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with Chris Wolvie
Have a Phone Number? Hey, You Could Win!
April 6
Every member of our studio audience has written down the last four digits of their phone number. If you want to share in thousands of dollars, write down yours because, every day, someone at home WILL win on...

AIR DATES: September 23, 1985 to December 20, 1985
CREATOR: Sande Stewart
HOST: Nipsey Russell


When a poet-laureate gets a chance to host
A show that has numbers abound,
The end-result is "Your Number's Up"
And it's not as great as it sounds.

Wa-a-a-ay back to my sixth column, "Rhyme and Reason", I said that it was Nipsey Russell's show because, let's face it, the show was practically BUILT around him. Well, in 1985, NBC decided to actually MAKE him a host of an actual game show. What's more, it was an "audience participation" show where folks in the audience could win alongside the contestants...and people at HOME could, too. All they needed...was a home phone number. Of course, validating said number was a different story but...that's not the point. The point is folks at home could win without having to write-in to "The Price Is Right" in the hopes of getting on the "Phone Home Game". It was Sande Stewart's second attempt at getting out of his father's shadow...and did just as WELL as the first attempt, "Go".

Three contestants, including a returning champion, play this game. They were each given one "diamond" on their display. The champion spins an electronic number wheel using a lever. The wheel has each digit 0 through 9 on it, separated by blank spaces. The numbers and blanks are arranged in such a way that, when the wheel stops, two contestants have numbers underneath them and the third has a blank. The contestant with the blank under them chooses between two riddled phrases with acronyms in them. (Example: "When T.O. speaks..."). That contestant choose one of the two and the host finishes the riddle ("...all of the House listens."). the other two contestants buzz-in to give an answer to the acronym that fits the riddle (in this case, "T.O." is "Tip O'Neal", who was Speaker of the House at the time). If a contestant buzzes-in and is right, they get a "diamond" and spins the wheel. A wrong answer loses a "diamond" (though they can't go less than zero). Should both contestants miss the question, the one who spun earns $50 to take home (no "diamond", though) and spins.

One of the spaces has a car symbol on it. If the symbol lands under a contestant, that contestant gets a chance to win a car by guessing a number on the car's license plate. During the first three weeks, a new plate was used for each attempt. Afterwards, the same plate was used throughout the episode and, if the number is not picked correctly, the guessed number is removed from play for the next time. A correct answer wins the contestant the car, regardless of if they win the game.

When a question is answered correctly, the number underneath the contestant that answered it goes on a board. As stated in the introduction, every member of the audience had written down the last four digits of their phone number (cell phones hadn't quite taken off yet so the numbers were from home phones). If, at any time, all four numbers of an audience member's number are on the board, that contestant gets up and stands behind the contestant they think will win the game. Only the first three to stand could do this and each one had to pick a different contestant. The numbers also factor into the home game; if someone watching at home matches the last four digits of THEIR phone number, they can send a postcard with that fact to the show...and they could be picked for the bonus game.

The game continues until one contestant gets to six "diamonds". They become the champion, win $500 and advance to the bonus round. If there's an audience member behind the champion, that member wins a trip.

The champion is shown a screen that looks like a telephone keypad. Each number has an acronym on it that STARTS a riddle. Before the round, a postcard is picked at random from a large drum of those sent in; the winning home contestant wins $1000. The champion has 60 seconds to find the last four digits of the home contestant's phone number. They do this by picking a number on the board and answering the acronym-riddle on it. If they do, every instance of the number in the home player's number is shown. If all four numbers are shown, the bonus game is won, the champion wins $5000 and the home contestant wins $1000 more if the show is on Monday through Thursday or $5000 more on a Friday. If the champion isn't successful, they still win $100 for each riddle solved and the home player still gets the $1000.

Again, a small show with a small set that seemed perfect for the show. And it was cool that we saw the audience, kind of akin to "The Price Is Right", excited and waiting for their "number" to be "up" and to join the contestants on-stage.

And, yes, the game was exciting for the time. You never knew who would get what number, if someone would go after a car, if an audience member was gonna jump up and join the contestants. Truth be told, the game in and of itself was just something that happened to give the contestants something to do to generate all this excitement.

Unfortunately, I think they could've brought in someone else besides Nipsey Russell to host. I mean, he was OK...but he stuttered a bit like he didn't know what he was doing. The only time he seemed fully comfortable was the opening poem. Had the show lasted longer, perhaps they could've worked out the kinks...a shame, really.

The example I show in the link above didn't get to the bonus game, which shows just how HARD the game was for the usual cavalcade of contestants. While Sande Stewart would move the "Say the start of the question and host finishes it" format to "Sports On Tap", the "initial game" from "Blockbusters" didn't quite work out. Maybe they were too excited over everything else?

The music was...meh. Sounded more like something from a USA Network game show, not an NBC show from the mid-80s.

And...the people at home DID know that it was not likely they would hear their name called UNLESS this was a long running show. I mean, who knows how long in advance they taped this shows. The first shows picked people from those who sent in cards from a TV Guide ad. But I doubt too many people were WILLING, even THEN, to send in their entire phone number just for a shot in the dark of getting one grand, no matter HOW much that was in 1985.

In this world? With 99% of the home phones being cell phones? Not likely. I mean, hell, everyone thinks that anyone can hack in and get their number anyway...why would they want a network to ENCOURAGE it? No, it was a unique little show that you kinda KNEW didn't have a chance in Hades of lasting long. Let's not tempt fate, shall we? Leave it to the "nice try" bin.

NEXT TIME: You don't have to set a World Record to win...just predict if OTHERS can...

Chris Wolvie number is that says a lot, right? Follow him on Twitter @ChrisWolvie and e-mail him at