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with Chris Wolvie
If Gene Rayburn Didn't Want to Stick Around...
January 25

This is our Prize Vault! Inside the Vault is a fortune in cash, fabulous prizes and one of television's most fun-filled bonus games! Time is the key that will open this Vault for one of these lucky couples as they try to...

AIR DATES: September 16, 1985 to June 20,1986
CREATOR: Richard S. Kline
PACKAGER: Kline & Friends Productions
HOST: Gene Rayburn (Format 1), Joe Farago (Format 2)
Format 1 on YouTube; Format 2 on YouTube

OK, OK...the 70s "Break the Bank" was not the FIRST version to ever be on television; back in the 40s and 50s was a straight-forward quiz show with the same name...and Jack Barry did not copy it at all. But I'm willing to wager that those who watched the 70s version still had fond memories of it in the mid-80s. I certainly did. So when I heard of a game show with the same name coming out in '85, I was kinda hoping for a show that at least had SOME of the elements. What I got was something COMPLETELY different! Not necessarily BAD, mind you, but I knew it was doomed to be a GGB column from the start. I mean, getting Gene Rayburn out of retirement after he had to deal with Jon Bauman for two years was nice...but even HE thought the show was stupid and actually LEFT mid-season. Then, when a new face came in, Kline & Friends decide to change the whole SHOW around to try to save it. Yeah, you can probably guess it didn't work out.


Two couples (including defending champs) play to accumulate time to use in the Prize Vault. The host would give a toss-up question to the couples and whoever buzzes-in with the right answer earns seconds and the answer would show on a board as a clue to a main subject. The couple can choose to try to answer the subject but, if they get it wrong, the opposing couple gets to answer the next question unopposed. The first question was worth 5 seconds, the second 10, then 20, 40, 80 and 100 for the sixth question. If no one gets the right subject, a seventh question is asked with the answer BEING the subject and no seconds added.

First to get two subjects right wins the match and goes to the bonus game. If a third subject is needed, there are no more questions and the clues are shown one by one until the subject is answered, the winner getting 30 more seconds.

The couple enters the Prize Vault and must now use the seconds accumulated during the game to perform various "events" (or stunts) to win prizes and collect "bank cards". The tasks vary from not laughing at a comedian's jokes for a certain amount of time to putting together a jigsaw puzzle of a celebrity to playing charades with a mime. If they complete the task in time, they grab one of five bank cards from the station and run to put it in a slot, earning them the prize. They keep this up until their time expires, which starts when they announce which event they'll try first. For the first six weeks, the time ran continuously. After that, the clock was stopped as the host explained the event and started again when the event began.

One of the events triggers an alarm which starts a "Number Jumbler". The couple hits a button as numbers between 0 and 4 flashed quickly. The number it stops on is the number of ADDITIONAL bank cards they can take IF they complete the event.

Once all the time expires. the bank cards are each fed into a code reader. One of the 45 cards avaliable is the one that would "break the bank" and win the couple a large package of cash and prizes. The "bank" starts at about $20,000 - including a new car - and $500 in cash and more prizes are added each day it wasn't hit. The code reader reads the card's code. If the code isn't right, it says, "WRONG CODE". If it is the right one, it says "BREAK BANK!!" and the couple wins the package. After each card, the couple is offered cash or a prize to quit. Win or lose, the couple keeps playing until they lose the main game (or exceed $75,000 in winnings).

The couples now played three rounds for cash instead of seconds. The "subject" format remained the same, though. In the first round, questions are worth $100 and guessing the subject right wins them a prize. The second round has questions worth $200 apiece with the right subject earning ANOTHER prize. The third round just shows the clues one at a time and guessing the subject earns the couple $400. The first couple to $2000 or more wins the game and advances to the bonus game. Both couples kept the money.

The couple had to answer one more subject before entering the Prize Vault. Ten bank cards are shown on the clue screens and shuffled until the couple hits a button. Three screens have one card, two have two and on has three. For each clue revealed, the cards on that clue's window are removed from the total. The couple can answer at any time with no penalty for a wrong answer. Once the subject is correctly identified, the couple gets those cards PLUS one for winning the game.

The couple then enters the Prize Vault to see forty bank cards (minus any ones used by the same couple in previous wins). The couple chooses cards one at a time and feed it into the code reader. 38 of the cards have prizes attached to their codes. One will, again, "break the bank". The one other is a "Bankrupt card"; picking that one takes all the prizes collected in previous cards away and ends the round. Because of this, the couple is permitted to end the round at any time with the prizes they've won up to that point. Champions stay until they lose the main game, exceed $75,000 in winnings or "break the bank". All new champions start with a fresh set of 40 bank cards in their first trip into the Vault.

The premise of performing stunts for prizes has been around since "Truth or Consequences". But not since "Beat the Clock" has there been a time limit given to these stunts...and this way WAS more unique than that as you had EARN the time in the main game. And, by the way, kudos to the person who told the producers that MAYBE Gene wastes too much of the couples' earned time explaining the stunt and that MAYBE they should pause it during the explanations. Good call there.

Much like the 80s "Sale of the Century", having the main game in a more intimate set than the HUMONGOUS one for the bonus game was a good call. KINDA wished the events were closer together...but I'm sure that, during the commercial break, the couple had time to strategize where to go.

As uncomfortable as Gene seemed to be hosting the show, he still kept his lovable personality afloat during it all. He seemed half-knowing what he was doing and half-winging it. But that's what he did for years on "Match Game" so...

How many times do we have to go THROUGH this? Work out problems during QA and pilots and then STICK TO THE FORMAT! While the second format's bonus game was a lot simplier, it sucked some of the fun out of it. I actually LIKED the stunts performed. But just because Gene hated it and left, K&F decided that EVERYONE must hate it and re-worked the whole thing!

And, speaking of Gene leaving, Farago was NOT the best replacement. That's what happens when you promote one of the guests to the main man. He was NOT that exciting a host. He tried, but not HARD enough to keep the game going.

The one issue I had with the first format's main game is that couples could, potentially, play dumb to earn more and more seconds. A well-schooled and quick-hitting couple could rack up nearly nine minutes of time if they really thought about it. Maybe they should've a) give LESS seconds for each question in a round (like 100-50-40-30-20-10) and b) have the couple only EARN the seconds if they get the subject right.


Hey, the first format WAS unique, to say the least. The SECOND format seemed more like they combined the FIRST format with "Bullseye". And other shows before and afterwards did the whole "stunts for prizes" gimmick so...they must've done SOMETHING right. But, if the ineffable Gene Rayburn thinks the show is a waste of HIS time, then it's a waste of EVERYONE'S time. And, of course, completely overhauling the show midway did NOTHING to help it. It had potential...but K&F effed it up again. Not saying the first format CAN'T be brought back...just saying it's no longer truly unique anymore and probably SHOULDN'T unless it's a kids' show.

NEXT TIME:A show that ruined ITSELF!

Chris Wolvie keeps his money in a bank account with the number,...I mean...follow him on Twitter @ChrisWolvie and e-mail him at