The most underrated daytime game show of 1975
Host Jim Lange poses with George and Kathy Kallis, the very first happy couple to win $10,000 for spinning a consecutive straight in the Super Spin-Off, in a show that aired on CBS Friday, June 27, 1975. Just below is a color vidcap from the series pilot of another couple who just won $5000 for spinning five of a kind.
Nowadays, if it weren't for the ongoing success of The Price Is Right on CBS, there would be absolutely no daytime game shows on the major TV networks. It was quite a different story in 1975. During that year there were more than 25 games--a record number for one year--on all three networks (no Fox or CW back then), many of them brand new. Another game show milestone for 1975: it was the year that NBC--to the dismay of many intellectuals--decided to pull the plug on its long-running original version of Jeopardy! with Art Fleming and those dime-store cash amounts contestants racked their brains to win, but also launched what was destined to be another long-running classic: Wheel Of Fortune, albeit without Pat and Vanna who would replace original hosts Chuck Woolery and Susan Stafford years later.
Wheel is still spinning in syndication, but all the other new 1975 network games died quickly. At least one of them deserved to expire in 13 weeks: The Neighbors on ABC. Hosted by Regis Philbin, who has since gone on to far-greater things in both daytime television and game shows, this goof of a game pitted five female real-life neighbors against each other to win cash by telling smarmy secrets about one another. Yecch. That was the whole show, the most mean-sprited mess Chuck Barris never created. That's right--"Chuckie baby" was NOT responsible for this one. It was an early creation of the Carruthers Company who would later redeem themselves with Press Your Luck.
Which brings us--at last--to the main subject of this page. At the start of summer in 1975, CBS debuted a new game which, like The Neighbors ended up being low-rated, short-lived and ultimately forgotten. Only this one didn't deserve it. After three years in the 10 AM Eastern slot, CBS pulled the plug on The Joker's Wild with Jack Barry (which then went into reruns and eventually new episodes in syndication), and pinned its hopes on Spin-Off, the first game show created by Nick Nicholson and E. Roger Muir to turn up on an actual network. Their first two independent entries--1967's Matches N' Mates and 1968's Pay Cards were produced for syndication; I'll have more to say about these later.
Color vidcaps of the actual title shot and host Jim Lange.
Actually, Spin-Off was Nicholson and Muir's second network game. About a decade earlier they created the original concept for ABC's The Newlywed Game which was later sold to Chuck Barris with their names originally in the end credits. Eventually, Barris bought them out and their names were removed. The Newlywed Game, for better or worse, was now firmly entrenched as a game show classic, and its original creators had to watch someone else take the credit--and the blame--for it.
TV Guide's listing for the show's premiere.
Spin-Off also had married couples (not necessarily newlyweds) as contestants, but its content was decidedly much more family-friendly. Whereas Newlywed's questions were along the lines of "How does your wife lick her ice cream cone--up and down, or around in a circle?", the questions posed on Spin-Off were harmless, garden-variety trivia that was not designed to start arguments between the spouses. A correct answer entitled one couple to operate an outsized, computerized draw-poker machine (see picture below), similar to those battery-operated devices one could find in fine gift or department stores back in the 1970s.
One spouse pushed a master plunger, starting a horizontal row of five single digit displays flashing the numbers 1 to 6 at the rate of 17 numbers per second. His or her mate then hit a row of five buttons starting from the left to stop the numbers, creating a "poker hand", such as 4-3-6-6-2. Couples had a maximum of three tries to get the best possible number combo, or they could opt to keep it and force their opponents to spin all or some of their numbers in the hope of getting a better hand and winning the round or the game; if they couldn't, their opponents won. But if the first couple opted to try again for a better hand, they had to answer another question correctly to get the chance. The picture below of host Jim Lange standing next to the payoff board explains which combination offers which cash amount.
About that "bonus" for five-of-a-kind...sorry, I didn't see enough shows to know what it was.
