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$20,000 Pyramid

By Wikipedia

Pyramid was a durable television game show where contestants tried to guess a series of words or phrases, based on descriptions that were given to them, in the shortest amount of time. It has won nine Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Game Show, second only to Jeopardy!, which won its 10th in 2005. Its most recent run of original episodes ended in 2004, although reruns of at least one version or another have been airing continuously since 1988.

Broadcast history

Pyramid was created by Bob Stewart, the quiz-show producer who also invented To Tell the Truth, The Price Is Right and Password during his years at Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions before forming his own company. It went through several name changes over the years, with the title originally reflecting the top prize that contestants could win in that particular version.

Super70s editions

The show debuted as The $10,000 Pyramid on March 26, 1973. It ran for one year on CBS at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time before being cancelled on March 29, 1974 due to some ratings decline the weeks before. However, several weeks later, ABC brought back the show on May 6, 1974, airing it for the rest of the year at 4 p.m., where it made headway (not just in ratings, but in affiliate clearances) against Tattletales on CBS and the soap opera Somerset on NBC. The day before Christmas Eve, ABC relocated Pyramid to the old time slot of the just-cancelled Newlywed Game, 2 p.m., and there it would become, for three consecutive seasons, the number-three-rated game show on television (behind Hollywood Squares and Match Game). This was especialy extraordinary because Pyramid had to lure viewers away from popular soaps such as Days of Our Lives, As the World Turns, and Guiding Light. On January 19, 1976, the show was renamed The $20,000 Pyramid, doubling the payoff for victorious contestants. After being displaced by the expansion of the soap One Life to Live to a full hour, the show settled at 12 Noon on January 16, 1978 for the rest of its ABC run.

A once-a-week nighttime syndicated version called The $25,000 Pyramid, hosted by Bill Cullen, ran from September 9, 1974 to September 9, 1979. Originally sold and distributed by Viacom, this edition was mostly seen in the prime-access time slot, usually at 7:30 p.m. Eastern (6:30 Central) on many stations in various markets, on different days of the week (known in the trade as "bicycling" videotapes). In New York City, the show was first seen on CBS' flagship station, WCBS-TV on Thursday, September 12, 1974, with an episode featuring Anne Meara and William Shatner.

A special week of five shows with celebrity adult-children contestant teams featuring Susan Richardson and Jimmy Baio on the network daytime version was titled as The Junior Pyramid and it originally aired between Monday, July 9 and Friday, July 13, 1979. A network primetime celebrity half hour special, The All-Star Junior Pyramid, aired on ABC on Sunday, September 2, 1979 at 7:30p.m. Eastern. It featured Susan Richardson and Tony Danza playing the game for charity with young future stars from the new ABC shows debuting in the fall of that year (one of them on that particular episode was a youthful looking Rob Lowe). That broadcast's ratings success led to the daytime version briefly adopting a full-time Junior Partner Pyramid format featuring civilian adult-children teams (with no celebrities at all) between Monday, October 1 and Friday, November 9, 1979.

A special Celebrity Junior Pyramid week followed suit with celebrity guests Susan Richardson, LeVar Burton and Michael McKean, but beginning with the Monday, November 19, 1979 telecast, the daytime show reverted to its original $20,000 Pyramid format.

By 1980, The $20,000 Pyramid was the last remaining network daytime game show among the three commercial broadcast networks then to be produced and videotaped in New York City. Further, it was ABC's last game show to be recorded there until 1999, when that network introduced Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? for its primetime schedule. ABC's daytime version, which had taken a strong beating in the ratings from the soap The Young and the Restless on CBS, ended its run on June 27, 1980, bringing the overall total of episodes that had aired on both CBS and ABC to 1,808 telecasts. (Two ironies of note: Y&R premiered on the same day in 1973 as the CBS version of Pyramid, and both shows are now owned by the same company, Sony.)

The theme music used on the versions between 1973 and 1981 was "Tuning Up," composed by Ken Aldin. The original set created for the CBS version was built by its in-house network scenic designer Jim Ryan, while the replica set made and constructed for the ABC daytime and 1970's syndicated versions (necessitated because of union refusals to grant permission for transport out of the Ed Sullivan Theater), copying much of Ryan's basic design at a cost of approximately $80,000, was co-credited to Dick Bernstein.

