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Break the Bank (1948-1956)

Break the Bank


Game Show

Premiered on ABC primetime October 22, 1948 to September 23, 1949; NBC primetime October 5, 1949 to January 9, 1952; CBS primetime January 13, 1952 to February 1, 1953; NBC daytime March 30, 1953 to September 18, 1953; NBC primetime June 23, 1953 to September 1, 1953; ABC primetime January 31, 1954 to June 20, 1956 and NBC primetime October 9, 1956 to January 15, 1957

1948 - 1953 primetime version

Host: Bert Parks and Bud Collyer

Substitute hosts: Peter Donald, Johnny Olson assistant ('the paying teller'):

Janice Gilbert announcers: Bob Shepard, Win Elliott

1953 daytime version

host: Bud Collyer assistant: Janice Gilbert announcer: Win Elliott 

New 1954 - 1956 version

host: Bert Parks substitute host: Bill Cullen assistant: Janice Gilbert announcer: Johnny Olson commercial announcer: Rex Marshall 

1956 - 1957 version “Break the $250,000 Bank”

host: Bert Parks assistant: Janice Gilbert announcer: Johnny Olson final authority: Joseph Nathan Kane executive producer: Ed Wolf producer: Jack Rubin director: Lloyd Gross music director: Peter Van Steeden origination: Century Theater, New York; Ziegfeld Theater, NY

One of the first successful TV game shows, “Break the Bank " came from radio, where it first aired on July 5, 1946. The show made the transition to the small screen in the fall of 1948. Bert Parks emceed the radio version and was joined by Bud Collyer when the show came to television. In addition to the primetime version, NBC aired a daytime version during 1953 with Bud Collyer as sole host.

To begin the game, contestants from the studio audience selected a category and were asked a series of questions with values beginning at $25 increasing to $500. One wrong answer was permitted, but two wrong answers eliminated the player, whose winnings were then forfeited to the bank . If, the player successfully completed the $500 question ('the gateway to the bank ') he or she had a chance to 'break the bank ' by correctly answering one more question. The value of the bank depended on how long it had been since the last contestant “broke the bank .” The bank ’s minimum value was $1,000. During the summer of 1950 a record bank of $8,870 was won.

A regular feature during 1950 was the 'wish bowl' where viewers sent in penny postcards for a chance at being called and invited to New York to be on the show . The lucky viewer received a three-day stay for two at the Statler Hotel and $150 for spending money.

During 1953 another feature was the 'bank holdup' where a camera panned the studio audience until an alarm went off. The person on whom the camera stopped was given the opportunity to win a special prize.

Among the guest hosts who filled in during the vacations of Bert Parks and Bud Collyer were “Break the Bank " announcer Johnny Olson, Bill Cullen, Bob Shepard, Win Elliott, Walter O’Keefe, Edward Arnold, and Buddy Rodgers. Also featured on the show was 'the paying teller' Janice Gilbert, daughter of creator Ed Wolf.

When the show returned in the fall of 1956 the big-money quiz craze was the rage and "Break the Bank " became “Break the $250,000 Bank.”

Competing on the new version of "Break the Bank " were contestants with specialized knowledge in specific categories. They were asked five $100 questions and if successful, a $5,000 question. Upon reaching that plateau they appeared on the next program to answer questions worth $10,000. Prize money increased with additional appearances on the show .

On the show , the contestant’s immediate family and close friends sat in an area on stage called the 'family circle.' The player who couldn’t answer a particular question could call on a member of the circle for help.

All questions at the $5,000 level and above were answered on a part of the stage called the 'Hall of Knowledge'. "Break the $250,000 Bank” did not last long enough for anyone to reach the maximum. The record winning was $60,000, by Dr. Harry Duncan, a 79-year-old dentist whose category was religion.

1956 Intro

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