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with Chris Wolvie
Cullen's Last Stand
October 6
Here are our champions; they're three-of-a-kind. And here are our challengers; they're ALSO three-of-a-kind. And they're here to play...

AIR DATES: January 23, 1984 to June 29, 1984
CREATOR: Barry/Enright Productions
HOST: Bill Cullen

Usually, when a game show has teams on it, the teams are family and/or friends. But HOT (hsssssssss) POTATO was a bit more unique. Sure the teams of three were, more than likely, friends and/or family...but they ALSO had the same job! Whether they were Little League coaches or 411 operators, mailroom clerks or process servers, the teams were there to prove their profession had the superior knowledge and teamwork. Well, least until the well ran dry on teams and they changed it by adding celebrities with nothing better to do. Still, this "elimination match" of a game show was an interesting take on "Family Feud" where the "familes" worked together...both in the game show AND in real-life!

Two teams of three play. 
The host gives a question (either survey or general knowledge) that has at least seven answers to it. The teams' task is to give seven correct answers without repeating.

Play starts with the left-most (to the camera) player of one team, who receives the "hot potato" (their light on the podium lights up) and must answer within a certain amount of time. If the player is correct, the "hot potato" is passed to their left (camera right) or back to the left-most if the it's the right-most who got it right. If the player wrong, repeats a given answer (after a warning the first time) or runs out of time, they are eliminated from the game and must sit behind their team while the "hot potato" is passed to the other team.

At any time, the "hot potato" can be "passed" over to a player on the other team, who must then give a correct answer to stay in the game. If they do, the one who passed is eliminated.

There are two ways to win a game. The most common way is to eliminate the other team, but the game is ALSO won if the seventh correct answer is given. Once a certain number of correct answers are given, the host will repeat said answers so teams will not repeat them themselves. After a game is won, the host gives the rest of the list (which he is not privy to beforehand; a monitor simply tells him if an answer is right or wrong and then gives the other answers at game's end). If a team gets seven correct answers WITHOUT a wrong answer or passing the "hot potato", they win a bonus.

The first team win two games are the champions and advance to the bonus round.

Midway through the show's run, they apparantly ran out of teams. So they changed it to "Celebrity Hot Potato", with single contestants paired with two celebrities. The celebs would be rotated after each match and would stay a week before being replaced.

The team designates 
a "captain" to finalize all decisions. The host then asks the team two "either/or" questions with a common theme. The team consults each other before the "captain" gives their answer. One wrong answer ends the game. The first four right answers earns them $500 apiece, which they can keep or risk on the next question. If they answer five questions correctly, they win a jackpot that starts at $5000 and has added that amount every time the team didn't win it. The jackpot is reset when a) it is won or b) new champions are crowned. The team has the opportunity to pass ONE question, but MUST answer the next one; they can only quit AFTER getting a question right.

Seems almost sad that this was Bill Cullen's last original hosting gig before dying of lung cancer in 1990; he would take over "The Joker's Wild" for Jack Barry, but this was the last show he hosted pole-to-pole. There's a reason he was called the "Dean of Game Show Hosts". He showed his panache and his humor and kept the game fast-paced and interesting. From "Winner Take All" to the original "Price is Right" all the way to this, Bill was one of the - if not THE - best.

The concept was quite interesting from the onset. Clearly this was a "Family Feud" rip-off, but it worked so well. And the option to pass the "hot potato" to your opponents added a new layer of strategy. You could see the contestants pondering whether to give an answer...or see if the other team was as stumped as they were.

The music was decent enough as well. It was obvious, being 1984, that they were aiming for a "computer-like" soundtrack. And, while it wasn't "Tron" by any stretch, it worked.

The set also looked small and "intimate" enough to make it look...well, like anything BUT a Barry/Enright Production. The sets seemed large in "The Joker's Wild", "Tic-Tac-Dough" and "Bullseye". While I'm sure the set size really hadn't changed much, it just LOOKED smaller, giving the show a more "personal" feel.

OK, I know this was the mid-80s,...but couldn't they come up with better computer graphics? I've seen better graphics on an Apple IIC in the day. The truncated words during the bonus round were ridiculous, And the Eggcrate marquis that only held 12 characters?

And did the "elimination bench" absolutely HAVE to move with each elimination? We get it. The contestant messed up. Just let 'em take the walk of shame and not trip into the bench.

Of course, the big to-do was that, while the concept of "three-of-a-kind" was interesting, it was almost certain not to last. There are only so many unique and interesting professions you can go through. Hence the "Celebrity" makeover. The same thing happened to "Weakest Link"; when the contestants didn't come, they fell back on celebs and it ended up dooming a good show.

While the prospect of getting "three-of-a-kind"s together in the 21st century has its merits, I don't see too many such teams lining up for a revival. And, if you just throw three friends or family members together, you pretty much undermine the whole concept behind the show. Plus...who could host it like Bill Cullen? No one. It's as simple as that. As much as I'd like to see it come back, I don't see it happening.

Two stolen concept...

Chris Wolvie is one of a kind...and that beats everything. E-mail him at