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Scrabble is an Americanmarker television game show that was based on the Scrabble board game. The show co-produced with Exposure Unlimited and Reg Grundy Productions (now part of FremantleMedia) ran from July 2, 1984 to March 23, 1990, and again from January 18 to June 11, 1993, both times on NBC. A total of 1,335 episodes were produced from both editions; Chuck Woolery hosted both versions of the series. Jay Stewart was the announcer for the first two years and was replaced by Charlie Tuna in 1986, who announced for the remainder of the original version and the entirety of the short-lived 1993 revival.


Crossword game

Two contestants play a crossword game on a computer-generated Scrabble board. The objective of the game is for a player to guess three correct words before his or her opponent. Each word is built on a letter of the previous word (a letter is given on the center of the board for the first word), with all remaining letters blank. The players are shown the space that the word occupies, and are told the number of letters in the word along with a clue. A set of numbered tiles appears between the players, representing the remaining letters in the word and three additional letters that do not belong, referred to as "Stoppers". Words range between five and nine letters, with the number of tiles always being two greater than the size of the word. At any time, if a player guesses the word correctly, he or she wins the word. If a player guesses the word incorrectly, control is passed to the other player.

The player going first is given the opportunity to guess the word immediately. If he or she chooses not to or runs out of time (the latter case was dropped in 1986), he/she must take two tiles, calling out their numbers and inserting them into a slot in his/her podium. The tiles are translated into letters that the player must choose from. A correct letter is inserted into its proper place in the word, giving the contestant another chance to guess. An incorrect letter explodes to reveal a Stopper, passing control to the other player. If the player chooses not to guess the word after revealing a correct letter, the other letter is automatically tested against the word and either placed or shown to be a Stopper. Once both tiles are used, if the player still does not guess the word, he/she takes two more tiles and must place at least one letter. If a player gains control due to his/her opponent's first letter being revealed as a Stopper, the player keeps the remaining untested letter and chooses one additional tile. The last missing letter of the word is never revealed—players must guess the word at that point.

If all three Stoppers are found, the opponent of the player who revealed the last Stopper has one more chance to guess the word. If no guess is made, or if the guess is incorrect, the game goes to "Speedword", in which letters are randomly placed into the word until either all but one letter is revealed or a player hits his or her buzzer to stop the game and guess. If a player guesses incorrectly, he or she is disallowed from guessing again that word. If both players guess incorrectly, the word is revealed and no points are scored. Beginning in late 1985, Speedword also begins if time is running short and/or if the players tied with two words apiece.

Once a word is fully revealed, assuming that it does not result in a player winning the game, another word is played, building on a letter from the previous word. The player to go first for the next word is either the player with the fewest points, or the loser of the previous word if the scores are tied. The first player to win three words wins the game and $500, and goes on to the Scrabble Sprint round.

Later in the series words and clues were sent in from viewers of Scrabble, and if a clue and word was used, the viewer who sent the word in won a Scrabble t-shirt.


In the first week of the show, a cumulative money pot was used in the Crossword game instead of awarding $500 to the winner. Each correctly placed letter added $25 to the pot, while letters in blue squares scored $50 and letters in pink squares scored $100. The prize for winning the game (guessing three correct words) was the value in the pot, and the Sprint Round was played for triple the pot's value.

Bonus squares

After the first week of the show, the pot was eliminated and the cash prize for winning a game became $500. The blue and pink squares then became bonus squares: If a contestant revealed a letter in one of these squares and immediately guessed the word, he/she would be awarded an instant cash bonus of $500 or $1,000, respectively. Additionally, if a new word was being "built" on a letter that was on top of a bonus square, the player in control could win the bonus by immediately guessing the word without any additional letters. The host would walk over to the contestant and hand them the money in $100 bills, one at a time (though in later shows, this was replaced by fake money dubbed "Chuck Bucks" - blue $100 bills for a blue square & pink bills for a pink square). Beginning in 1986, this bonus rule also applied to Speedword.

For the 1993 version, the pink and blue squares served as pot builders for the Bonus Sprint jackpot, with their value added to the pot if the word was solved correctly.


For three months in 1985, players not only had to guess each word correctly, but also had to spell the word one letter at a time. Similar to the format used during the first week, each correct letter added money to a pot: Regular squares added $50, blue squares added $100, and pink squares added $200 (later $500).

This rule was abandoned by the fall of 1985, as it proved to be very unpopular among contestants and fans. In one episode, two contestants repeatedly failed to spell the word "mosquitos" correctly, despite knowing it.

Scrabble Sprint

In the Scrabble Sprint round, the winner of the Crossword game (now the "challenger") faces off against the show's reigning champion. He/she is given a set of three words. At the start of each word, the host reveals a set of blanks for each letter, gives a short clue, then starts a timer, which counts up from zero. Two letters are shown, and the contestant must choose one to place in the word. (There are no Stoppers in this round; all letters shown are in the word.)

When the player thinks he or she knows the word, he/she must hit a plunger to stop the clock and give an answer. If correct, the player moves on to the next word. If the player guesses incorrectly or takes too long, he/she incurs a ten-second penalty and play continues on the current word, until all but one letter is revealed. At this point, the player may take up to five additional seconds to hit their plunger; if they still cannot guess the word, a make-up word is added to the set.

Play continues in this manner until all the words in the set are guessed. The challenger's total time now serves as the time for the champion to beat. The champion is given a set of words, each word the same length as the challenger's corresponding word. The clock counts down from the challenger's posted time, with all other rules remaining in effect. If the champion successfully completes all three words within the challenger's time, he/she wins the round. If the champion fails to beat the time, the challenger wins and becomes the new champion.

