High Rollers

High Rollers

Infobox Television
show_name = High Rollers

caption = Logo for the 1978-80 version of High Rollers
genre = Game Show
presenter = Alex Trebek
Wink Martindale
country = USA
network = NBC
language = English
executive_producer = Merrill Heatter & Bob Quigley
first_aired = July 1, 1974
last_aired = September 1988
imdb_id = 0070995
tv_com_id = 2348

"High Rollers" was an American television game show which aired on the NBC network from July 1, 1974 to June 11, 1976 and again from April 24, 1978 to June 20, 1980. Two different syndicated versions were also produced, the first a weekly series from September 8, 1975 to September 19, 1976 and the second a daily series from September 14, 1987 to September 9, 1988. Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley packaged the first three versions, while Merrill Heatter Productions packaged the 80's version.

Hosts and announcers

The host of "High Rollers" was introduced as "The Man With The Action" or "The Man With All The Action." Alex Trebek hosted the NBC and first syndicated versions, while Wink Martindale hosted the second syndicated run. Kenny Williams announced both Trebek versions while Dean Goss announced the Martindale edition. The Trebek versions originated from NBC Studios in Burbank; the Martindale version originated from Studio 41 at CBS Television City. [Both are verifiable by looking at any episode's credit roll.]

During Trebek's first season as host, he had actress Ruta Lee serving as the model/"dice girl". Becky Price, Linda Hooks and Lauren Firestone rotated as models during the second Trebek version, while Martindale was assisted on his version by models Crystal Owens and KC Winkler.

Music and introductions

Stan Worth composed the theme for the 1974-1976 version and the 1978-1980 version. In 1987, Robert Israel composed the theme for the 1987-1988 version.

The opening of the original 1974-76 version featured an extended drum solo counting up the big numbers, each lighting one by one (sometimes joined by the audience clapping in time to the beat), followed by an approaching animated pair of rolling dice with announcer Kenny Williams shouting:

"Now, a game of high stakes, where every decision is a gamble, and every move can be your last! High Rollers! And here's The Man With The Action--Alex Trebek!" [cite episode
title = High Rollers
network = NBC
airdate = 1975-06-11

In the 78-80 opening the animated dice remained, but the drum solo was heavily truncated, and Williams's intro was reduced to, "It's 1978...it's The New High Rollers!", followed by Trebek's intro, for the first year. Thereafter, Williams just said the name of the show before introducing Trebek. When the original intro was revived for the 1987-88 version, the audience shouted the title with the announcer in the 2nd half of the 80's version.


Two contestants competed, one of whom was a returning champion (or designate, if a previous champion had just retired after winning a fifth game (7th in the 1978-80 version)). The object of the game was to remove numbers off a gameboard containing the digits 1 through 9 by rolling an oversized pair of dice. "HR" was modeled on a traditional board game called "Shut the Box."

In order to determine who gained control of the dice, Trebek or Martindale asked a toss-up question; whoever buzzed in with the correct answer earned a chance to do one of two things:

* Roll the dice, an option usually taken only early in a game.
* Pass them, forcing his or her opponent to roll. This was by far the most common decision, especially as a game progressed, with fewer good rolls on the board (and since a bad roll automatically lost the game). If the bad roll however have very little odds to be hit, such as a 3 or an 11, the player who won control of the dice may take the gamble and roll.

Players removed numbers from the board based on the value of the roll of the dice (either all by itself or in combinations). For example, if a 10 was rolled, the player could remove any of these combinations: 1-9, 2-8, 3-7, 4-6, 1-2-7, 1-3-6, 1-4-5, 2-3-5 or 1-2-3-4, which were all combinations that added up to 10.

Contestants who rolled doubles (e.g., 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, etc.) earned an "Insurance Marker," which could be turned in for a free roll if they hit a bad number. However, if the doubles roll itself was a bad roll, the insurance marker was translated into simply another roll, which meant that a roll of 2 (aka "Snake Eyes" 1-1) and a roll of 12 (aka "Boxcars" 6-6) were the only safe rolls whether the number itself was on the board or not.