Awesome80s & Virtual90s editions

After a short-lived syndicated revival known as The $50,000 Pyramid, which employed a rather complicated tournament format and aired from January 26 to September 4, 1981, the show returned to CBS as The $25,000 Pyramid on September 20, 1982. That entailed a permanent move to CBS Television City in Los Angeles. Prior to then, the show had been based in New York City, first at the Ed Sullivan Theater (CBS Studio 50) and then the Elysee Theatre (ABC TV-15), since its 1973 debut, except for a few weeks in Fall 1973, during which tapings were held at CBS Television City.

CBS placed the show at 10 a.m. Eastern, where it easily handled weak competition from NBC games and sitcom reruns, and syndicated programs on ABC affiliates or independent stations. Within a few weeks of its CBS-TV return, the show was retitled The New $25,000 Pyramid to avoid confusion with reruns of the syndicated 1974-79 Cullen version still running in some markets (the "New" was eventually dropped from the title on the January 28, 1985, episode [#608]).

During the updated Pyramid run on CBS, a second five-day-a-week version also aired in late-afternoon or nighttime syndication as The $100,000 Pyramid from September 9, 1985 to September 2, 1988 — this arguably became the most famous incarnation of all the versions of Pyramid produced. The gameplay was identical to the daytime version, except the three players with the fastest winning time in the end game returned to play for an additional $100,000. The tournament took place every six weeks or so. The nighttime version was distributed by 20th Century Fox.

The updated Pyramid ran on CBS until the last episode on December 31, 1987, but viewer demand prompted CBS to bring the show back to its daytime schedule on April 4, 1988 after the game show Blackout failed in Pyramid's time slot. The returned show only lasted until July 1, 1988, however, giving way to the new version of Family Feud the following Monday. This would mark the end of Dick Clark's 15-year reign as host.

Reruns aired on the USA Network from October 17, 1988 to September 8, 1995 before GSN acquired the rights to Pyramid reruns in 1997. Ironically, CBS did broadcast two repeat episodes, one each on December 24 and December 31, 1993, originally from January 1983 featuring Lynn Redgrave and Billy Crystal during the same period as the reruns being shown on the USA Network.

Pyramid returned to syndication again from January 7 to December 6, 1991 as The $100,000 Pyramid, with John Davidson presiding. Reruns of the Davidson show continued airing into the following year until March 6, 1992.

The new set for the updated 1980s and 1991 editions was created by Ed Flesh, but the show did list in the long closing credits, shown at the end of any episode, the original Pyramid design done by Jim Ryan, who was responsible for the 1970s New York set. The music used was a new cover version of "Tuning Up" as orchestrated by Bob Cobert, who previously composed themes for other game shows originally produced by Bob Stewart and Mark Goodson-Bill Todman.


2002-2004 revival

In the fall of 2002 Pyramid — without any dollar amount in the title — returned in syndication. Sony Pictures (the production company that currently owns the format rights) did not renew the show after two seasons. The i network (formerly PAX) had been airing reruns of the show beginning Monday, October 4, 2004, but its last repeat telecast was on Friday, February 17, 2006 and replaced by reruns of Balderdash.

This particular edition did not have the direct involvement of original creator and executive producer Bob Stewart and/or any staff members of his former production company. Instead, the executive producer on this version was Stephen Brown, who previously helmed a syndicated 1997-2000 version of The Newlywed Game, and the executive program consultant was Harry Friedman, currently the executive producer of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!



Dick Clark, who is most associated with the program since its original 1973 debut as its emcee, hosted the following versions: the CBS and ABC versions of The $10,000 Pyramid (including its renaming in 1976 as The $20,000 Pyramid), the CBS version of The (New) $25,000 Pyramid, the syndicated $50,000 Pyramid and the first $100,000 Pyramid. Bill Cullen hosted the 1974-79 version of The $25,000 Pyramid and John Davidson hosted the 1991 revival of The $100,000 Pyramid. Singer Donny Osmond hosted Pyramid from 2002-2004. Clark has appeared in all versions, either as a host or a celebrity player, except for the Davidson version. (However, on the series premiere of the Davidson version, Clark did appear in a pre-taped greeting.)


