Let's Make a Deal
Let's Make a Deal is a television game show that first
aired in 1967. The original and most widely known version aired from 1963
until 1977. Other short lived versions aired in 1980, 1984, 1990, and
2003. The show's attraction was its deals - audience members were
challenged to maximize their winnings by matching wits against the host,
usually Monty Hall, who also co-produced the show from the '60s through
the '80s with his partner, Stefan Hatos.
Each Let's Make a Deal began with the host (again, usually Monty
Hall) choosing a studio audience member at random to play a game against
him. Although the specifics of the games varied, the usual pattern was
that the audience member was given a small amount of cash or prizes, or
promise of cash or prizes. The choice posed to the audience member was to
keep a relatively safe bet, or to risk for the potential of a larger or
different prize or cash award. Choices could be hidden onstage behind one
of three curtains; behind several large boxes which were occasionally
wheeled in; or even on smaller table-top boxes or inside other items
brought down by the show's announcer and Monty's frequent
sidekick/assistant/co-conspirator, Jay Stewart.
Initially, studio audience members came in their Sunday best - suits
and ties and dresses. Shortly into the show's run, a single audience
member carried a sign to try to get Monty's attention, and he picked her.
That led to more signs, costumes, hollering...anything an audience member
could think of to become the lucky person Monty picked next. The
free-for-all with the audience became a hallmark of the show.
Format of the show
The show opens with a series of deals between Monty and contestants he
For example: Monty Hall picks a studio audience member at random to
become a contestant. He gives him a plastic egg.
Monty: 'You have a plastic egg that may have a thousand dollar bill
hidden in it, or it may have a lot less. You can either keep that, or
trade it for what's behind the large box on the display floor that (model)
Carol Merrill is showing us.'
Now the contestant is forced to make a difficult choice: keep the egg
he's been given in the hope that a thousand dollars is contained within,
or pick the box and its contents instead. Either may have a prize
of value; the egg could contain $1000, or the box might reveal a new
kitchen appliance. However, either location may also contain something
worthless, called a 'zonk' on the show.
Zonks became as outrageous as the audience:
- Giant shoes, a garbage can for each day of the week.
- Giant stuffed toys.
- A ton of watermelons.
- Carol Merrill modeling a room of furniture ... junk furniture,
appliances, etc., that is.
- Every type of live animal imaginable (they were rented from local
zoos or farms).
- Junk antique automobiles (frequently rusted out shells with steaming
radiators, flat tires, broken windshields ... you get the idea), or
sometimes, a collection thereof.
- Carol and/or Jay dressed as comedy characters (e.g., Merrill as the
mother "disciplining 'Baby Jay'" for throwing a tantrum in
an oversized crib).
The goal, of course, for contestants was to increase their winnings by
making the right choices as given by Monty Hall.
Other typical deals included the following:
- Keys which unlocked anything from boxes (containing money, trip
tickets, etc.) to cars, usually from a choice of three. Hall always
offered cash or a curtain/box as options. Variant: A couple chooses
one key from a choice of three, with a car offered as the grand prize
(and a sure-thing buyout offered once Monty demonstrated one of the
- Deciding whether an announced prize was real or fake and choosing a
cash amount or the box/curtain as a substitute.
- Choosing an envelope, purse, wallet, etc., which concealed dollar
bills. One of them concealed a pre-announced dollar bill (usually $1
or $5), which awarded a car or trip. The other envelopes contained a
consolation gift of $500, $1,000 and $1,500. The player had to decide
whether to keep his/her choice or trade.
- Choosing four of seven envelopes, each containing $1 and $2 bills,
whose contents they hoped added up to at least $7 for a grand prize.
- Monty's Cash Register, wherein a couple had to punch keys on
a 15-key register. Exactly 13 of the buttons hid amounts of either $50
or $100, and getting to a stated amount (usually $500-$1000) won a
grand prize. The couple could stop at any time and keep what they have
(always then being tempted with a follow-up keep-or-trade deal) but
hitting "no sale" at any time ended the game; if the unlucky
button were struck on the first try, hitting the second "no
sale" button the very next time also won the grand prize.
Otherwise, Monty allowed the couple to take home whatever dollar
amount they hit with the next key punch.
- Three unrelated traders act as a team on deals. Sometimes, only one
was allowed to speak for the team without consultation of the others;
other times, a "majority rules" format was used. Usually
after a series of deals, Hall broke up the team and could individually
decide on one or more options on a final deal.
- Beat the Dealer: three contestants would choose envelopes to
start the game; two of them contained $500 cash, the other $50. The
two dealers who chose the $500 continued on to try to win a middling
prize by picking the higher-suited card out of nine off a game board.
The one who won could then risk the prize and the cash by picking two
more cards - one for themself and one for Monty. If the player picked
the higher card for themself, they added a new car; otherwise, they
- At the start of the show, a contestant given a large grocery item
(e.g., a box of candy bars), always containing a cash amount.
Throughout the show, he/she is given several chances to trade the box
and/or give it to another trader, in exchange for the box or curtain.
