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Merv Griffin's Crosswords (commonly shortened to Crosswords) was an Americanmarker game show based on crossword puzzle. The show was created by its namesake, Merv Griffin, who died shortly after beginning production on the series. Ty Treadway was the host, and Edd Hall was the announcer.

The series ran in daily syndication from September 10, 2007 and aired first-run episodes until May 16, 2008. Reruns continued to air in some markets until September 4, 2009, and can now be seen on FamilyNet.

The show was produced by Yani-Brune Entertainment and Merv Griffin Entertainment, and was distributed by Program Partners. The show also airs nationally in Canadamarker on Viva and in New Zealandmarker on Prime Television.

Gameplay

Crosswords initially pitted two contestants in direct competition, filling in answers in the day's crossword puzzle one at a time; the words were played one at a time in random order. The answer boxes denoting the number of letters (and any already-solved letters) in a word was shown with a crossword clue and a dollar value. After the clue was read, the contestants could ring in, with the order they did so denoted on the screens on the front of their podiums.

The first contestant to buzz in had to give the answer and then spell it (spelling took precedence over the word given). If correct, they won the dollar amount for that word. If they had the wrong word or spelling, or ran out of time, they lost that amount (scores could go below $0) and the other contestant could answer if he or she had also buzzed in.

Word Length Round 1 Round 2 Round 3*
3 letters $50 $100 $200
4-6 letters $100 $200 $400
7+ letters $150 $300 $600
  • For all but one week of episodes in December 2007, Round 3 values were the same as in Round 2; the Round 3 values shown above were later made permanent.


At the beginning of Round 2, three "spoiler" contestants joined the game and stood at podiums behind the two main contestants. Play continued as before, with the difference being that the spoilers could ring in for words with separate ring-in order monitors. However, the players in the front row had priority when answering; a spoiler could not answer unless the main players either failed to come up with a correct answer or did not buzz in.

If a spoiler got a correct answer, they switched positions with one of the main players and assumed their money total and any prizes earned, with the player replaced becoming a spoiler. A spoiler had choice of podiums if both main players got the answer wrong or neither one rang in, but if only one player provided an incorrect answer the spoiler had to take that player's position.

Any spoiler who gave a wrong answer was immediately locked out of the game and could not return until another spoiler correctly answered a clue or the other two spoilers also answered incorrectly.

The player standing at the podium with the highest money total when time ran out at the end of Round 3, regardless of whether their score was positive or negative (the latter occurred once during the show's run), won the game and whatever was in the podium, and advanced to the bonus round. The losing player and spoilers received a Croton watch with the show's logo on it.

In the event of a tie, one final tiebreaker clue was played to determine the winner with all players and spoilers involved; the first to solve it correctly won the game.

Special words

Crossword Getaway

In the original format, one word in each the first two rounds was designated the "Crossword Getaway", with the contestant who solved that particular word having a trip placed in their bank. Trips were usually to resort destinations in Californiamarker, Nevadamarker, and Arizonamarker.

If a Getaway-designated word went unsolved, the prize was not awarded and gameplay continued without it.

Crossword Extra

The Crossword Extra was a bonus word played once in Round 1 and twice in subsequent rounds (originally once in each round, with the second word added following the removal of the Getaways). The player who correctly guessed the word the Extra was attached to was the only player who could answer and wagered all or part of their score on the word (up to $500, $1,000, or $2,000 (depending on the round) if they had less than those amounts). A correct answer added the wager, while an incorrect answer deducted it.

In several episodes (five of which aired in double-run markets in late September 2007), there were alternate "Crossword Extra" rules. The Crossword Extra word was not part of the main puzzle (so it was truly an "extra" word) and announced before certain clues in each round (presumably to give players more incentive to buzz in). A correct Crossword Extra answer was worth $300 in Round 1 and $600 in Round 2 with no deduction for a wrong answer or no answer at all. There was no Crossword Extra in Round 3.

Changes

Beginning with the episode aired November 1, 2007 there were changes to the special items. The Getaways were eliminated, with additional Extras being added (based on the original format). One Extra appeared in Round 1, but two Extras appeared in Round 2, and one or two appeared in Round 3. The Round 3 wagering maximum was also increased to the higher of $2,000 or the player's total score.