The main game

Two teams, consisting of one celebrity player and one contestant, competed against each other. Six categories, each of which had a name pertaining to what that category was about, were placed on the pyramid-shaped game board. A contestant chose one of those categories, and after the host explained the subject of that category, the contestant was given 30 seconds to guess seven words (originally eight), phrases, or names (20 seconds for six in the most recent version of Pyramid) using clues given by his/her celebrity partner. If any descriptions were deemed illegal by the judges — usually when all or part of the word or phrase was given — a "cuckoo" sound was played, the clue was immediately thrown out, and the contestant couldn't earn any points for it. If a word was passed, the giver could not go back to that word, but if the receiver knew the word later on and guessed it, the team still earned a point.

Once time had expired or the contestant guessed all of the necessary clues (whichever came first), the opposing team followed the same procedures.

Three rounds, with two subjects per round, were played in the main game. While the celebrity gave the clues and the contestant received them in the first round, the roles were reversed in the second round, meaning that the contestant gave the clues and the celebrity received them. In the third round the contestant had the option to give or receive, with the team trailing going first.

Tiebreaker rounds

If the score was tied after three rounds, tiebreaker rounds were played using words that begin with a letter of the alphabet.

During the 1970's editions, especially on the ABC daytime version, tiebreaker rounds would normally be continued to be played until the score was untied, and a winner declared. There had been occasions when tiebreaker rounds would finally end with high point totals, such as that it was on July 4, 1975 with Lucie Arnaz versus Anson Williams and a 45-44 score; on June 12, 1978 with Sandy Duncan versus Nipsey Russell and a 43-42 score; and on August 7, 1979 with Jo Anne Worley versus David Letterman and a 40-39 score.

During the 1980s and 1990s editions, the scores were reset to zero before the tiebreaker rounds began. If the first team completed its tiebreaker round with seven words answered successfully, the opponents would have to beat the time it took the first team to get all seven.

The winner of the game played the Winner's Circle bonus round (see below).

In the original daytime version, when a contestant lost the main game, he/she left with parting gifts. In the syndicated and daytime versions since 1982, both contestants played on the entire show, swapping celebrity partners after the first game. In the 1980s version, whoever had the highest score at the Winner's Circle returned on the next show. If both players matched their Winner's Circle totals, both returned the next day. The "bonus" dollars such as the "7-11" (discussed below) did not count as for "score", which host Dick Clark would say numerous times. The "score" money is to be won only in the Winner's Circle.



One randomly-chosen category in each game contained a hidden bonus on the mini-pyramid main game board, which allowed the contestant to win additional cash or prizes if all of the clues were guessed correctly.

The 1973-1980 daytime network versions featured the "Big 7", instituted on the ABC version on December 23, 1974, where contestants could win $500 for getting seven out of seven in less than 30 seconds. This was played once per show, and could appear in either main game (though it was most often played in the first round). In early appearances of the "Big 7", a vacation trip to a holiday destination was first offered. It was later changed to bonus cash, as an option was first given to the contestant's choice of either $25 per answer up to $175 ("Play it Safe") or $500 bonus for all seven in that same fabric. Eventually, the "Big 7" would be modified and best known as answering all the words correctly in an all-or-nothing fashion for the additional bonus.

The 1974-1979 nighttime syndicated version also featured the "Big 7", first in the 1975-1976 season for $1,000. It was later changed as "The Big Money" card displaying a random cash amount from $1,000 to $5,000 in the 1976-1977 season, and from $1,000 to $4,000 in the 1977-1978 season. For the 1978-1979 season, the "Big 7" card returned to which a contestant could win an automobile as the bonus prize. There were no bonus cards in play on the 1981 syndicated $50,000 version.

The 1982-1988 versions featured the "7-11" in the first game, first introduced on April 11, 1983, and similar in format like the "Big 7", contestants won $1,100 for seven correct answers in that subject. Early on, the player had the option to play for $1,100 in that fashion or to "play it safe" and take $50 per answer up to $350 total. This option was eventually dropped without comment when virtually every contestant opted to try for the bigger money. The "bonus" dollars won in the "7-11", and later in the 21-21 tiebreaker round (discussed below), did not count as for "score" during 1983-1988, which host Dick Clark would mention on many occasions. Thus, the "score" money is to be won only in the Winner's Circle.

There was also the "Mystery 7" in the second game, begun on the premiere episode of the CBS $25,000 Pyramid, where contestants won a prize (most of the time either a trip or a car) for seven correct answers without receiving the subject of that category from the host (the subject was revealed after the 7 was played). Originally, the "Mystery 7" was displayed in plain sight on the gameboard, but beginning on April 11, 1983, it was hidden behind a category just like the "7-11."