Only after the Big Deal of the Day was awarded (or if the last trader
with said item elects to go for the Big Deal) was the cash amount or
prize given. Variant: A "claim check" given to a trader at
the start of the show for any prize shown during the regular deals and
chances to trade throughout the episode. The prize ranged from cash
and cars to zonks. Variant: The "claim check" was played as
the very last regular deal with one sure deal offered in lieu of its
Several games, however, were skill games testing a contestant's
consumer knowledge or memory (a la The Price is Right). Games of this
- Arranging items by dollar value.
- Choosing which item was a pre-announced price (e.g., 55 cents), or
added up to a certain amount (e.g., $1).
- Recalling which grocery items were concealed beneath the letters of
a car model (e.g., P-O-N-T-I-A-C) or trip destination (G-E-R-M-A-N-Y).
Several times during the game, Monty would offer a
"sure-thing" prize to call off the deal. Even if the contestant
failed, Hall offered a consolation prize (usually, the small items and/or
Big Deal of the Day
The top two winners in each show were eligible to either keep their
winnings or give up everything already won for a spot in the Big Deal
of the Day.
If one or both of the top winners declined to give up their winnings
(usually because they won a car or large amount of cash), Monty would go
down the list of winners - highest to lowest - until he had two traders.
(Very rarely, even a player who had been Zonked could find themselves
given a chance at the Big Deal.)
In the Big Deal of the Day, the two contestants were allowed to
make a simple choice between three doors. The day's top winner had first
choice. One door hid the day's Big Deal, which often had the day's most
expensive prize (a luxury or sports car, a trip, furniture/appliances, a
fur, cash ... or more often than not, a combination of two or more of said
During the classic era (1963-1977), the daytime Big Deal of the Day
was typically worth $2,000-$5,000; the nighttime and syndicated show's Big
Deals were worth $8,000 to $15,000 or more, with cars often being part
of the runner-up door.
A new Super Deal was offered for "Big Deal" winners
during the 1975-1976 syndicated season. The contestant could risk his Big
Deal winnings on a 1-in-3 shot at adding a $20,000 cash prize. The other
two doors caused the player to lose the "Big Deal," but he/she
took home a $1,000 or $2,000 consolation prize. Later, the consolation
prize was changed to $2,000 and a mystery amount ($1,000 to $9,000). The
Super Deal was discontinued when the show moved to Las Vegas.
The classic version of Let's Make a Deal aired from 1963 until
1977. It was broadcast on NBC until 1968, and switched to ABC in 1969,
where it aired until 1976. A prime-time version aired on NBC in 1967, and
on ABC from 1969 to 1971. The classic syndicated version aired from 1971
to 1977. Once the network version was canceled in 1976, the show moved for
its final season to Las Vegas, where it emanated from the Hilton.
A spoof of this version of the show appeared at the beginning of the
Flintstones animated film The Flintstones Meet Rockula and Frankenstone
(1979), entitled Make a Deal or Don't. The game-show's host was called
Monty Marble. The way in which 'Marble' was pronounced gave emphasis to
the end of the word, making it sound like 'marb-hall'.
Another spoof appeared on the situation comedy Sanford
and Son, when Fred Sanford appeared on a show called Wheel and
A short-lived remake, based in Vancouver BC, aired during the 1980-1981
A modestly successful remake, called The All New Let's Make a Deal,
surfaced in 1984, three years after the last version folded, this time
from NBC Studios in Burbank. Although it began with a terribly small
budget, it managed to widen its audience and budget as the series went on.
Hall was joined on this version by announcers Brian Cummings (season 1)
and Dean Goss (season 2).
This version was most famous for a new feature called "Door
4." Played every few days (and announced with siren and quick-zoom
fanfare), a contestant was chosen at random and given a $1,000 check. The
contest could keep the money or risk it by spinning a carnival wheel,
where he could win $2,000 (by landing on a space marked DOUBLE),
$3,000 (landing on a TRIPLE), $4,000, a new car ... or win less
($100, $200 or perhaps even a zonk).
The 1986 finale featured cameo appearances by Carol Merrill and Jay
Stewart. Reruns continued for several years on cable.
1990-1991 NBC daytime
In 1990, NBC tried a revival of the show starring Bob Hilton, but the
show flopped. Monty Hall was brought back midway through the run to try to
boost the ratings, but it was too late. Big deals now could potentially be
worth up to $20,000. This version originated from the Disney-MGM Studios
in Orlando FL, and was co-produced by Dick Clark and Ron Greenberg.
2003 NBC primetime
In 2003, another revival of Let's Make a Deal was tried, this
time starring Billy Bush, with announcer Vance DeGeneres. It was not a
success on any front; many longtime fans of the format complained about
the new show's raunchier tone, while the younger viewers the changes were
meant to court never gave the show a chance. Bush was also no Monty Hall;
in fact, he was no Bob Hilton. Five hour-long episodes were shot, but only
three aired before NBC pulled the plug.
Once again, Monty Hall returned for a deal in the final airing. Hall's
deal also brought back a contestant from the '70s version who had
incredibly passed up three separate cars during a single deal.
Big Deals were now worth $50,000 or more.