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Sale of the Century
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Sale of the Century

Sale of the Century was a television game show format that has screened in several countries in various incarnations since 1969.

It was originally screened on the American NBC network from 1969 to 1973, and a UK version produced by Anglia Television was shown on ITV from 1971 to 1983.

Probably its most prominent incarnation occurred after the Australian Grundy Television organisation bought the rights to the concept for a version that screened in Australia from 1979 to 2001. At its close it was Australia's longest-running gameshow, though the local edition of Wheel of Fortune has now exceeded that, running continuously from 1981. Grundy's later licensed the format to a number of other countries, including the United States, where it had a second run on NBC from 1983 to 1989, and the UK, where it also appeared again on ITV in 1989 and then on Challenge from 1998.

Game format

The game format varied in its details over the years and in various nations, however the core remained unchanged. The format of the Australian version is presented below.

The host read a trivia question to the three contestants (one of which was usually the winner of the previous show) who had to activate a buzzer to answer the question. Correct answers provided within about 4 seconds of buzzer activation were awarded "5 dollars", while incorrect answers were penalised the same amount. If a player answered incorrectly, the answer was revealed and the game went on to the next question - other players could not subsequently answer the question if the first player to activate their buzzer failed to answer correctly.

Once in each of the three standard rounds, a longer-format question, the "who am I", was asked, where a succession of increasingly larger clues were given to the identity of a famous person, place, or event. In this round, players could activate their buzzers and answer at any time, without penalty for an incorrect answer. However, they only had one chance to answer. If one of the players buzzed in and answered correctly, they had an opportunity to play the "famous faces" subgame, where players got to choose randomly from a game board with nine squares featuring the faces of celebrities, mostly performers on the network's shows. Once chosen, the face selected would be spun around to reveal either a relatively small prize (typically appliances or furniture valued at around a weekly wage) or a $25 bonus, which awarded $25 to the player's score. Later series added additional smaller bonus amounts to the gameboard.

Once per round, the highest-scored player was offered the chance to sacrifice some part of their score to "purchase" a prize. The prizes, and the cost, increased in each round. Contestants were allowed to haggle with the host, who, depending on the game situation, could reduce the cost and offer inducements including actual cash to make the purchase. If two or more players had the same score at this point, a Dutch auction was conducted for the prize. In later series of the Australian version, the final prize sale was replaced with "cashcard" where the player instead had the opportunity to spin the "cashcard", where they had the opportunity to either win a cash prize of several thousand Australian dollars (equivalent to perhaps a month's average wages for a middle-class Australian at the time), earn the opportunity to win a car later in the game (see section on major prizes), receive the score they sacrificed back, or reduce the score of a competitor slightly.

The later series also added a "fast money" section for the final round, where the host would ask the questions in a particularly quick-fire manner, attempting to fit in as many questions as possible in 60 seconds. Most of the more successful players proved themselves particularly adept at this section.

The winner of the game was the person at the end with the most points. If there was a final tie, the tied players answered a tiebreaker "Who am I" question, where a correct answer won the game, an incorrect answer lost.

Major Prizes

The winner of the episode was then given the opportunity to win one of a selection of much larger prizes, usually including international first-class holidays, expensive jewellery, and the like, the most valuable of which was one or two luxury automobiles.

In early seasons, the cumulative scores over several nights of the contestant were kept, and they would add prizes to their collection as their cumulative score exceeded the required amount. Later seasons changed this, instead the prize to be won on any particular night was determined by randomly choosing boxes off a game board until a pair of matching prizes was revealed. The cars were only placed on the game board if the player had won the opportunity on the "cashcard" game, or had a final score of $100 or more (which only the best players achieved).

Once the player's major prizes had been determined, the player had an opportunity to decide whether they would like to stop playing, and leave with the major prizes they had won, or continue playing on subsequent nights, risking the major prizes they had won thus far but offering the opportunity to win more.

Utimately, once the player had won all the major prizes on offer, they had the opportunity to play for one more night to win a large cash jackpot. This started at 50,000 AUD and increased by $2,000 per night until somebody won it. The largest jackpot ever won on the Australian version of the show was 508,000 AUD, by contestant Robert Kusmierski, whose total winnings were 676,919 AUD.

Hosts

Typically, the game's main host was a middle-aged male, "assisted" by an attractive young woman who introduced the contestants and many of the prizes.

The hosts for the Australian version were Tony Barber and Glenn Ridge. Some of the much more frequently replaced co-hosts were Victoria Nicholls, Alyce Platt, Nikki Buckley, Delvene Delaney, Jo Bailey, and Karina Brown.

Jim Perry hosted the American version of the show in the 1980s; Summer Bartholomew was his assistant during most of the show's run.

In the UK, the original Anglia series was presented by Nicholas Parsons from Norwich (perhaps best remembered for the introductory credit voice-over from John Benson: "From Norwich ... it's the quiz of the week!" This caused a good deal of amusement, since Norwich was not considered a very exciting place). The less-well-known 1989 ITV and the Challenge versions were presented by Peter Marshall and Keith Chegwin respectively.

References