For a brief time in 1983, the CBS version of The $25,000 Pyramid brought back a "Player of the Week" bonus rule as similar from the syndicated $50,000 version introduced in 1981, whereas at the end of the week which ever player identified 7 out of 7 answers in the quickest time (excluding the tiebreaker round) won a trip to Greece. During that short period, the program had dropped the "Mystery 7", but this concept was soon discontinued when the same player would have been disqualified for the following week, after having won the trip on the prior week.

The 1991-1992 version originally retained the bonuses of its immediate predecessor, with the "7-11" and "Mystery 7" played as described above on the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday episodes of a given week. The Tuesday and Thursday episodes, however, saw the "7-11" dropped, the "Mystery 7" moved to the first game and a new bonus called "Double Trouble," played in the second. Two categories on the board were designated as "Double Trouble" subjects (numbered 1 and 2), which consisted entirely of two-word answers. These subjects gave the teams 45 seconds (rather than the standard 30), and paid off $500 for getting through all seven. Each team was required to pick one "Double Trouble" category during the course of the game. Later on, during the 1991-1992 season, the "7-11" was dropped altogether in favor of "Gamble for a Grand" (also played as "Gamble for a Trip"), which gave contestants the option of playing that category normally for no bonus, or to take a chance at winning $1,000 (or the announced trip) by getting all seven answers in 25 seconds instead of the usual 30.

On The $100,000 Pyramid, no bonus cards were used during tournament play, but the 21-21 tiebreaker rule in winning an additional $5,000 cash prize remained in place (discussed below).

The most recent version of Pyramid featured a "Super Six" in each game where contestants won a prize for guessing all six clues correctly within the 20-second time limit.

From 1976-1980 on the daytime version, $1,000 was won for achieving a perfect score of 21 points. This bonus only appeared in the 1977-1978 season of the nighttime show, but for $2,100. On the 1982-1988 version, if the game ended in a 21-21 tie, the tiebreaker was played for a new car in 1984, but starting in 1985 it became a $5,000 cash bonus.

The Winner's Circle

The Winner's Circle round, named for the circular structure around the chairs that the celebrity and contestant sat in, also featured a pyramid of six subjects: three on the bottom level, two in the middle and one at the top. Each subject, however, was revealed one at a time and whoever gave the clues (usually the celebrity, but the contestant always had the option of giving or receiving) had to give a list of objects that fit into that subject. The subjects increased in difficulty toward the top of the pyramid.

Any descriptions other than a list of items resulted in immediate disqualification of that category (signaled by a buzzer, which was also used to indicate that time expired). The strictness of the judging has varied over the years. The following clues were considered off-limits to the givers:

  • Using hand gestures (the cluegiver had arm straps to help discourage this); hand gestures were allowed for a short time in the early CBS days and during special weeks in which the contestants were blind.
  • Saying a key part of the answer (e.g. "a building" for "Things You Build")
  • Using synonyms (e.g. clueing "Things That Are Attractive" with "a beautiful woman")
  • Using a prepositional phrase (e.g. "the train on schedule" for "Things That Arrive")
  • Describing the category itself rather than naming items (e.g. "open your mouth I'll drill your teeth" for "Things A Dentist Uses," even though this would have been a legal clue for "What a Dentist Might Say")

The start of the clock produced one of TV's (and Dick Clark's) most famous catch phrases: "Here is your first subject. GO!"

The contestant had 60 seconds to get to the top of the pyramid by guessing all six subjects correctly; doing so won the grand prize, which had changed with each incarnation of the show:

