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Time Machine was an Americanmarker game show where contestants competed to answer trivia questions about popular culture and recent history to win prizes. The show aired on NBC from January 7 through April 26, 1985. Reg Grundy Productions, (now part of FremantleMedia) produced Time Machine, hosted by John Davidson as its third game show to air on NBC (joining its sister shows, Sale of the Century hosted by Jim Perry and Scrabble hosted by Chuck Woolery).

The program aired at 10:00 AM Eastern (9:00 Central & Pacific). Charlie Tuna handled announcing duties, with Rich Jeffries subbing on occasion.

Most of the questions used focused on nostalgia, popular culture, and recent (usually post-World War II) history, and more specifically what year a particular event occurred.

Future Card Sharks model Susannah Williams appeared as one of the prize models in this series.

Format #1

Three contestants competed in mini-games, similar to pricing games from The Price is Right, to win prizes. The prizes won went into a contestant's "Prize Bank". The returning champion always played the third mini-game.

Mini Games (Format #1)

  • "Tube Game" The contestant was given the names of two shows, and had to pick which one was airing in a given year. This process was done three times the first with ABC shows, the second with NBC shows, and the third with CBS shows. A right answer won the corresponding network, a wrong one lost it. Behind one of the networks was a prize package; if the contestant had that network, it was added to their Prize Bank.


  • "3 In A Row" In each square of a tic-tac-toe board is a different year, all from the same decade. Originally, before the game started, the contestant placed three "Poison Cards" in a row on the board. The contestant was then shown nine events, picked an event, and the year it which it happened lit up. If he/she lit three years across or up-and down, a prize was added to their Bank, with a larger prize awarded for lighting three years in a row diagonally, and nothing added if the three with the Poison Cards lit up. Later, the Poison Cards were eliminated, and the events were drawn from a podium two at a time. The contestant picked an event from the two choices, and the year it happened in lit up. They replaced it with another event, and continued until they got three in a row. Lighting a row across or up-and-down added a prize to the Prize Bank, while a diagonal line added nothing.


  • "As Time Goes By" To begin, the contestant was given one free spin. Then a photo of a celebrity was shown. The contestant had to guess what year the photo was taken. If their guess was within five years of the right answer, they won another spin. This was repeated with two more photos of the same celebrity. They then took their spins to the Money Clock, a spinner made to look like a clock. The area around 12 o'clock was painted red. The pointer moved automatically, and the contestant watched it for a few seconds. They then turned away and hit a plunger, stopping the pointer. If they landed at the red area, a prize was added to their prize bank. If not, they tried again until they ran out of spins, losing the game.


  • "Before Or After" The contestant was given $200 and a base year, and the contestant had to guess whether an event happened before or after the base year. A correct guess doubled the money, and the year of that event became the new base year. This was repeated two times. Then the contestant was given a choice they could stop and put their money in their Prize Bank, or go one more time. A correct guess doubled the money and put it in the Prize Bank, a wrong guess lost everything.


  • "Sweet Sixteen" Similar to the Lucky $even pricing game on The Price is Right, the contestant was given sixteen $100 bills. They were then shown an old product, and had to guess which year it was introduced. For each year their guess was off, they gave back a $100 bill. This was done four times. The first three products were given specific ranges to aid the contestant (sometime in the 1950s, sometime in the last 10 years), the fourth one had no range. If any $100 bills were left after the fourth product, the leftover money and an additional prize package was put in their Prize Bank.


  • "Main Event" A base year was given along with five categories. The contestant picks the category they're least comfortable with, and they instantly win that category. Then they pick the remaining categories one-by-one. Each category had one question with two possible answers; guessing right won the category, guessing wrong lost it. After all five categories were played, the contestant could see the clues hidden behind the categories they won. Each clue pertained to the "Main Event", which occurred in that base year. The clues were revealed one at a time. Guessing the Main Event on the first clue put $5,000 in the Prize Bank; each subsequent clue cut the value by $1,000.


Time Capsule

After three mini-games, the three contestants competed in one final game, the Time Capsule. Davidson read a list of five events, all of which occurred in a specific year. (The final event was always a song popular in that year, and a clip was played for the contestants). Each contestant guessed what year they believe all the events are from. The contestant who came closest was declared the champ, won whatever was in their Prize Bank, and played the bonus round. The other two lost their Prize Bank and left the show with only parting gifts.

