Child's Play

First episode: September 20, 1982 
Last episode: September 16, 1983 
Seen weekday mornings 10:30-11:00 on CBS  

 

The Show:

For Round 1, the contestants are shown videotapes of as many as three different children defining the same word. The contestant with a target on their podium guesses what the first child was defining. If correct s/he wins one point (and the child who supplied the winning definition gets a $50 savings bond). If wrong, the opponent gets to see another child defining the same word and a chance to guess for one point. If the opponent is wrong, the contestant with the target gets one final definition. The target/two-definition advantage of each succeeding word went to whoever didn't get the previous word. 

After about five words played in this manner, the show shifts gears to the "Fast-Play" round, where both contestants, equipped with lockout buttons, raced to ring in with a correct guess, as they watched a child defining the word. Each correct answer here is worth two points, and when a school bell rings, time is up, and the top scorer wins the game, $500, and a chance to play a bonus game for $5,000.

From the beginning of the series until April 1983, the "Triple Play" round was used. The contestant has 45 seconds to guess six words correctly, from three written definitions from children for each word. Each right guess was worth $100, getting six paid $5,000.

Beginning in April 1983, the "Turnabout Round" was used. Five of the children appearing in the pre-taped definitions were brought out on stage, and the contestant had 45 seconds to describe seven words. Each word a child guessed correctly was worth $100, with seven winning $5,000. The five kids split $100 for every word guessed and $1,000 for all five.

Notes:

Two pilot episodes, with rules somewhat more complicated than what eventually aired, were recorded on May 11, 1982. We have more info on the pilots here.

The initial casting for the show was conducted among students in New York City-area schools for gifted children. Nationwide searches for for more kids were held later, including searches in Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

A surprising number of Child's Play kids went on to become stars, major and minor. Among them:

  • Breckin Meyer, creator of Robot Chicken

  • Tara Reid, the American Pie films

  • Adam Richman, Man vs. Food

  • Jeff Cohen, "Chunk" in The Goonies

  • Michael Maronna, "Big Pete" on The Adventures of Pete & Pete

  • Lori Beth Denberg, All That

  • Devinn Ratray, "Buzz" in Home Alone

The best-known kid during the show's year on the air was Sascha Segan, a Brooklyn genius whom Bill affectionately nicknamed "The Demon Describer." Today, he's a PCMag.com columnist.

CBS aired the show in the 10:30 a.m. time slot, creating an interesting quirk in their schedule. The show aired between The $25,000 Pyramid, which was originally hosted by Bill, and The Price is Right, which was originally hosted by Bill.

This was the last show that Bill hosted for Mark Goodson, ending a warm business relationship that spanned five decades. Four months after Child's Play ended, Goodson said of Bill to TV Guide: "He's sweet, he's a great listener, he has a remarkable capacity for understanding."

One of the all-time biggest Goodson-Todman disappointments. The premise seemed to have unlimited possibilities, the kids were clever and adorable, but the game itself was derivative, simplistic and dull.  At the time, Bill referred to this series as one of his personal favorites, although that was probably more for publicity purposes than anything else.  It does have its fans.

Video:

The entire series exists. It has aired on Game Show Network and Buzzr, and a selection of episodes are available for viewing on Amazon Prime.

Clippings:

1982-09 Child's Play.jpg
The Variety  review
The TV Guide  review

Highlights:

Bill and William Shatner look at Child's Play  on a 1984 ABC special.