For a short time, the Crossword Extra was known as the "Crossword Xbox 360 Extra" as a promotion for the Crosswords video game released on Xbox Live Arcade, which also added an Xbox 360 console to the bonus prize during episodes with this promotion. Beginning in late December 2007, players were allowed to bet up to $3,000 in Round 3 if they had that amount or less; this was added with the redoubling of the dollar amounts for Round 3.

Bonus round

The winning contestant attempted to fill in the remaining spaces of the show's crossword puzzle. The player had 90 seconds to fill all the spaces up by choosing words using the number and either down or across, and then answering and spelling the word. The round was played rapid-fire, with the contestant choosing the words in any order they wanted. There was no penalty for wrong answers, other than having to choose the word again or fill in the spaces using words in the other direction.

If the player successfully completed the puzzle, they won a vacation and a cash prize (originally $2,000, later raised to $5,000). For a brief period of time, as part of a promotional deal with Microsoft, players also won an XBox 360 as part of the bonus round package (the promotional agreement also resulted in Crossword Extras being renamed "Crossword Xbox 360 Extras"). In the "alternate Crossword Extra" episodes, players received $100 for each bonus round word they answered.

Unlike Jeopardy! (in which a positive score is required to participate in the final round), the winner on Crosswords did not need a positive score to advance to the Bonus Round; if both players had a negative score at the end of the game, the one closer to $0 was declared the winner.

In the event that the contestant won the main game with no money and lost the Bonus Round, they received a Croton watch. This only occurred once.

Music

The theme song was an updated version of "Buzzword", written by Griffin and arranged by Tim Mosher and Andy "Stoker" Growcott (credited as "Tim Mosher & Stoker"). The original version was used as a prize cue on Wheel of Fortune in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The bonus round music was an extended version of the theme from Starface, a GSN game show.

Set

Crosswords was originally planned to be recorded at the NBC Towermarker in Chicagomarker, but instead recorded at Sunset Bronson Studiosmarker in Hollywood, Californiamarker.

For reasons unknown, the show did not record in front of an audience. Instead, an "applause track" was played after correct answers, in and out of commercial breaks, and at the beginning and end of the show; further, the series did not use any "boo" tracks. Toward the end of the run the series did use a laugh track, however its usage was very seldom.

Broadcast history

During the program's development, the series was originally known as Let's Play Crosswords and later changed to Let's Do Crosswords. On each episode, host Treadway used either phrase to begin the day's game. The Play title also appeared on some on-screen VCR displays and pre-programmed television listings.

Griffin worked on the pilot, which had contestants building a cash jackpot that would be offered to the eventual winner, and the first week of the series' production, when he died; in addition to his creator credit, he was listed posthumously in the show's credits as executive producer. The clues and puzzles used throughout the run were written by veteran crossword puzzle maker Timothy Parker, who also writes the USA Today crossword and was hand-picked by Griffin.

Crosswords was sold to approximately 100+ markets and aired during the 2007-2008 season, usually placed in mid-morning or early-afternoon slots. In addition, the series was either packaged with other game shows such as Temptation (a one-season revival of Sale of the Century) in some markets while others aired an hour-long block (two episodes).

Critics had high hopes for the series; this increased following Griffin's death on August 12, 2007.

Critical reviews

Initial critical reactions to the show were mixed and mostly negative; almost all aspects of the show were panned within the first few weeks of its run – host Treadway for being "nothing more than a conduit" and "far too repetitive", the format for being broken (a Spoiler does not necessarily have to do anything but fill-in a single clue correctly to win the whole game; being in second place by a considerable margin ensures a loss unless the contestant intentionally buzzes in after a Spoiler does, but not if the player in the lead does, to give a wrong answer), the lack of an audience, the lack of returning champions (causing the episodes to air in strange ways – see below), and the shoestring-esque prize budget.

