First episode: October 27, 1980
Last episode: April 23, 1982
Seen weekday mornings 10:30-11:00 on NBC
"This is the battlefield for our game of speed and strategy! These are the letters that lead to victory, on...Blockbusters!"
Three contestants compete. One is a solo player, represented by red. The other two are the family pair (any relation to each other except married couple), and are represented by white. The contestants face a twenty-hexagon grid, each hexagon containing the first letter of the one-word correct answer.
For each hexagon, Bill reads a trivia question and the contestants ring in to answer. A correct answer turns the hexagon the proper color and that contestant picks the next hexagon.
The goal is to make a connection from one side of the board to the other. The family pair has to connect from left to right and can do so with as few as five correct answers. The solo player has to connect from top to bottom and, since there is only one of them, they have a shortened path and can win with as few as four correct answers. But much of the time, it isn't as easy as that. Frequently, a contestant would make part of their connection, only to be blocked in by their opponent, forcing them to take a longer path. This led to many instances where both sides would need the same hexagon to win.
The first side to make the connection wins the game and the right to play Gold Rush for $2,500. Two games wins the match and the right to play Super Gold Rush for $5,000. This was changed a few weeks into the series to $500 for each game, with the first side to win two games and $1,000 winning the match and playing the renamed Gold Run for $5,000.
In Gold Run, the contestant (only one could play if it was the family pair) faces another 20-hexagon grid; each hexagon may contain from one to five initial letters. (IGAS for "I've Got a Secret," HP for "Hot Potato", etc.) The contestant calls out the initials, Bill reads a clue, and the contestant either answers or passes. A right answer turns the hexagon gold, while a wrong answer or pass turns it black and creates a block that the contestant must go around to build the path. The contestant has 60 seconds to make the connection, from gold to gold, with $100 awarded for each correct answer given or $5,000 for a completed path.
Contestants could remain on the show originally until winning eight matches; after the Gold Rush/Super Gold Rush format was dumped, this was extended to 10 matches. This was extended again to 20 matches, which meant a contestant who went undefeated and won the Gold Run every time could leave with a total of $120,000. A solo player, John Hatton, and a family pair, Liz & Pat McCarthy, both accomplished this.
This was Bill's return to the Goodson-Todman fold after spending the 70s hosting Bob Stewart games. (Bill had kept his ties with Goodson-Todman as a panelist on To Tell The Truth.) Even with a run of only eighteen months, this was one of the more successful series of his later career, and certainly one of the better games. Even today, it remains one of the more popular.
In June 1980, Bill's game Chain Reaction had been cancelled to make way for David Letterman's daytime talk show. After 18 weeks, Letterman was cancelled and replaced by Bill and Blockbusters.
Blockbusters came to fruition with startling speed. While many shows on television are the result of months and even years of tinkering and toiling. Goodson-Todman staffer Steve Ryan pitched the game in mid-September 1980, and NBC bought it not only without a pilot, but without a title. The name Blockbusters was suggested after the deal was signed, a pilot was shot on October 21, 1980 as a formality, with the series premiere taped only three days later and aired three days after that.
Although computers graphics were coming of age at the start of the decade, the technology wasn't quite ready for Blockbusters at the time the series went into production. The intricate Blockbusters game board contained 60 slide projects--three for each hexagon, one for the letters of the alphabet, one for red slides, and one for white slides. All of the slide projectors were operated by a set of remote controls near the stage. 60 slide projectors in such close proximity, each containing a 500-watt bulb, could get incredibly hot, so behind the entire arrangement was a wall-sized air conditioner unit.
In 1982, Bill received an Emmy nomination for hosting Blockbusters. He also had Emmy nominations for Three on a Match and Hot Potato.
In 1983, after Bill's version left the airwaves, ITV in Great Britain introduced Blockbusters as a game played by teens. The British version, hosted by Bob Holness, ran for ten years. It's since been revived for three more incarnations.
The entire series exists. Reruns have aired on CBN, Game Show Network, and Buzzr. A selection of episodes are available for viewing on Amazon Prime.