The Joker's Wild

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Here's the game where knowledge is king, and Lady Luck is queen! It's The Joker's Wild!

Jack Barry-created Game Show during his post-scandal exile from TV in the 1960s. Two contestants took turns spinning an oversized slot machine. Each of its three wheels had five trivia categories and a Joker, which players could use to represent any category in the game.

Barry produced the first Joker pilot for CBS on December 8, 1968, followed by a second attempt on January 5, 1969 and a third (The Honeymoon Game) on October 3, 1970. The series finally landed in 1971 for about three months on KTLA, followed by a three-year run (1972-75) on CBS and two syndicated revivals.

Jack was host and producer from 1971-84, with partner Dan Enright returning in 1977. During this time, it became part of a 90-minute syndicated block with sibling series Tic-Tac-Dough and Play the Percentages (the latter replaced by |Bullseye). Bill Cullen carried the show from 1984-86, with occasional fill-ins by Jim Peck. Pat Finn was the host of a series Retool in 1990-91.

Not to be confused with the 1969-74 ITV Panel Game which involved two teams of comedians telling jokes on subjects chosen by the moderator. When a member of one team started a joke, any member of the opposing team could interrupt and guess the punchline. (Also doesn't have anything to do with this guy.)

Game Show Tropes in use:
  • All or Nothing: The "Fast Forward" Categories. If they got spun and chosen and the first question was answered correctly, the player could either stop after each right answer and keep what he'd earned up until then, or keep answering questions (each at the same value) with the chance if he got a question wrong at any time he'd lose all the money he'd built up that turn. This often led to the opportunity for large comebacks.
  • Bonus Round: Many of them over time.
    • 1968-71: The winning player, after winning $250 for the game, could spin up to three times, taking whatever showed up on the reels (ranging from Zonks to big prizes and cash) after each spin. The Honeymoon Game ended it with an extra Let's Make a Deal-style choice of three numbered slides, each of which contained a very decent honeymoon vacation.
    • September 4-5, 1972: Same as before, but with only two spins. Some prizes had a black circle around them, and spinning three of those circles also won a new car.
    • September 6-18, 1972: Same as before, but the circles were gone and the car was among the prizes that could be spun (along with other nice items such as boats and trips).
    • September 18, 1972 - June? 1974: The wheels now contained Jokers and Devils. The winner got three spins (originally four), and won a prize of increasing value each time three Jokers appeared. If a Devil appeared at any point, the player lost their prizes from that bonus round. (And no, that isn't a typo — the format changed mid-episode.)
    • June? 1974 - May 1986: "Face the Devil", where the winner spun the reels for money and a Devil ended the game. Spinning at least $1,000 won the money and a prize package. (When the syndicated run debuted in 1977, a rule was added where spinning three of the same dollar amount won the game automatically.)
      • A slight modification was used as the audience game from about 1982-85. Three audience members spun the reels once for small amounts of money, and the person with the highest total played Face the Devil for cash and a decent prize. (Originally played weekly, it became daily in 1983.)
    • 1990-91: Various prizes (trips, merchandise, and cash from $500-$2,000) were on the displays, and could be frozen after each spin; three of anything won. Jokers couldn't be frozen, however, and had to be converted...but spinning three Jokers won the Joker's Jackpot, which at one point got as high as $36,000.
  • Bonus Space:
    • The Joker was wild, as per the title, and could be matched with any category active in the game (if it was not on the reels, the contestant would be termed as going "off the board" -- see Fast Forward in a game where the challenger has already reached $500 to win as a good example). Spinning three Jokers originally won the game automatically, but this was quickly changed to require a correct answer from any of the five categories.
    • The Honeymoon Game used Bonus for the semi-finals, which added a point to that couple's score and nothing more. The finals had the middle reel continuously occupied by Take A-Chance, which could only be taken if the question was answered correctly and contained anything from Add $50 to Deduct $100 (which was kind of dumb, since the only three dollar amounts shown for the questions were $10, $30, and $100).