Format variations

In its original format, the Scrabble Sprint round was played between the winner of the Crossword game and the returning champion. The challenger selected one of two envelopes (pink or blue), containing three words each. The challenger established a time that the champion had to beat using the set of words that was not selected. During the first week, the prize for winning the Sprint round was triple the pot from the Crossword game. After this point, the prize became a flat $1,500.

Originally, contestants would choose one of the two letters randomly shown, followed by the other, before the display would be refreshed with two new letters. The rules were then changed so that only one letter could be selected at a time. The unchosen letter would disappear from the display, and two brand-new random letters would be shown.

If a champion won five Scrabble Sprints in a row, that player won a $20,000 bonus. A ten-time champion won a second $20,000 bonus and retired undefeated, with a guaranteed minimum total of $55,500.

Beginning in March 1985, both contestants played the same set of three words. The challenger would play first while the champion was isolated backstage so they could not hear or see gameplay. After the challenger established the time to beat, the champion would be brought back on stage. In later episodes under this format, the number of words played was increased to four.

At this time, the prizes awarded to five- and ten-time champions were changed: A five-time champion had their total winnings augmented to a flat $20,000, and then a flat $40,000 for winning ten games.

On December 29, 1986, the format changed again. Two Crossword games would be played each day with the champion playing in the first game. The challenger in that game played first. The winner from the first half played Scrabble Sprint to establish a time using four words. The second Crossword game featured two new contestants, with a coin toss determining who went first. The winner of the second Crossword game then attempted to beat the time set during the first half of the show using the same four words. The winner of this format became that day's champion, received $1,000, and played the Bonus Sprint round.

Bonus Sprint

The Bonus Sprint round, introduced at the end of 1986, played very similarly to the Scrabble Sprint round. Two words of at least six and seven letters each were chosen, and the contestant had ten seconds to correctly guess both words. Successfully guessing both words awarded a jackpot, which began at $5,000 and increased by $1,000 every day until it was won. An incorrect guess resulted in an automatic loss, since the ten-second penalty rule was still in effect. Win or lose, the champion returned the next day for up to five days maximum. The highest jackpot awarded in the original version was $19,000.

When the series returned in 1993, the Bonus Sprint jackpot began at $1,000. Additional money would only be added to the jackpot if a contestant landed on a blue or pink square in the Crossword game and solved the word immediately, adding either $500 or $1,000, respectively. No cash bonuses were given directly to contestants in this version; all bonuses went into the Bonus Sprint jackpot. The highest jackpot awarded in this version was $20,500 .

Scrabble pilots


The pilot was taped on March 8, 1984 at NBC Studios in Burbank, hosted by Chuck Woolery with Rod Roddy announcing. The set was the same for the most part with a faster chase-light sequence, a superimposed logo (instead of the onstage logo in the series) and included a few gameplay differences.

Two players, one a returning champion, played the crossword game. Whomever accumulated the most money after four words won the game. Each letter revealed was worth $25. Colored squares added extra money in addition to the $25; blue squares were worth $125 ($100 + $25) and pink squares were worth $225 ($200 + $25). On the fourth and final word of the game, the dollar values doubled ($50 for white squares, $250 for the blue squares and $450 for the pink squares). The player who guessed the word won the money in the pot for that word. The player who won the most money faced the player with the fastest Scrabble Sprint time of the week, and whoever guessed four words in the fastest time possible at the end of the Friday episode won $25,000 in cash.

Future game show contestant coordinator Laura Chambers competed as a contestant on the pilot, and "won" the $25,000 bonus in the Scrabble Sprint. Chambers had previously appeared as a contestant on Sale of the Century as well as Tic Tac Dough, and later became an on-air personality for Game Show Network from its launch in 1994 until 1997.


Another version of Scrabble was in the works between the 1984-1990 and 1993 runs, hosted by Los Angeles personality Steve Edwards. That version never made it to the air.


Another version, entitled Scrabble Challenge but with rules more similar to the board game rather than the 1980s version, was planned exclusively for GSN with host John O'Hurley. A second pilot was later filmed, hosted by Friend or Foe? emcee "Kennedy". Neither pilot made it to a series, however.

Theme weeks

Scrabble held various themed-weeks over the years, including Teen Week, College Week, Battle of the Soaps Week, Love Week, a Tournament of Champions, and a $100,000 All American Tournament.

Once in 1987, and again in 1988, the series aired "Game Show Hosts Week". Participants for the first such week were Peter Tomarken, Marc Summers, John Davidson, Tom Kennedy, Bill Rafferty, and Jamie Farr. The latter two would return in 1988, joined by Vicki Lawrence, Jim Lange, Wink Martindale, and Jeff MacGregor.

Although Farr was not technically a game show host, he did substitute for Tom Kennedy on Wordplay. Farr had also hosted a Mark Goodson pilot titled Oddball for the same network.

Marc Summers hosted during the 1987 week when Chuck Woolery played segments of the game (and earned $12,000 for a home viewer).

Episode status and reruns

All episodes still exist. FremantleMedia and Hasbro (who holds the rights to the game itself) currently own the rights to the series as well as any future revivals. Reruns aired on USA Network from September 16, 1991 to October 13, 1995 (with the exception of a brief period from February 6 to April 14, 1995). The short-lived 1993 revival has not been rerun since cancellation.

Notable contestants

  • Heather Graham appeared as a contestant in 1986 in the Teen Tournament of Champions at the age of 16. She described herself as "an aspiring actress" when introduced.

External links

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