  • The original version (1973-1976) offered $10,000 as its top prize. If won, the contestant retired undefeated with the $10,000 and any other winnings to that point.
  • On the 1974-1979 syndicated version, a player's first trip to the Winner's Circle was played for $10,000. If a contestant won both games, his/her second trip to the Winner's Circle was played for a grand total of $25,000.
  • By 1976, the top prize offered was $20,000. The contestant who went to the Winner's Circle the first time played for $10,000; the second time for $15,000 and the third and subsequent times for $20,000. Players in this version continued until a successful Winner's Circle try at whatever cash prize level (thus retired at that point), or defeated in the main game.
  • In the 1981 syndicated version the first trip to the Winner's Circle was worth $5,000 and the second time was worth $10,000.
  • From 1982 to 2004 and during the syndicated 1974-1979 version, the first trip to the Pyramid was worth $10,000 and the second $25,000. (Note, however, that the contestant was playing for a total of $25,000 on his/her second trip; in other words, if that player had won the $10,000 in his or her first trip, the second trip would "really" only be worth an additional $15,000.) Players in the 1982-1988 CBS-TV $25,000 and syndicated $100,000 versions could remain on the show up to a maximum of five days. However, on the CBS run, players who won $25,000 or gone over the $25,000 winnings limit were retired as champion, although they got to keep whatever they won over the $25,000. It was later changed to $50,000 in September 1984 and towards the end of that network's run to $75,000, most likely resulting after the amazing outcome of contestant Michael Larson's winnings of $110,237 on CBS' Press Your Luck in 1984.
  • For the 2002-2004 version, a player had to have won the $10,000 in his/her first trip to qualify for the $25,000 attempt and a spot in the tournament.

The first Winner's Circle win occurred on the first broadcast in 1973, when Rob Reiner successfully used the clue "A doughnut" for "Things With A Hole". Interestingly, when Dick Clark was playing as a celebrity player on the syndicated $25,000 Pyramid, he had trouble with the same exact subject, and eventually came up with the same clue Reiner used earlier when time was running out, resulting in a $25,000 win.

If the top prize was not won, the contestant was awarded money for every subject guessed. The amount was displayed after the subject was guessed. Dick Clark would also provide clues for the subjects missed after the round ended to the player receiving the clues as suggestions had he been the clue-giver; even asking the judges if a certain clue would be acceptable, with the judges responding either with a bell or a buzzer.

The payoffs

  • 1973-1980 (network) and 1981 (syndicated) - $50 for the bottom three subjects, $100 for the middle two subjects and $200 for the top subject.
  • 1974-1979 (syndicated) - $100 for the bottom three, $200 for the middle, and $300 for the top.
  • 1982-1992 - the first subject was worth $50 and increased in value by $50 for each subject up to $300 for the top subject.
  • 2002-2004 - the bottom three subjects were worth $200, the middle two $300 and the top subject $500 ($500 for each of the three bottom categories, $1,000 for each of the two middle categories, $2,500 for the category at the top during tournament play).

In most versions, each subject was displayed on a trilon that concealed the name of the subject, the dollar amount (if the contestant guessed that subject correctly), and a pyramid (if an illegal clue was given or if the subject was unused). At the end of the game, the subject of the illegal clue would be unveiled. The 2002-2004 version used television monitors instead, as producer Sony used their television monitors.

In the early years on occasion, if there was no time for the second bonus round, it would be played at the top of the next show. On the week-ending Friday episode, if there was no winner from the main game, the celebrities would play the winner's circle themselves which, if won, would split $5,000 to both stars. This procedure was eliminated in the 1982-1988 version when both contestants would play both games with celebrity switching between games.

Tournament play

On The $50,000 Pyramid, the player with the fastest time in the front game during that week qualified for the $50,000 tournament. The field started with eight contenders but was narrowed down to three by the end of the first week of the tournament. Starting the following Monday, two finalists would play one game and the winner would play the Winner's Circle for $50,000. If the grand prize was lost, that player would play the next game against the finalist who sat out the previous game.

Tournaments were frequently held on The $100,000 Pyramid where the three contestants who reached the top of the pyramid in the shortest amounts of time played until someone won the Winner's Circle, where $100,000 was awarded. These tournaments were played like the tournaments on The $50,000 Pyramid, but without the elimination process. If a contestant won the $100,000 Winner's Circle during the first half of a given episode, the second half would then feature the two remaining tournament contestants playing a consolation game, the winner of which would play the Winner's Circle for $10,000. This happened four times, with the first time coming in Pyramid 's first six-digit win. If the $100,000 was won the entire audience came up to congratulate the winners from the audience.

In the fall of 1985, Richard Mahaffey became the first contestant to win $100,000. He and celebrity partner Shelley Smith went up to the top of the pyramid and correctly guessed "Things That Are Warped" with three seconds left on the clock to become the first game show contestant to win $100,000 on any version of the show.

The fastest tournament ever was finished in the first half of the second episode, when Nathan Cook helped contestant Keif Ferrandini win the $100,000 in early 1988. The longest tournament was twelve days with Linda Kelsey and contestant Marilyn Evans during the spring of 1987.