Going back to that initial 4-3-6-6-2 hand, the likely decision would be to spin-off the 4,3 and 2 in hope of getting straight 6's across the board, for a better chance to win the round or game. Or maybe three 4's would come up for a full house, almost as desirable. But suppose they wound up with 5-1-6-6-3? They'd be no better off this time around, and their last shot--if they ever got to take it--would be do-or-die. That pair of 6's alone might not help them get ahead, and what's more they could have opted initially to spin-off one of those 6's and leave the others numbers be, in hope of getting a 5 for a straight, which might be enough to push them toward a win unless the other couple has better luck. Decisions, decisions...but the couple that emerges triumphant by winning $250 or more after two rounds goes on to play the...
This was the bonus round with big money payoffs (by 1975 standards, at least). This time, each number was spun individually a maximum of three times, starting with the button on the players' far right. Possible combinations and their respective payoffs were as follows:
Three Of A Kind--$1000
Four Of A Kind--$2500
Five Of A Kind--$5000
A consecutive straight could be achieved four ways as shown below:
Normal straights didn't count here. Needless to say, if a couple spun a 3 or 4 for the first number, they quickly elected to get rid of it and try for one of the four "good" numbers in that first spot. If fate proved unkind and they couldn't shake the initial 3 or 4 after three spins, the best they could hope for was to get five 3's or five 4's in a row to win five grand. But if the first number they spun was, say, a 2 and they decided to keep it, the excitement began to build as they went across the board. Will the second space be filled with that coveted 3? Yes! Now to the middle space--we want a 4! Come on 4...oooh...another 2. Should we spin it off and try for a 4, or keep it and shoot for a full house or four-of-a-kind? What do you think, honey? Go for all the marbles? Okay, I'm with you--let's spin it off! Come on...we need a 4! AARGH! It's a 1! No good--we gotta take that last spin here. Come on 4...please...come on...YES!!! We got a 4!!! Now to the fourth spot--we need a 5 to stay alive. Three tries for a 5...ugh...another 4. We got a chance for three of a kind for $1000. No? You think 5 will come in the next spin or two? All right, we're in this together...here we go...ahhhh...a 6! One spot too soon. Now we've got one chance left to get a 5 here. I agree--we've gotten this far so let's go for it. Come on--we gotta get a 5 now...please?? IT'S A 5!!! WE DID IT!!! Well, we didn't "do it" yet; we, er...they have that one last number to contend with. The tension is high now. If they get a 6 in three tries or less, they win big! But if the best they can do on the third try is another 2,3,4 or 5, all they win is a mere $250. And if they should be so unlucky as to end up with a 1 on the third spin...well, you remember what happened to the contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire who thought Little Jack Horner stuck his thumb into the pie and pulled out a blackbird...
The above was just one example of what could happen during the Super Spin-Off; other couples' results varied. Some walked away triumphantly with the ten grand and, according to one network promo for the show, one couple actually did it twice. I never saw it happen even once, but a while back, I heard from another fan who did: Robert Drozd, a regular viewer of this show who was lucky to have had Chicago's WBBM as his local CBS-owned affiliate. He was thoughtful enough to share some detailed memories about what happened during Spin-Off's too-brief run, and now--after a long delay caused by my having temporarily lost his info--I am able to share his findings with you. Many thanks, Bob!
The picture of Jim with the couple [in B/W at the top of this page] is of the first $10K winners. This was the only time that it was won with a 1-2-3-4-5 combination. It was most likely in July.
The champions' side had yellow-orange lighting and numbers while the challengers' side had green numbers. [They] supposedly changed 17 times a second although it looked slower.
There was a $25K limit to total winnings for a couple. That was never reached. The most I saw was $23,075 by the couple that won the $10K twice. They were invited back a few days later to try and reach the limit but were unsuccessful.
