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Party Line


Producer: Reg Grundy
Host: Gene Rayburn
Announcer: Jay Stewart
Taping Info: 1983
Other Pilots: Yes. This was the first of three, but the only one to be hosted by Gene Rayburn. The others were helmed by eventual host Bruce Forsyth.
Made It To Air: Eventually, after three pilots, for a brief time in 1986.
Availability: Trading circuit

In the early 80's, Australian mega-producer Reg Grundy attempted to crack the American market. After making his fortune by taking mostly Goodson-Todman formats and making them popular in Australia, he took his revamping of the non G-T Sale of the Century back to the States and made it a hit. This pilot was an attempt to bring an original format to the U.S. market. Gene Rayburn, fresh from nine years on Match Game, is the star of the show. Additionally, professional pilot player Laura Chambers is one of the contestants.

Two teams of five players, segregated by genders, competed in a phrase identification game with a twist. The first player on the team is given a word or phrase to convey Pyramid-style, such as "violin". The second player guesses the word, and then taps the third player, who is listening to music on the headphones on the shoulder and then tries to guess the word from clues from the second player, without using any key words the first player used. This processes repeats, with the third player giving clues to the fourth player, using clues that haven't been used, but without knowledge of what the first player said. If this is successful, then the fourth player attempts to give clues to the fifth player without the knowledge of what the first or second player said. And, if a repeated word didn't stop you, the clock could, since you only had 40 seconds. Got that?

Each team did this for three rounds, earning one point for each successful guess of the word or phrase. If the game was tied after three rounds, they just played another round. When this show made it to air several years later, the rounds were played for cash.

In the event of a tie in the main game, a sudden death round was played. The first clue givers from each team were shown the word, and the defending champions had the choice whether to pass or play. To win the tie-breaker, the team playing the word would have to get entirely down the line, otherwise the other team won. Based on the scores I saw in the pilot, it was better to pass.

In the bonus game, the winning team had the assistance of nine other players who I guess were stored away for this very purpose. One player on the team had to relate the clue to the new nine players, one at a time, without repeating any key information. If the player felt that his or her ideas were gone, s/he passed the baton (literally) to the next player on their team and they tried. The pot doubled from $100 for each player who guessed the clue, with the team continuing until 40 seconds were up or they reused a key word. After the first try, the team could forfeit their winnings for a second chance. This varied significantly from the eventual show whose bonus game did not have the extra nine players.

This game is a minor cult classic in the game show fan world, but I didn't really like it. The fourth and fifth player slots was just absolute luck in saying something different, there really wasn't much skill that could be used. Gene Rayburn proves again that he was a very good host, as he squeezed as much life as he could from such a weak format.


The opening screen. Does anybody under 40 even know what a party line is?

And your host, Gene Rayburn.

The men get ready to give a word.

While the women are in the midst of their round.

Apparently they got a deal from the Rowan and Martin garage sale.


This pilot has been viewed 8313 times since October 6, 2008 and was last modified on Dec 12, 2009 14:46 ET
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