  • Celebrity Edition: A panel, referred to as "living categories", was part of the 1968 and 1970 pilots. The concept returned for a special week in January 1974.
  • Double the Dollars: A rare case where this was for questions, not the entire round.
    • The "Mystery(?)" category in each game was played for double value if chosen (see below for details).
    • The "Stumpers" category in the second incarnation could be played for double value if the contestant who chose it didn't want to hear the two wrong answers given when the question was asked on an earlier show and missed by two past contestants (in the first incarnation it was worth a flat extra $100 without the help); if it was missed again, the other contestant heard both wrong answers and it was played for normal value.
  • Golden Snitch: Several instances.
    • In the main game, a contestant who spun three Jokers could win the game by correctly answering one question in any category, regardless of whether a full round was played.
      • This was different during Tournaments of Champions, though. If the "challenger" (first person spinning) did this first, or was otherwise first to reach $500, the champion was allowed one last spin in hopes of tying or winning.
    • The 1977-86 syndicated series originally had a bonus prize for anyone who spun three of the same category with no Jokers. This later became a Natural Triple Jackpot, a growing prize package. A prize was added for every game in which a Natural Triple didn't occur.
    • In the syndicated bonus round, getting three of the same dollar amount on any spin was an automatic win.
  • Home Game: Milton Bradley made three of the adult series and one of the children's spinoff. Less successful were the Philips CD-i games in 1994 — an adult version, and a children's version.
  • Let's Just See What Would Have Happened: Often done if a contestant walked in the "Face the Devil" round before hitting $1,000.
  • Mystery(?): These questions when spun were worth double ($100/$200/$400) if chosen from the reels.
    • There were seven "?" cards on the podium with each game this category was in play. Once it was decided how much the question would be worth, one of those cards would be chosen, and the appropriate question was asked (and it would be from a category that wasn't one of the other four that game). The card, however, would not be replaced once the question was asked.
  • Personnel:
    • The Announcer: Johnny Jacobs, Jay Stewart, and Charlie O'Donnell — the typical B&E trifecta. One notable substitute was |Marc Summers, then a CBS page, in his first television role. Ed MacKay announced the 1990 revival, and Charlie handled announcing duties on the CD-i versions.
    • Game Show Host: Allen Ludden hosted in the 1960s, followed by Jim McKrell in The Honeymoon Game. Jack Barry hosted from 1971-84, followed by Bill Cullen from 1984-86 and Pat Finn in the 1990s. Jim Peck substituted occasionally during the 1981-84 period, and again in 1986.
      • For the CD-i games, Wink Martindale hosted the "adult" version and Marc Summers emceed The Joker's Wild Jr.
    • Studio Audience: Three members played in a special audience game once a week from 1981-82, then on every show from 1982-86. For the last two seasons (with Cullen), the game was amended to use two audience members and a home viewer (who spun, in a neat effect, using their touch-tone phone keypad).
  • Progressive Jackpot:
    • The original Joker's Jackpot, described below, was used from September 1972 to at least December 1973. It was likely ditched when the money-based Face the Devil was instituted.
    • The Natural Triple Jackpot, used from 1983-86, awarded a prize package for spinning three of the same category. A new prize was added for each game it wasn't won.
  • Whammy: Spinning a Devil in the bonus round took away the cash accumulated in that playing and ended the game.
  • Zonk: Some of the prizes in the 1968-72 Bonus Round.
Tropes used in The Joker's Wild include:
  • Art Evolution: The slides went from pictures of people and just category names (the pre-Jack pilots), to black and white pictures on colored backgrounds (starting with the Jack Barry shows, up until then only the "Joker" was multi-colored with white face) and by the time of Joker! Joker! Joker! colored pictures AND backgrounds (the obvious sign of this was the friendly "Joker" facing and smiling at the public--the original "Joker" was only seen with the side of the face).
    • A more obvious example might be the "Disney" slides: the first one had a hand drawing Chip the chipmunk on a brown background, the second had a light blue background with Mickey, Donald and Tinkerbell in front of Cinderella's castle.
  • Auction: Two categories applied both the normal and reverse kinds.