Play continued until:
* One player made a bad roll, meaning no combination of digits currently on the board could match that roll of the dice.
* When one player took the last remaining digit(s) off the board (the rarer outcome).

(Exception: During the short-lived "Face Numbers" format in 1976, a contestant won the game by identifying the famous person in the picture.)

The winner of the game kept any and all prizes in his/her bank (see below); in the event the bank was empty, he/she won a "house minimum" of $100 cash. Two out of three games won the match.

In addition to the gameplay which remained constant throughout all versions, each of the versions had rules unique to each version as detailed below:


The original 1974-76 series featured a prize hidden under every digit on the gameboard, which was revealed once that digit was eliminated; that prize was then added to the bank of the player who revealed it. [cite episode
title = High Rollers
network = NBC
airdate = 1975-06-11
] Additionally, two digits each contained one half of a large prize, usually a new car. To bank the car, both "1/2 Car" cards had to be uncovered by the same player. [cite episode
title = High Rollers
network = NBC
airdate = 1975-06-11
] If both players each revealed only one of the two cards, the car was taken out of play. [cite episode
title = High Rollers
network = NBC
airdate = 1975-06-11

During the final seven weeks of this run (April 26-June 11, 1976), the main game was known as "Face Numbers"; the digits concealed a picture of a famous person and the contestant won the game for correctly identifying the person in the picture. A player could take a guess after making a good roll. If a player made a bad roll, the opponent was allowed one guess for each remaining number in the picture; a successful guess won the game plus the prizes belonging to the numbers still on the board. If neither player guessed who it was, Trebek gave clues until one player buzzed in with the answer.

During the 1974-1976 version of the show, the contestants themselves did not actually roll the dice. That task was given to hostess Ruta Lee for the NBC daytime version, and Elaine Stewart (the dealer on "Gambit" and wife of executive producer Merrill Heatter) on the nighttime version. The players sat along the long side of the dice table opposite from Trebek. Beginning with the 1978-1980 run, the hostess role was eliminated altogether and the players themselves rolled the dice, seated at one end of the table.

A syndicated version with almost identical rules ran weekly in 1975-1976. The only major difference, besides more expensive prizes being offered, was that the same two players competed for the entire show. After the first few episodes of this version, the rules were changed so that, rather than requiring players to win a two-out-of-three match, the winner of each game played "The Big Numbers." Once "The Big Numbers" were played (for $10,000), the losing player was brought back out for another game. The players played as many games as possible until time was called. If time was called during a game, the one who knocked the most numbers out won that game, their prizes (or the $100), and (in the two games out of three episodes) played "The Big Numbers" for (another) $10,000. Thus, a player could win over $30,000 in cash and prizes in a single show. However, like other weekly nighttime game shows at that time, this version had no returning champions.


When the series was revived in 1978 (originally known as "The New High Rollers"), the digits were randomly arranged in three columns of three digits apiece, each column containing up to five prizes. In each round the numbers had varying typefaces as well.

The prizes ranged from the usual game show gifts (e.g., furniture, appliances, trips) to offbeat, unusual prizes. Some of the more outlandish examples included:

* A collection of musical dolls.
* African masks.
* 12 portable televisions (one for the contestant and 11 for friends).
* A fully-catered gourmet banquet for 50 people.
* A trip to the Kentucky Derby with $100 bets on each horse.
* A fully-equipped built-in home aquarium (stocked with exotic fish).
* An antique Chinese fishbowl, which was offered on the series finale. [cite episode
title = High Rollers
network = NBC
airdate = 1980-06-20

Often, the value of a prize package reached $20,000.

One (very rarely, two) of the columns were considered "hot," meaning that all three digits therein could be taken off by a single roll of the dice, thus claiming the prize(s) in that column. During the 1978-80 series, each column started with one prize, with another prize added at the beginning of each game until the package was won, or until the maximum of five prizes per column had been reached.

Only by eliminating all the digits in a column could a player add those prizes to his/her bank; the contestant had to win the round to keep the prizes.