Format #2

On February 11 (just over a month after the series began), the format was completely overhauled with many mini-games undergoing rule changes to fit the new format and others retired. Two contestants competed for the right to face the current champ. They played three mini-games, each one worth a prize; the Prize Bank was scrapped, with contestants now keeping their prizes regardless of how well they did.

The first two mini-games were worth one point, the last one was worth two. The one with the most points after three games won.

Mini Games (Format #2)

Six mini-games were used in this new format. Unlike the old format, the same two lineups were used for every episode, alternating each day. The first lineup went as follows

Lineup #1

  • "Game 1: As Time Goes By" A photo of a celebrity was shown. Similar in format to Card Sharks, one player guessed when the photo was taken, and the other one guessed whether the right answer is higher or lower. Whoever was right won a spin. This was repeated with two more photos of the same celebrity. Each player then took their spins to the Money Clock, which now had four spaces. The four spaces read zero, $100, $300, and $1,000, with the $1,000 space much smaller than the rest. As before, the contestant watched the pointer for a few seconds, then turned away to stop it by hitting a plunger. The space they landed on was the amount of dollars they won. The player with the highest score won the game, but both players kept whatever they earned on the Money Clock.


  • "Game 2: Tube Game" Davidson described an ABC show that was on in a given year. Players buzz in to guess what show he's describing, and a right answer wins a point. Davidson then describes an NBC show from the same year, then a CBS show. After that, Davidson asked questions pertaining to the three shows. First to answer five questions correctly won the game and a prize.


  • "Game 3: Jukebox Game" Four jukeboxes were shown, each emblazoned with a different year from a certain decade. A song is played, and two possible artists are given. Buzzing in with the right artist won the right to match the song with the year it was released. If they got a match, they got a point. If they missed, their opponent got one chance to pick the right one and steal the point. The jukebox with the right answer was eliminated from play regardless. If all the jukeboxes were eliminated, then the contestants just had to identify the song's artist to get the point, without having to match the song to a year. First to three points won the game and a prize.


Lineup #2

  • "Game 1: On The Button" An event was given, and one player guessed what year the event happened in. Getting it exactly right won a point for that player. If they guessed wrong, Davidson would say whether the event happened before or after that year, and the other contestant had a chance to guess. This continued until one player got three points, winning the game and a prize.


  • "Game 2: 3 In A Row" Just like before, each square of a tic-tac-toe board had a different year from the same decade. One player was given two events. The contestant picked an event from the two choices, and the year it happened in lit up. A new event takes the selected one's place, and the other contestant picked one. This continued until three spaces in a row were lit up. The person who lit up that last space won the game and a prize.


  • "Game 3: Main Event" A base year was given. Davidson would ask a question about an event that happened in that year. Buzzing in with the right answer put $200 in a pot and revealed a clue pertaining to the "Main Event". If the contestant could figure out the Main Event, they won the game and any money in the pot. If not, play continued as before until the Main Event was guessed.


Challenge Round

The winner of the mini-games faced the champion in the Challenge Round. Aside from the fact that this used two players, this was the exact same game as the Time Capsule. Again, the contestant who came closest won.

Bonus Round

The bonus round had to do with the year involved in the Time Capsule/Challenge Round. Three different bonus games were used during the show's run
  • Bonus Round #1 Four events were given, and only one of which happened in the given year. If the contestant picked the right event, they won a growing Jackpot of prizes.
  • Bonus Round #2 A target year is given, and up to four questions were asked. The contestant's job was to guess whether the event occurred before or after the given year. Four correct answers won the bonus round, a prize package and a cash jackpot that began at $1,000 and increased $1,000 every day until hit. The game ended if the player missed a question.
  • Bonus Round #3 Questions were asked relating to whether a certain event happened before or after the given year. Enough correct answers won the player a new car, while an incorrect answer stopped the game.


A champion's first attempt in the bonus round required four correct answers to questions in order to win the car. For each day afterward, they had to answer one less, and if a champion lasted five consecutive days they won the car automatically.


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