    • "Just One More" was a category where there was a question with multiple answers, and the contestants bid on how many answers they could get right in a row. If the winning bidder couldn't get all the answers, his opponent needed just one more right answer to win the question.
    • "How Low Will You Go?" was a reverse auction where a question was given, with a list of eight clues to the right answer. Players bid on how few of the extra seven clues were needed to answer it if any (they got one clue to start), but a wrong answer by the winning bidder meant the opponent got to hear all of the clues before answering.
  • Golden Snitch: During the Jack Barry run, spinning three Jokers could easily render every other event within a game irrelevant.
  • Luck-Based Mission: Typical of a Barry-Enright game show; winning the bonus round was simply based on luck (i.e., get $1,000 or more in as many spins as necessary without hitting the Devil).
    • Also applies to the main game. A contestant who is $100 or more behind could be forced into defeat after spinning three different categories -- provided none of the categories were Fast Forwards.
  • Obvious Rule Patch:
    • In a holdover from shows like 21 and The $64,000 Question, Joker originally had a rule in which winning contestants had to risk losing the money they won if they wanted to play another game. If they played another game and lost, their money (but not prizes won in the bonus game) would be deposited into the "Joker's Jackpot", which would be awarded to any player who won five games (quickly reduced to three). This caused many contestants to go home with only parting gifts, even if they won three or four rounds.
    • The 1990s version changed on January 7, 1991 to using categories in the main game, with everything else remaining as it was. The last three episodes (March 6-8) reverted back to the money format, as to avoid straddling.
  • Pilot: At least three.
    • December 8, 1968: The first known attempt was recorded in grayscale with Allen Ludden as host (CBS executives did not yet trust Barry to work on-camera). Each category corresponded to one of five celebrity panelists, who read the questions themselves; question values were worth from 1-3 points depending on the spin, the players answered 1-3 questions depending on the spin, and the contestants played to 13 points. Three Jokers earned a pick of the categories for a possible win.
    • January 5, 1969: Produced in color with Ludden returning as host, however without the celebrity panel (note that the camera is trying not to show anything to the right of the Joker Machine's border, although it caught a bit of the "celebrity" desk anyway).
    • October 3, 1970: The Honeymoon Game, a weekly 90-minute(!) game hosted by Jim McKrell, used the 1968 format for the last two-thirds of the show (including, yes, the celebrity panel). [1]
  • Replaced the Theme Tune: And how.
    • The CBS version used Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley's "The Savers", a rare example of a Real Song Theme Tune being used on a game show. Later in the run, it used "Joker's Jive", a Jimmy Hart version of "The Savers" composed by Alan Thicke.
    • When the show returned in 1977, "The Savers" returned as the opening theme and "Joker's Jive" was the closer. Beginning in 1978, Hal Hidey's rearranged version of "The Savers" became the opening theme, and an original Hidey composition unofficially called "The Whistle Theme" became the closer.
    • A 1980 tournament borrowed the theme from another Barry & Enright show, Break the Bank, the only theme the show had that didn't involve synthesizers in some way.
  • Spin-Off: Joker! Joker! Joker!, a children's version which ran from 1979-81. Notable for being one of the few weekly syndicated games, and one of the few children's games, to use returning champions.
  • Take a Third Option: If no Jokers were spun, the player had to choose a question for the full amount of the number of categories on the reels (three choices for a $50 question for three singles, either a $50 question for a single or a $100 question for a pair if a single and a pair appeared, or a $200 question for a natural triple). If a player spun at least one Joker but didn't like the non-Joker category/ies, s/he could go "off the board" and take a category that they liked better. Also, while a Joker could be played to increase a question's value up to the full amount, they didn't have to be used if a lesser-valued question wouldn't end the game ($500) if the opponent answered it.
  1. (That format was apparently a ripoff of The Newlywed Game which ended up being chopped out. While the uncut pilot exists, the circulating version begins with a taped introduction by Barry stating why it was removed and how the show would be reworked if the series landed.)