The show's earlier episodes, with a top payout of just over $4,000, were on par with Game Show Network's earlier original programs (through 2002) – although these increased to a more respectable $10,000 range by the end of the run; despite the low clue amounts, some contestants won five-figure sums in the main game alone. Further, Crosswords did not provide a "house minimum" for winning contestants, causing some to walk away with little to show for their efforts.

The crossword clues (written by Parker), however, were praised for possessing the "shout the answer at the TV" factor, though some were criticized for being too vague and hence difficult (perhaps almost impossible) to figure out by the average viewer – for example, a clue of "What you do after a cut" has the answer of "deal" (since after you cut the cards you deal them); however, no mention is made of cards, which leads to an incorrect answer such as "curl".

The vague and/or obscure clues would not normally be problematic in regular crossword puzzles – where clues that are too vague to figure out can be skipped over and returned to at a later time when more letters are filled in – but the format of Crosswords (which arbitrarily picked clues in a predetermined order) did not allow this in regular play, though it was allowed in the bonus round.

There was also a contention with the show using the word "champion" if the winning contestant did not return on the next show (driven by Treadway's usage of "You're going home our champion"); this was made all the more evident when several contestants left "winning" very little – this contention only increased following the broadcast of an episode (aired January 30, 2008) in which the winner had -$250 in his podium and lost the Bonus Round, receiving the Crosswords watch like the players he defeated. This was the only time in the show's run that, technically, had five losing contestants.

Ratings

Initial ratings for Crosswords were a 0.8 share, significantly less than the more-established games which have garnered at least 1.5 shares. In November 2007, Crosswords hit the 1.0 mark and was reported to have been picked up for a second season in the November 26, 2007 issue of Broadcasting & Cable magazine, with official confirmation coming on January 28, 2008.

In-show promotions for the Xbox Live Arcade version, mobile download, and PC download claimed that Crosswords was "America's Favorite Game" despite the show's ratings under-performance.

Airings and reruns

Since Crosswords aired two episodes in some markets, the series taped "extras" (most all of which were of the original format) for the purpose of lacking repeats; this resulted in 45 weeks of shows being taped, however not all double-run (or even single-run) markets aired all 225 episodes.

Because of the format's inexplicable lack of returning champions, the series was not shown in taping order (i.e., the first taped episode on September 10, the second on September 11, and so on – lacking repeats – through the 225th episode on July 18); this made it impossible for casual viewers to date rerun episodes (much like most original programs broadcast by Game Show Network) and were thus not able to determine whether one episode from a particular format was taped before or after another episode using the same format – indeed, the first episode ever aired was in fact the 27th one taped, with no discernible rhyme or reason as to why certain episodes aired when they did.

The lack of returning champions also caused some odd scheduling in double-run markets – some affiliates aired an episode with the later format, followed by one using the "original" or "alternate" formats. Occasionally, stations aired an episode several times in a two-week span, while other episodes were reran in the second half-hour after already being shown in the first.

Not assisting the general matter of the series was the fact that the entire season was recorded by the end of November 2007 – no holiday-themed shows, celebrity episodes, or other special events that would be normally designed to boost ratings during the "sweeps months" of November, February, and May were ever planned (although it is likely that the format change on November 1, 2007 – the first day of "November Sweeps" – was intentional). Viewers also noticed that there was no noticeable improvement of host Treadway (although this was partly because episodes aired out of production order), and some even went so far as to complain that each episode felt exactly the same as every other one.

The series' scheduling from late December 2007 onward, which caused the format to remain inconsistent through the end of the run, seemed to mirror that of a syndicated series prior to 1984 (where episodes could, and usually did, air out of production sequence due to being "bicycled" from market to market). Crosswords had, in effect, adapted a syndication process which had been all but abandoned by 1985 – its general look and budget seemed to cause both critics and supporters alike to become confused at the fact that the series managed to sell into syndication instead of GSN.

In addition to the aforementioned, and despite taping "extra" episodes, the series frequently went into repeats during the season. Repeats were "spotty" during April and May, occasionally interrupted by the now-rare first-run episode. The last first-run show aired on May 16, 2008.