In 1987-1988, each game featured a different prize package in each column; unlike the 1978-80 series and this series' pilot episode shot in 1986, the packages in this version did not carry over to the next game if they were not won. In some games, one of the columns contained the right to play one of several "mini-games".
* Around the World: Each number on a die corresponded to one of five available trips; rolling a 6 won all five trips (i.e., "a trip around the world"). Regardless of the outcome of the game, the winner also receives $5,000 in spending money.
* Auction: The contestant chose a number between 1 and 6, and then rolled the die. A correct hunch won the player a new car.
* Dice Derby: This game mimicked a horse race; one horse was designated with even numbers (2, 4 and 6); the other odd numbers (1, 3 and 5). The contestant rolled the die and the appropriate horse moved one space depending on the outcome. The first horse to move four spaces on the track would win the race and a prize for the contestant. If the even horse won, the grand prize was a new car (or sometimes a trip or $10,000 cash). If the odd horse won, the contestant received a moderately-priced trip or pocketed $1,000.
* Driver's Test: The player controlled a game piece on a 12-position game board, arranged in a 4x4 ring of spaces. He/she had four rolls of a die to make the piece land exactly on the "CAR" space (which was seven spaces away from the starting position). The piece always moved toward the "CAR" space; if a roll caused it to overshoot the target, the next roll would have the piece reversing direction.
* It Takes Two: A different prize was assigned to each number on the die. The contestant continued to roll the die until he/she repeated a number, winning the prize corresponding to that number. Frequently, the prize associated with the 6 was the "kitchen sink," meaning that the player would win all five other prizes if they rolled a 6 twice.
* Love Letters: The contestant rolled a die up to four times to reveal letters in a six-letter word. Solving the word at any time won a new car.
* Map Game: An earlier version of Around the World, played on the pilot and the series premiere. It was played identically to Around the World, except in this game a 6 did not win all five trips (but rather a sixth, more expensive trip).
* Rabbit Test: This game, which was played sparingly, took place center stage. The models wore fur coats. One coat was a fake, while the other was real rabbit fur. If the contestant could "feel out" the real fur, they won it. In the pilot, the rabbit was the secondary prize, with the top prize being a mink coat.
* Wink's Garage Sale: Six prizes, including a worthless gag gift, were available. Rolling a 6 won the junk prize; the others were the usual game show prizes.
*Smiling Wink's Car Lot: In this game a each number on a die represented a new car, except number 6, which represented a Clunker (junk car). The player rolled the die and whatever the number lands on the player won the corresponding car.
* Duel of the Dice: This was only played in a pitch in the pilot. The contestant faced off against a monkey named "High Rollers". The contestant rolled the dice first. The number that came up was the number that the monkey had to beat. Then the monkey rolled the golden dice, and if the contestant had the higher number, he/she won a trip and $1,000 in traveler's checks.

The Big Numbers (all versions)

In the bonus game, called the "Big Numbers," the champion attempted to knock off numbers on a new, bigger gameboard (except for the 1978-80 series, which was played using larger numbers on the same gameboard from the main game). Insurance markers were still awarded for doubles; during the original 1974-76 run, this was the only time insurance markers factored into the gameplay.

In the earliest episodes of the 1974-76 version, players had an opportunity to stop and take the money ($100 per number eliminated) after a good roll. If they held an insurance marker, a bad roll would mean simply roll again. However, a bad roll with no insurance markers not only ended the game, but also, the player would lose all the money accumulated in the bonus game. If the contestant cleared all the numbers, he or she won $10,000, with a car being offered for removing at least eight numbers. The rules soon changed so that Big Numbers was played for $10,000, with a Big Numbers loss awarding $100 for each number eliminated.

From 1978-1979, if all nine numbers were knocked off, that player won $5,000 cash plus a new car (the latter was dropped due to the energy crisis, as Trebek explained on-air, but the producers later re-instated the car until the show's last few weeks). If a contestant failed to eliminate all nine numbers, he/she received $100 for each digit wiped off the board. The same rules for the Big Numbers were applied to the Martindale version, with the $10,000 cash prize at stake.

