pardo Bob Clayton (substitute) Wayne Howell (substitute) Roger Tuttle (substitute)
Location(s)  NBC Studios New York, New York
Awards  Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Daytime Programming - Individuals
Similar  Game show, Winning Streak, Eye Guess, Hot Potato, Blockbusters

Three on a Match is an American television game show created by Bob Stewart that ran on NBC from August 2, 1971 to June 28, 1974 on its daytime schedule. The host was Bill Cullen and Don Pardo served as announcer on most episodes, with Bob Clayton and NBC staffers Wayne Howell and Roger Tuttle substituting at times.


The series was produced at NBC's Rockefeller Center in New York City. The program's title is wordplay on the superstition of the same name.

Game play

Three contestants competed to determine who could answer the most true-or-false questions in one of three categories. After Cullen announced the categories, each contestant bid a number between one and four based on how many questions he or she desired to answer on that turn.

A player could win the bidding in two ways: either by having the highest bid or by having his or her opponents bid the same number, which canceled out their bids. If all three players chose the same number, another round of bidding was conducted to break the deadlock. If that failed, the categories were discarded in favor of new ones, and the process began again. The pot for the round was calculated by totaling the number of questions bid by all three contestants and then multiplying by $10 (for example: 4, 3, and 2 totals 9, which becomes $90), making for a maximum possible pot of $110.

When one contestant won the right to answer questions he/she selected one of the categories. If a contestant failed to correctly answer as many questions as he/she bid, control passed to the next highest bidder, then the lowest bidder if the second player was unsuccessful. If the two contestants matched bids and canceled each other out, and the remaining contestant failed to fulfill his/her bid, the canceled players were given a chance to re-bid, with the higher bidder having a chance to answer questions from the two remaining categories. If they canceled each other out again, the game moved on to a new set of categories. When a contestant fulfilled the bid, the contestant won the pot.

Some categories had a special feature hidden behind them, which was revealed when it was selected. The most frequent was "Double Pot" which doubled the value of the pot the contestant was playing for (up to $220). Another offered "One Free Box", "Two Free Boxes", or "Three Free Boxes", which gave the contestant extra free selections on the game board. However, the contestant could only take the free boxes after buying as many boxes as possible with his/her money.

After winning a pot, the contestant kept the money and continued playing, or could use the accumulated money to try to win the game at the bonus board. If the contestant won any free boxes in the previous round, they had to be used immediately after winning them, or the free boxes were forfeited. The minimum amount required in a contestant's bank to play the board was $90, unless the contestant had earned free boxes during that category.

Prize Board

The board consisted of three columns of boxes: the first column worth $20, the second worth $30, and the third worth $40. Each column had four rows of boxes in colored rows (red, green, yellow, and blue). Originally, each box concealed a prize. Three prizes appeared in each column, and two (or three) others appeared in some columns but not others. One box on the board contained a "No Match" sign.

The contestant used his/her money to spend on the boxes in an effort to reveal three matching prizes, one in each column. A contestant selected a box using a phrasing specific to the program, such as "I'll take $20 on the blue", and continued until revealing three identical prize cards (winning the game), or until running out of money and free boxes before matching a prize. If a contestant did not match a prize, the prizes would be moved to different positions and the game continued with more question rounds. Additionally, when selecting boxes, contestants could only select three out of the four boxes in any one column.

A contestant who made a match on his/her first three picks after winning a question series won a new car in addition to whatever prize was matched.

Any champion who won five consecutive matches retired undefeated and received an additional $5,000.

Format changes

On April 23, 1973 the prizes on the bonus board were replaced with images (e.g., slot machine symbols, celebrity faces, or even humorously altered photos of Cullen). The game was won in one of two ways. In the first, the contestants competed to be the first to make three matches. A contestant could also win the game by making an "instant match", defined as making a match with his/her first three picks of the board. A prize package worth at least $5,000 was given to the winner regardless.

An additional game, called "The Big Match", was also played later in the show's run (usually at the episode's midpoint, interrupting the regular game) and offered contestants the chance to win a cash prize by matching two halves of a bill hidden among the 12 boxes. In turn, the contestants called out a box hoping to find one half of the bill. Gameplay continued until either nine blank boxes were revealed (ending the round) or until one player found one half of the bill. That player was given one additional choice of the remaining boxes in order to find the second half, winning $1,000 if he/she was successful. For each fifth game the money went unclaimed, an additional $1,000 was added to the jackpot. This game had no bearing upon, nor was affected by, the regular game in progress and functioned mainly as a substitute for the then-popular end games on other shows, which packager Stewart and NBC decided not to employ on this particular show.

Another bonus was later added awarding $5,000 in cash and a new car to any player who made seven consecutive matches at the board. In addition, champions were no longer retired and continued to play so long as they continued to win matches, a departure from the NBC (and industry) norm that had been established in the wake of the 1950s quiz show scandals.

Other bonuses and features were added and removed throughout the run, to stimulate viewer interest. During the second format, home viewers were invited to send in postcard entries for theme-writing contests. The three funniest entries won prizes.

Also during the second format, a symbol (such as a heart) would appear on the board in every game during certain special weeks, regardless of whether or not it fit the image category. Each contestant who matched the symbols would be entered into a drawing for a special prize at the end of that week.

Broadcast history

Three on a Match had the unenviable position of being the sixth show NBC had aired in the 1:30 PM (12:30 Central) time slot since December 30, 1968, when the network lost Let's Make a Deal to rival ABC, which placed it in the same slot it had aired in on NBC. A soap opera (Hidden Faces), three game shows (You're Putting Me On, Words & Music, and Memory Game), and a comeback attempt by Art Linkletter (Life with Linkletter) were the preceding shows that failed over a two-and-a-half-year period. Three on a Match replaced Memory Game, a Joe Garagiola vehicle.

Three on a Match was not only the first show since the Deal defection to run for more than a year against the ABC version and CBS' top-rated As the World Turns (then a half-hour soap opera), but it also brought several affiliates that had preempted the slot back to the network feed for that half-hour, which pleasantly surprised NBC executives.

Although finishing solidly in third place, Cullen's perennial popularity drove the appeal of Three on a Match which, typical for NBC games in that era (and especially those staged in New York), emphasized game play over large prizes and ostentatious sets. On April 23, 1973 the series became NBC's only game to receive an exemption from the network's five-game limit for returning champions.

However, by spring 1974 daytime head Lin Bolen, who had overseen the cancellation of several games started before her arrival a year and a half earlier, asked Stewart to overhaul Three on a Match. The two decided instead to start from scratch with a new game, titled Winning Streak.

The new show replaced Three on a Match and swapped time slots with Jeopardy!, a decision that would prove to be fatal to both programs. Both shows ended on January 3, 1975.


Milton Bradley made only one edition in 1972, which followed the first Prize Board version.

Australian Version

Reg Grundy bought the rights to produce an Australian version for the Seven Network hosted by Bob Moore. It was dubbed as "Australia's first colour game show", although Australian television was still in black and white during that time. Gameplay remained the same with a similar set as the American version used. However, the question and board values were divided by ten, meaning each pot was worth $1 per number of questions. Also, the Prize Board was played as a standard end game, with a vacation as the top prize.

Episode status

The series is believed to have been wiped, as per network practices of that era. Six episodes from March and April 1973 are held at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Five episodes from February 1974 featuring a New York-area contestant, Fred Abrahams, have been released on the internet, and are from his own library. Another from December 1973, with Howell announcing, has been released on YouTube.

The status of the Australian version is not known, but may have also been wiped. A single episode of the version is held by the National Film and Sound Archive.


Three on a Match (game show) Wikipedia