Other players who won the $100,000 tournament include: Andy Culpepper, Patty Geiger, M.G. McCornmick, Mary Monte and Cheryl Reinwand, who would become the program's biggest winner with a total of $150,800 in cash. In the winter of 1991, Teresa Mueller became the first contestant to win $100,000 on the John Davidson-hosted version of The $100,000 Pyramid, with the assistance of her celebrity partner Adrienne Barbeau.

The last version of Pyramid held four three-day tournaments where a contestant could win $100,000. In a six-player tournament, two players would compete for the first show, two more would compete on the second show and the last two players competed on the final show.

Each contestant's first attempt at the Winner's Circle would be played for $25,000. If $25,000 was won in the first half, and that same player returned to the Winner's Circle that contestant played for an additional $75,000 and the tournament title. If the tournament ended with neither player able to win both Winner's Circles in one show, the contestant who won $25,000 in the fastest time, would have his or her tournament winnings augmented to $100,000.

In a four-player tournament, the first two semifinalists would compete on the first two days. Each attempt at the Winner's Circle would be played for $25,000. The category payoffs remained the same as with the six-player tournaments. On each of the two semifinal shows, whoever won more money returned to compete in the finals, in which each Winner's Circle attempt would pay the contestant $1,000 for each of the bottom three categories, $2,500 for each of the two middle categories and $5,000 for the category at the top or $50,000 for all six. This was the only version where a $100,000 win was not guaranteed, or even a contestant winning $100,000, however a payoff of $175,000 was possible if one contestant won all four games and got to the top of the pyramid in each round.

One of TV's toughest games

When Pyramid first began in 1973, game play was slow at times, but as the ABC version progressed, the main game play became better. By the middle of the 1980s CBS version, both the civilians and celebs were more comfortable with the game, and the Winner's Circle rounds were won somewhat more often. (A similar phenomenon has been noticed in the NBC versions of the Password franchise, as opposed to the original CBS runs.)

Still, some of the toughest game play on TV came in the $100,000 versions of the 1980s and 90s, which resulted in the top prize not being won for days, if not weeks.

The bonus round evolves

In the original concept for the Winner's Circle, a team had to guess ten subjects in 60 seconds to win the top prize. This idea survived long enough for the Winner's Circle gameboard to be constructed with ten trilons rather than six.

Perhaps realizing that ten in sixty seconds made it too unlikely for the $10,000 to be won with anything less than perfect gameplay, Bob Stewart changed the game to its familiar six-subject configuration. The bottom four windows on the gameboard were "dummied out" by having a large piece of plywood nailed across them, which would remain for the entire duration of its initial 1973-74 CBS run. The set was reconstructed without the eliminated trilons when the show moved to ABC in 1974, though the bare section on the ABC board briefly carried a cushion-like bottom.).

It is generally assumed by fans (though by no means confirmed) that the four bottommost categories would have been worth $25 apiece, keeping with the established doubling pattern of the six categories that remained.

Other comments

Despite Pyramid 's moving to ABC in 1974, the first few episodes on the Alphabet Network were taped at CBS's Ed Sullivan Theater while a replica set was being built at ABC's smaller Elysee Theater. One reason may have been the size of the set (including the big board), but according to Pyramid historian William Padron, a key factor was the objection of the CBS union staff to seeing their creations moved to an ABC studio.

The $50,000 Pyramid was unusual in that the clock in its main game actually counted up, from 00 to 30 (to facilitate "Time of the Week" scoring). It was also the first Pyramid version to use a fully electronic display for the main-game clock (using a vane-display clock), rather than a chromakeyed Solari board display. During regular gameplay, the Winner's Circle clock was also vane-display, with it starting at "1 00" and counting down from there. The Solari boards were used for the clock during tournament play, going as before (counting down from "30" and "60").

When Pyramid returned to CBS, the clock and score displays were all vane displays (each digit using seven flipper pieces to display numbers). However, during the Winner's Circle round, the player receiving the clues and host Dick Clark would see a eggcrate-display clock to indicate how much time is left. When time was running short when the next to last subject was guessed, Clark would advise the clue giver to hurry on the final subject.