The Big Numbers bonus round was used in 1981 on "Las Vegas Gambit" (which was coincidentally hosted by Martindale and dubbed as "GAMBIT GALAXY"). The only difference was that on "Las Vegas Gambit", winning this game was worth an accruing jackpot of prizes instead of a flat $5,000.

"Lucky Numbers"

A pilot for a 1985 game show titled "Lucky Numbers" was produced, with Trebek hosting; this time, John Harlan announced, and Debbie Sue Maffett assisted Trebek.

Similar to "High Rollers," a roll of a 7 was always a bad roll and forced the game to go into the "Danger Zone," with another 7 ending the game. Plus, rolling "snake eyes," a 3, an 11, and "boxcars" were "wild numbers," used to light up any number except the last one, which, due to fairness, had to be rolled naturally. The bonus round was played the same way, with $500 awarded each time a number was lit (if a person rolled a number that was already lit, or rolled a "wild number" when one digit was left unlit, the contestant just earned $100 more). If all six numbers (4-5-6-8-9-10) were lit, the contestant won $10,000. If a 7 was rolled, the contestant could either take the money and walk away, or roll again to light up any remaining numbers. If a 7 was rolled again, the bonus round and all bonus round winnings were lost. Although the pilot never made it to television, its theme music became the main theme for the 1987-88 version of "High Rollers."

Broadcast History

NBC, 1974-76

Although Alex Trebek, a Canadian, made his American television debut on NBC a year earlier on "The Wizard of Odds," most observers would cite this game as the show that made him into a household name. In fact, "High Rollers" replaced "Wizard" at 11 a.m./10 Central on July 1, 1974, making Trebek one of a few hosts in daytime history to move from one cancelled show on a Friday to a new one on a Monday.

"HR" did considerably better than "Wizard" against CBS' "Now You See It," although it took "HR" nearly a year to force "NYSI" off the air (ABC did not begin its network feed until 11:30/10:30 then). It also handled "Tattletales" successfully for several weeks in the summer of 1975. However, when "The Price Is Right" returned to CBS' morning schedule in August, another Heatter-Quigley game, "Gambit," moved to 11/10 against its sister, giving viewers a highly unusual choice between two games that both featured oversized gambling paraphernalia and were produced by the same company.

Apparently, viewers preferred blackjack to dice tables, because NBC, in a major scheduling shuffle, sent "HR" to Noon/11 Central in December for six weeks. Although facing an ailing "Let's Make a Deal" on ABC, it went nowhere against CBS' "Young and the Restless," which was just beginning its 33-year dominance of that timeslot. January 19, 1976 saw the first version occupy its final timeslot, 10:30/9:30, where it battled the last half of CBS' "Price." The timeslot changes alone probably alienated a large number of viewers by that point, indicating that NBC had no confidence in the show. "HR's" turbulent two-year history came to an end on June 11; NBC found itself resorting to reruns of "Sanford and Son" to fill the gap.

yndicated, 1975-76

With H-Q's "Hollywood Squares" performing highly as a twice-weekly syndicated favorite, the company decided to venture on the glamorous tone of "HR" as another winner. However, the market was saturated with weekly versions of daytime hit games by this point, and "HR" seldom if at all found itself in the coveted Prime Time Access slots before network prime time programming began for the evening. Thus, "HR" lasted only one season, airing mainly in odd weekend slots.