Aborted renewal

Before production was slated to resume, however, in June 2008 Merv Griffin Entertainment and Program Partners announced that production of the series would be halted until at least early 2009, with the cited reason being high production costs (although the general response to this statement was that nothing done or given away on the show could have caused such a thing). Three-quarters of carrying affiliates had been ready to pick up Season 2.

Many of the markets that were airing the show (including New York and Los Angeles, the two largest in the country) dropped Crosswords from their schedules, with the remaining markets (plus some that did not carry the series, including West Palm Beachmarker, Floridamarker CBS affiliate WPECmarker; sister station WFLXmarker had carried Season 1) being given a choice from Program Partners through a "Daytime Plus" package – Season 1 repeats called "The Best Of Crosswords", Style by Jury (a Canadianmarker reality fashion program), or Inside the Box (a 2006 pop-culture game show, also from Canada).

Most stations opted not to air the reruns and chose new syndicated programs from other providers to fill the programming gap – either game shows such as Trivial Pursuit: America Plays, or talk shows such as The Bonnie Hunt Show. Stations that chose to air the "Best Of" package began with an episode from the "alternate" format, although viewers quickly noticed that nothing was added ("Best Of" logo, production slate, episode number, recording date, original airdate, etc.) to distinguish this set of repeats from Season 1; this had the side effect of causing stations that aired Season 1 to show continuous repeats since the first-run episodes ended.

On August 2, 2009 FamilyNet, a Christian-based family network, began airing Crosswords repeats on a daily basis in a two-hour afternoon block, plus an additional one-hour block in late-night.

Syndicated repeats under the "Best Of" label ceased on September 4, 2009.

Merchandising

Three official tie-in books were released in paperback on October 16, 2007:
  • Merv Griffin's Crosswords Volume 1: 100 Easiest Puzzles
  • Merv Griffin's Crosswords Volume 2: 100 Easy Puzzles
  • Merv Griffin's Crosswords Volume 3: 100 Easy-to-Hard Puzzles


These puzzle books were edited by Timothy Parker, who supplied all the puzzles for the TV show and is puzzle editor for USA Today. It is unknown whether any of the puzzles used in the books were used in the series, but if this is the case then this would not hold true for at least 75 of the puzzles.

Advertisements during 2008 shows announced that a Crosswords game was available through the Xbox Live Arcade. The Xbox 360 console was featured as part of the grand prize package and as a sponsor for the Crossword Extras, which for a time became known as "Crossword Xbox 360 Extras".

A board game of the show was released by Hasbro in Fall 2008, with a DVD version also in the works. Oberon Games released a downloadable PC game of Crosswords on February 11, 2008 and began selling it in retail chains later that year.

In 2008, Electronic Arts released a mobile version of Crosswords which was available for download at the show's website.

On November 19, 2008, THQ released a console version of Crosswords for the Wii.

References

  1. Soapdom.com: Ty Treadway on the passing of Merv Griffin
  2. Yahoo! Finance: Crosswords casting call
  3. http://www.clt.ca/ComingUp.aspx CLT schedule page
  4. Program Overview from official site
  5. Game Show Newsnet: WLTI 9-17-07 (first review of "Crosswords")
  6. Game Show Newsnet: WLTI 12-3-07 (panning of the high difficulty of Crosswords' clues)
  7. Downey, Kevin. Syndicated TV's new star: Family Guy. Media Life. October 4, 2007.
  8. http://buzzerblog.flashgameshows.com/crosswords-on-the-block-but-temptation-survives/ Crosswords & Temptation get a 2nd season.
  9. BuzzerBlog: "Crosswords" Renewed for Season Two
  10. http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6526198.html?industryid=47173 "Crosswords" gets 2nd Season.
  11. Game Show Newsnet: WLTI 6-30-08 (report of Season 2 consisting of "unaired" Season 1 shows)
  12. BuzzerBlog: "Crosswords" Goes On Hiatus
  13. Program Partners Creates Options for Stations - 6/23/2008 2:15:00 PM - Broadcasting & Cable
  14. Schedule for FamilyNet for week of 8/2/2009, from http://www.familynet.com/
  15. Hasbro to Develop Merv Griffin’s Crosswords Game - 11/16/2007 11:33:00 PM - Broadcasting & Cable


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