William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy both guested on the ABC Pyramid in the 1970s, on a week which was billed as Kirk vs. Spock. Shatner became infamous in 1977 for throwing a chair across the stage after giving an illegal clue on the final subject ("Things That Are Blessed"; Shatner inadvertently gave a clue containing the word "blessed"), which cost his partner $10,000. (Interestingly, Shatner — an occasional Pyramid panelist — rarely appeared as a semi-regular on the daytime show after that.) On one episode two years earlier, in an unusual twist, Shatner played the Winner's Circle by himself (giving the clues in one chair then racing to the other and guessing the subject).

Several game show hosts (mostly those hosting Bob Stewart games) appeared as celebrity guests, most notably Bill Cullen and Geoff Edwards. Nipsey Russell, Betty White and Henry Polic II would eventually host a game show at one point and are also added to this list. Clark himself appeared as a celebrity guest on the syndicated Cullen Pyramid on a few occasions, as well as on three episodes of the Donny Osmond-hosted Pyramid.

Celebrity partner Billy Crystal holds the record for the fastest Winner's Circle win at 26 seconds in 1977. Barry Jenner almost broke Crystal's record in the Winner's Circle, as he and contestant M.G. McCormick went up to the top in 27 seconds in 1987. McCormick won $100,000 with 33 seconds left on the clock. Kelly Packard also achieved a 27-second mark in 2002 in leading a contestant to a $10,000 win, the fastest win in the Osmond era.

The 1980s CBS and 1985-88 $100,000 versions are often considered the best of the Pyramid franchise, for their production and gameplaying values. Guests like Nipsey Russell, Anita Gillette, LeVar Burton and Soupy Sales from the 70s versions showed great enthusiasm in resuming their panelist roles. And newer viewers got to see Vicki Lawrence, Markie Post, Charlie Siebert and Henry Polic II shine just as brightly as Russell and the others did during the first runs. Based upon each of their great gameplaying, Post and Polic were often brought back as panelists during tournament weeks on the mid-80s $100,000 versions.

Celebrities giving the clues in the Winner's Circle that have won for their partners the $100,000 cash prize during those special weeks included Shelley Smith (twice), Brian Stokes Mitchell, Mary Cadorette, Audrey Landers, Lauri Hendler, Linda Kelsey, Barry Jenner, Markie Post, Nathan Cook, David Garrison and Teresa Ganzel. The only mid-1980's $100,000 tournament winner that had a celebrity guest receiving the clues from his civilian partner was in early 1988 with Nathan Cook and contestant Kief Ferrandini.

Betty White also became a semi-regular during the 80s version, displaying the same word-game proficiency on Pyramid that she did for Stewart on Password. It was on a 1987 week of CBS Pyramid shows playing opposite White that Bill Cullen made his last network TV appearance. Her most recent Pyramid appearance was on November 25, 2002, on a special episode with former Pyramid host Dick Clark as the other celebrity guest.

Mel Harris of thirtysomething appeared on Pyramid as a contestant before finding success as an actress. She later appeared as a celebrity on the Davidson era in 1991.



Former Concentration announcer and host Bob Clayton handled the announcing chores on the 1970s Pyramid (and other Stewart-produced shows) until his death in 1979 after a heart attack. Other New York-based announcers, including Alan Kalter and Steve O'Brien, rotated the announcing duties until its last New York broadcast in 1981.

When Pyramid moved back to CBS in 1982 — relocating at Television City in Los Angeles — LA-based announcers such as Jack Clark, Rod Roddy, Johnny Gilbert, Bob Hilton and Charlie Tuna rotated, with Clark and Gilbert credited as regular announcers. In 1985, Charlie O'Donnell, Dick Clark's announcer on American Bandstand, worked with Clark again on Pyramid — mostly on the $100,000 version. Dean Goss also announced on the show.

When The $100,000 Pyramid returned in 1991 with Davidson as host, both Gilbert and Goss returned to the announcer position.

John Cramer, previously of the 1997 versions of The Newlywed Game and The Dating Game, as well as the 2000 version of Twenty-One and the US prime time version of Weakest Link, announced on the Osmond 2002 revival.

Versions outside the USA

Foreign editions have been produced as well, among them, The Pyramid Game in the United Kingdom, Pyramide in France and Germany, which was later called Hast Du Worte?. There was even a version in Singapore as well. From March 2006, Pόramiid started in Estonia.