NBC, 1978-80

By 1978, NBC was faltering badly in all of daytime, but especially in its morning lineup. With numerous games failing to catch on with viewers (with the exception of "Card Sharks", which enjoyed a 3-plus year run), network officials probably opted to take a nostalgic tack, to revive former favorites. With a revamped format, NBC called "HR" and Trebek into service again in April at 11/10. Although once again placed against "Price," and, further, facing sitcom reruns on ABC, NBC did not move the program around various timeslots during this run. It managed respectable ratings against both networks, but, in a housecleaning that also involved "Squares," NBC cancelled it in 1980 to make way for David Letterman's short-lived talk-variety experiment. Four years after "HR's" final NBC episode, Trebek began hosting the 1984 revival of "Jeopardy!", a position he has held ever since.

yndicated, 1987-88

During a temporary boom in network and syndicated games in the mid-1980s, many formats of the 1960s and 1970s returned in new versions. Although Trebek was no longer available (due to hosting both "Jeopardy!" and "Classic Concentration" at the time and despite his having hosted a pilot for a revival called "Lucky Numbers" that didn't sell in 1985), former "Gambit" host Wink Martindale took the helm, with the expectation that his many years on "Tic Tac Dough" would translate the new "HR" into an instant success.

This was not to be, for reasons not dissimilar to the failure of the first syndicated version (see above). "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" had become the overwhelming choice for viewers, with other syndicated games getting squeezed out, into low-rated slots such as mornings or even late nights. As a result, "HR" wound up another in a list of unsuccessful revival attempts, a trend that eventually led to most games disappearing from the airwaves by the early 1990s.

Home versions

Milton Bradley produced two home versions of "High Rollers" in 1974 and 1975, under the title "Big Numbers: The "High Rollers" Game.". Some first-edition games were actually marketed by "E.S. Lowe, Inc.," a subsidiary of Milton Bradley generally targeted to older customers and gamblers. In 1987 Parker Brothers issued a new version of the game based on the Wink Martindale revival.

Box Office Software released a "High Rollers" computer game in 1988 for the Commodore 64, IBM PC and Apple II.

Returning Champions

Except the 1970s syndicated version, players on the 1974 version could stay until they lost, or won 5 matches (7 matches for the 1978 version). In the 1980s version, winning 5 matches was originally worth a new car, but by the time 1 player finally retired undefeated, this bonus had been dropped, thus leading to more cars being offered in some mini-games, and often during the main game.

Foreign versions

An Australian version of the show aired in 1975, and was hosted by Gary Meadows. A version of this show, titled "SuperdieQ", was filmed in Japan around 1983.

Episode status

The original 1974-1976 series is believed to have been destroyed, its tapes recycled for other purposes by NBC. However, the Warhol collection copy of the July 4, 1975 episode and the studio master copy of the June 11, 1975 episode can be seen in The Paley Center for Media. [ Found by looking in the electronic catalouge on their computers at the center.] The status of the 1970s syndicated run is not known at this time, though some believe the tapes have also been destroyed, or possibly deteriorated into an unviewable condition.

For a long time only two episodes of the 1978-1980 series existed (the 20th episode from a Video Tape master, and one from an off-air tape featuring the last episode). Another episode was discovered in 2004, followed by 7 more in 2006, all of which are in circulation among tape traders and collectors.

The 1987-88 syndicated series is known to still exist in its entirety, and after it ended production, it reran for September 19, 1988 to September 13, 1991 on USA Network.

Sony Pictures Television, as a successor-in-interest to MGM, owns the rights to any future revivals of "High Rollers."


*"And now, a game of high stakes, where every decision is a gamble, and every move can be your last, High Rollers! And here's the man with the action, Alex Trebek/Wink Martindale!" - spoken by Kenny Williams on the 1974-1976 NBC version, and Dean Goss on the syndicated revival from 1987-1988.
*"It's 1978! It's the New High Rollers!" - spoken by Kenny Williams on the first episodes of the 1978-1980 NBC version, thereon though, he just said the title and introduced Trebek.
*"Skill, strategy, sabotage, and these very unpredictable dice. They are the elements we have for you today as our players try to win the luxurious prizes that we're about to put on our game board." - Martindale said this after he was introduced on the 1987 version.
*"We have these insurance markers if you roll a double-- that'll get you out of trouble" - Wink said this explaining insurance markers in "The Big Numbers" bonus round.
*"Look at column (number)" - Trebek said that in thinking that that particular column was a "hot" column. Most of the time he would guess correctly.

ee also

*Shut the Box

Notes and references

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