I recall that 5-of-a-kind was only reached once in qualifying play. This might have been the $23K winners and they only needed 4-of-a-kind to win. The challengers were so overjoyed at getting the fourth '3' that they didn't the final (middle) digit until Jim told them to. While still embracing and smooching and groping, the husband (I presume they were married) reached out and plunged the fifth '3' without looking! Classic!
As for the mysterious bonus, I am almost positive that it was an automatic win; there might have been a cash prize ($5K perhaps). I never saw this, although one couple started off their very first spin with 4-of-a-kind and Jim mentioned the bonus which is how I found out about it. I had completely forgotten that there was a bonus for 5-of-a-kind.
The $10K Super Spin-Off winning permutations:
1-2-3-4-5 was achieved once
2-3-4-5-6 was achieved three or four times (the two-time winners were both of this permutation)
5-4-3-2-1 was achieved once
6-5-4-3-2 was achieved once
I could have missed as many as seven shows during that period, so it is possible that another couple [or two or three...] could have hit the $10K prize. [Webmaster's note: the last chance he had to watch the show, there was a $10K win, but whether or not this occured on the final broadcast is unknown at least for now; see note to GSN at the bottom of my revised Seven Keys/Spin-Off Hour page.]
Now be honest--how could anyone possibly dismiss a game show like this as dull? It sure beat those embarrassed newlyweds surviving Bob Eubanks' tell-all tactics in order to win a home entertainment center--at least that's my opinion. Yet, despite the colorful set, the fast pace and that exciting bonus round, Spin-Off died a mere dozen weeks after its debut on June 16, 1975. It lasted the duration of the summer season--when a lot of kids who didn't have to think about going back to school for a while could have watched it with their mothers and perhaps helped make it the hit it should have had the chance to be--and quietly went away after the September 5 airing. The following Monday, Jim Lange was still hosting a lead-off game show on the CBS morning lineup, but this time it was a new Carruthers Company effort, Give-N-Take, which was equally short-lived and had its final airing the day before Thanksgiving; for its final three weeks it aired in the afternoon following Match Game '75.
Throughout its brief run, Spin-Off's ratings were at the bottom of the barrel, thanks in part to direct competition at the 10 AM ET hour from NBC's more established Celebrity Sweepstakes. Talk about irony...here was a Ralph Andrews-produced game leading off the NBC morning schedule that had become popular enough to gain more affiliate clearances than the last Andrews game NBC ran in that time slot--It Takes Two, my favorite game show using celebrity married couples--and its popularity helped polish off a competing game which I happened to like better. But, although some people would likely disagree, I strongly suspect that Spin-Off had another, more underhanded ratings hurdle to try and clear, brought on by too many CBS "affiliates" who declined to carry it. Low affiliate clearances, especially in major markets, are an almost-guaranteed death sentence for any network series...and a pain in the butt for anyone who wants to at least sample a certain network show but is unfortunate enough to be stuck with one of the stations who turned it down. The more affiliates who turn their backs on the same single network offering, the more would-be viewers who can't tune it in regularly, and the lower the total audience, with network cancellation looming ahead...and is there anyone out there reading this who hasn't already assumed correctly that Spin-Off was bumped off by MY local CBS station?
That station was KCCI in Des Moines, Iowa. As far back as 1967, when their call letters were KRNT, they had been colorcasting a local studio-produced offering for the homebound female audience called The Mary Brubaker Show, which was to Des Moines what Accent/The Bette Hayes Show had been to Kansas City's WDAF-TV back in the '60s. Back in those sunny, almost carefree days of 1967 daytime TV, both Mary and Bette's shows weren't being used--yet--to bump any network game shows. Ms. Hayes was carried in the 1 PM slot where NBC had Days Of Our Lives, while Mary was dropped into the 9:30 AM slot in place of CBS' daytime reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies which was no big loss--the Clampetts have been rerunning in syndication for years since then. But the two local productions eventually took over the 9 AM Central slot, obliterating the network game shows being offered nationally at that hour. It took four or five years longer for Brubaker to bump off a network game than it did for Hayes, but when CBS unveiled The Joker's Wild on Labor Day 1972, its three-year run went unseen in Des Moines, save for a few weeks of 1974 and 1975 shows which could be seen by cable subscribers via KSHB-TV in Kansas City, at the time an independent which in later years affiliated with Fox and then NBC. When Joker exited CBS in June 1975 on Friday the 13th (no comment), and Spin-Off took over the time slot the following Monday, Central Iowa viewers were denied the opportunity to watch it--even on KSHB.
