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Pass The Buck

First episode: April 3, 1978 
Last episode: June 30, 1978 
Seen weekday mornings 10:00-10:30 on CBS 

The Show:

"Ladies and gentlemen, these four players are about to make instant decisions under pressure. Only the last survivor will win the game and all the money on Pass the Buck!"

Four contestants, one a returning champion, compete to win a bank of money. Bill announces a category, which might be based in fact ("Games played with a ball") or dependent on the offstage judge's opinion ("What you do when you're sick"). The bank starts at $100, and the contestants, one at a time, give answers. Every acceptable answer adds $25 to the bank. Play continues until one contestant gives an unacceptable answer or repeats an answer. The next player in line can "knock out" that player by giving an acceptable answer. If that contestant gives a wrong answer, the next contestant can knock out both players with an acceptable answer. If that contestant gives an unacceptable answer, the last remaining contestant can knock out all three opponents with a right answer. If all four contestants give consecutive wrong answers, the question is thrown out.

Pass the Buck TV Guide ad Bill Cullen

The eliminated contestant(s) move to the "bullpen" next to Bill's podium for the remainder of the game. The remaining contestants continue playing the game with a new category. The last contestant standing wins all the money in the bank and plays Fast Bucks for $5,000.

Fast Bucks is played with four levels. The first level hides four answers. Bill reads a subject, and the contestant has 15 seconds to give as many items as possible that fit the subject. If s/he guesses any of the four hidden answers on the board, it pays $100 per answer; revealing all four pays $5,000. If the contestant fails to reveal all four answers, s/he moves to the second level, with a new category and only three items hidden. If the contestant can't reveal all three answers, there is a third level with two hidden answers and a fourth with one hidden answer. If the contestant fails to reveal any answers on a level the game stops immediately.

1978 Ed Sullivan Theater marquee

If Fast Bucks is won, the contestant faces three new challengers. If not, the three losing contestants come back for the next game; the same four contestants will continue competing against each other until one of them wins Fast Bucks (so theoretically, a player could amass a small fortune without ever winning the bonus).


Another late-70s Bob Stewart effort that ran its minimum thirteen weeks before vanishing. This one perhaps a little more ill-conceived than most, relying as it did so often on awkward judgement calls and arbitrary "right" answers.     

After over 30 years in the city, Bill left New York after the cancellation of Pass the Buck and relocated to Los Angeles. Some period newspaper articles seem to imply that Bill had already started taping his next series, The Love Experts, when Pass the Buck premiered, which would indicate that Bill was doing a cross-country commute to do one show or the other.

We're not sure if there was a last minute change to the format before the series' pilot was shot, but we've always found it curious that the original logo included a prominent keyhole. The game didn't involve keys or a keyhole in any way.

That spiffy photo of the Ed Sullivan Theater marquee was snapped by Bill's wife Ann. The theater had previously been home to To Tell the Truth during Bill's first two seasons as a regular panelist, as well as the summer run of I've Got a Secret in 1976. The theater fell into disrepair during the next 15 years until it was renovated in preparation for David Letterman's jump from NBC to CBS in 1993. It's currently the home of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.


1978 Pass the Buck pilot Bill Cullen

Click the thumbnail to read Variety's review of Pass the Buck.

1978-04 Pass The Buck.jpg


It appears the entire series (62 episodes) exists, and episodes have aired on Game Show Network.


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