Chain Reaction pilot
Taped October 28, 1979
"This is Chain Reaction, where one word leads to another, and the right word leads to $100,000!"
The easiest way to summarize the pilot of Chain Reaction is to say "the show is exactly the same, except it's different."
Only two celebrities appear in the pilot, Nipsey Russell and Joyce Bulifant. Each of them is teamed with a married couple. Although there are six players onstage, only four play the game at any one time. The first chain is played by the celebrities and the wives. The second chain is played by the celebrities and the husbands.
No words are specifically designated as double-score words. But the final word played in each chain is worth double points. This presents a potential strategic element that never really comes up in the pilot. Theoretically, if a player has a hunch that a certain word is really long, they might try to deliberately avoid it until the end to try to to get maximum points out of it. If you see the letter E under "fault" and you deduce that it's EARTHQUAKE, deliberately miss it and hope that you can steer clear of it until the very end, then solve it for 20 points.
The pilot boasted a spiffy cosmetic difference. The game board was on a turntable, and the whole thing rotated to reveal a fresh chain. Yes, it looked neat, but the design is a bit of a nightmare. Phrases like "COLD TURKEY" don't read correctly on the mirrored arrangement in the second chain.
50 points wins the game. The losers get a dollar per point plus a small prize (a television set in this pilot), while the winners earn one penny and go on to Instant Reaction.
Bob Stewart had a quirky approach to his ideas. Across multiple pilots, you'd see the same ideas used both as main games and end games. For example, his unsold Cash on the Line pilot had a main game that was transformed into The $25,000 Pyramid's famous Winner's Circle. Before Chain Reaction came along, Stewart had produced a pilot called Get Rich Quick, played by teams of three, with one player trying to answer questions being constructed one word at a time by the two partners.
Instant Reaction was that main game format, converted into the end game. It was indeed the end game that the aired series would use, and for all the changes the series went through in refining the way money was paid out, the pilot manages to use a payout system completely different from any of the four versions on the aired series. The players started with their score readout displaying $0.01. For every correct answer, the 1 would move one slot to the left, so correct answers were worth $0.10, $1.00, $10, $100, $1000, $10000, and the seventh correct answer worth a whopping $100,000. This created two potential hazards. One was an anticlimactic ending--as seen in the pilot, it was hard for a $10,000 win to be treated as a "loss." The other was that, as the series progressed and viewers, celebrities, and future contestants all became familiar with the game, that $100,000 was going to make NBC's number crunchers dizzy, and it probably would have been changed at some point during the series anyway.
The pilot ends oddly. Bill signs off. The theme music plays. Credits roll. The show fades to black...and then fades back in on Bill and the losing team sitting at the Instant Reaction area, and for no particular reason, they play one more bonus round, with no main game attached to it. And then just as abruptly, it's over. Just like the text on this page.