At least KCCI's Mary Brubaker Show served a purpose to the viewers and the community--although it could and should have been carried in a non-network slot with the CBS games at 9 AM left untouched. By contrast, Omaha, Nebraska's WOWT-TV had an inexcusable "excuse" to bump Spin-Off: reruns of Gilligan's Island. Now, before all you Gilligan fans out there start sending me scathing e-mails, please keep in mind that (A) WOWT could have cleared Spin-Off at 9 AM and rescheduled the castaways in the late-afternoon hours which was their main turf on many broadcast stations in those days anyway, (B) this was a time when it was regarded as kiddie fare by critics and viewers like myself who were teens or very young adults back then and had no time for a show whose 98 episodes we'd seen over and over and may have been craving something else to watch, not embracing its nostalgia value till later, and (C) most Omaha viewers would be able to watch Gilligan's Island years after the cancellation of Spin-Off; what would a mere 12 weeks without the shipwrecked seven have mattered? Even worse, when CBS replaced it with Give-N-Take in September, WOWT actually ran it at 9 AM from the first day!.* A little bias at WOWT, perhaps? BTW, WOWT is no longer a CBS affiliate. In the Summer or 1986--about four-and-a-half years before I moved into the area--they reverted back to their original affiliation with NBC which they had from their first day on the air in 1949. Their 30 years with CBS began New Year's Day 1956 with KMTV taking over the peacock that day; the latter station began in 1949 with CBS and returned to the network in mid-1986.
*When CBS moved Give-N-Take to the afternoon for its final weeks, its availability in Omaha and Des Moines did a flip-flop: WOWT bumped it off their schedule, but KCCI thankfully put it on, thus allowing me to see it about as many times as I was able to catch It Takes Two on NBC in 1969-1970.
Other CBS stations choosing to bump Spin-Off locally included WMT in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (its current calls are KGAN), who ran Dinah Shore's syndicated Dinah! talk show instead, KHOU in Houston, which substituted its own local Morning Show (thanks Larry!), KOLN in Lincoln, Nebraska and its sister station KGIN in Grand Island, opting to carry Romper Room at 9 AM, and--of course--Kansas City's KCMO (now KCTV), which turned it down in favor of another game show with casino-type elements: the syndicated Dealer's Choice. Even at least two California CBS stations, KXTV in Sacramento and KPIX in San Francisco, didn't give the show a chance to prove itself...although KPIX seemed willing enough to let The Joker's Wild and Give-N-Take do so (thanks to Don Del Grande for that bit of info). Back in the Midwest, another CBS affiliate, KEYC in Mankato, Minnesota, ran a local women's show of their own, Coffee Break, in the 9 AM slot--but were thoughtful enough to carry Spin-Off at 3:30 in the afternoon via tape delay. And although no CBS affiliates in Nebraska ever cleared the game show, it did turn up at 9 AM on ABC affiliate KHGI in Kearney which served Grand Island and North Platte over the air, and might have been accessible on cable in Lincoln in those days (Lincoln viewers have always been able to pick up ABC from Omaha via KETV, but KHGI was probably more Lincoln-oriented, and it wasn't until the mid-'90s that Lincoln got its own ABC affiliate, KLKN.)
THE SOUNDS OF SPIN-OFF:
Theme Music with Johnny Jacobs' Intro
Consecutive Straight "Win" Music
"Back From Commercial Break" Music
Master Plunger and Spinner Activation