Episode status and rights

All versions are assumed to exist, with the following exceptions:

  • The original CBS $10,000 Pyramid is believed to be largely erased; the only episodes confirmed to exist come from a special three-week period where the show originated from CBS Television City in Hollywood rather than its usual New York home base. GSN has aired these episodes in the past.
  • GSN has only the last two seasons (1978-80) of The $20,000 Pyramid in its archive (which was purchased from Bob Stewart when Sony acquired the rights to that library). It is believed that the tapes of episodes prior to that were erased and recycled by ABC.
  • The Bill Cullen $25,000 Pyramid exists in what is believed to be its entirety, but GSN does not have this version; it remains with its original syndicator, Viacom. The $50,000 Pyramid is in a similar limbo, as is the '90s $100,000 Pyramid (discussed below).
  • As previously mentioned, Sony now has rights to the Pyramid game format and most of the numerous incarnations. Sony does not own the following versions: the Cullen $25,000 Pyramid version (held by Viacom), the brief 1981 $50,000 Pyramid edition (formerly distributed by CPM Programs) and the Davidson $100,000 Pyramid version (held by Paramount Domestic Television and StudioCanal via the latter's acquisition of the library of Carolco Pictures, which distributed the Davidson/$100,000 Pyramid version).

References in popular culture

  • The $100,000 Pyramid was parodied in a 1992 episode of In Living Color, with Jim Carrey playing the role of Dick Clark.
  • An episode of The Simpsons, "Old Yeller Belly", featured a clip of Santa's Little Helper as "Suds McDuff" barking clues to a contestant on the Donny Osmond version of Pyramid.
  • The $25,000 Pyramid was satirized on an episode of Jim Henson's Muppet Babies in which Baby Miss Piggy played the Winner's Circle on "The 25,000 Dollhouse Pyramid".
  • A television commercial for Comcast in 2005 featured footage from an episode of The $20,000 Pyramid. The dialogue was dubbed and the subjects in the Winner's Circle were edited to relate to Comcast products (such as "Things You'd Give Your Right Arm For" and the clincher, "Things That Are Comcastic"). The celebrity player featured in this clip was Loretta Swit.
  • On an episode of Friends, Joey makes an appearance on the Pyramid show hosted by Donny Osmond. He fumbles over most of the answers, but somehow makes it to the Winner's Circle. There he stumbles his way to the top, where he jokingly makes fun of Chandler and time runs out.
  • Pyramid turned up in a live 2003 Ellen DeGeneres standup special on HBO, during which she described what happens when a speaker loses the thread of a conversation... in mid-conversation: "Suddenly, it's like The $10,000 Pyramid with these people. 'Things that taste like chicken. Things a monkey would wear!' "
  • In the 2006 American Dad! episode "Rough Trade," Stan was seen watching a Winner's Circle round of The $100,000 Pyramid while he was at home on house arrest. Later, a drunk Stan plays along with the show, after which Klaus (the talking fish) informed him that he was watching The Price Is Right instead.
  • The $25,000 Pyramid was featured in the 1982 episode of VH1's I Love the 80s 3-D.
  • Even Dick Clark was involved in a comedy spoof of The $20,000 Pyramid on the short-lived 1978 syndicated revival of The Soupy Sales Show, with Soupy Sales and Pookie the Lion playing a very long and quite futile Winner's Circle round. After the end of that round, both Sales and Dick Clark each get hit with a pie in the face by Pookie.
  • Pinky and the Brain featured a spoof show called "The $25,000 Pile-a-Mud"

$100,000 Pyramid Tournament Winners - (Dick Clark Version)

  • Richard Mahaffey - $119,450
  • Andy Culpepper - $113,250
  • Patty Geiger - $126,800
  • Cheryl Reinwand - $150,800
  • Denise Bumbliss - $118,600
  • Mary Monte - $123,600
  • Marlyn Evans - $147,600
  • M.G. McCormick - $133,650
  • Debbie Seppien - $129,400
  • Keif Ferrendini - $122,450
  • Tracy Trench - $121,250
  • Carrie Etheridge - $119,100

$100,000 Pyramid Tournament Winners - (John Davidson Version)

  • Teresa Mueller - $114,600
  • Kris McDermont - $147,750
  • Peggy Belski - $115,700
  • Melia Kline - $127,800
  • Baron Harris - $124,800


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Aired: March 26, 1973 -

Cast: Dick Clark, John Davidson, Bill Cullen, Donny Osmond

Network: Various

Genre: Game Show

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