CBS (1950–1958, 1979–1980)
Original release March 23, 1950 – February 16, 1958
September 16, 1957 – January 27, 1961
September 15, 1969 – September 20, 1974
September 17, 1979 – February 1, 1980
September 2, 2002 – September 4, 2003
Beat the Clock is a Goodson-Todman game show that aired on American television in several versions from 1950 to 2003.
The original show, hosted by Bud Collyer, ran on CBS from 1950 to 1958 and ran on ABC from 1958 to 1961. The show was revived in syndication as The New Beat the Clock from 1969 to 1974, with Jack Narz as host until 1972, when he was replaced by the show’s announcer, Gene Wood. Another version ran on CBS from 1979 to 1980 (as The All-New Beat the Clock, and later as All-New All-Star Beat the Clock), with Monty Hall as host and Narz as announcer. The most recent version aired from 2002 to 2003 on PAX (now ION) with Gary Kroeger and Julielinh Parker as co-hosts. The series was also featured as the third episode of Gameshow Marathon in 2006. Ricki Lake hosted while Rich Fields announced.
Contestants were required to perform tasks (called “problems”) within a certain time limit which was counted down on a large 60-second clock. If they succeeded, they were said to have “beaten the Clock”; otherwise, “the Clock beat them”. The show had several sponsors over its run, with the most longstanding being the electronics company Sylvania.
Substitute hosts on the original version included Bill Hart (1951), John Reed King (1952), stunt creator Frank Wayne (1953), Bob Kennedy (1954), Win Elliot (1955), and Sonny Fox, who became Collyer’s permanent substitute from 1957 to 1960. Collyer was referred to in the introductions as “America’s number one clockwatcher”, and the fill-in hosts were each named “America’s number two clockwatcher”.
Bud Collyer as the show’s host, 1958.
The show had several female on-air assistants. The original hostess was Roxanne (née Delores Evelyn Rosedale). Roxanne was replaced by Beverly Bentley in August 1955. Bentley’s departure in 1956 coincided with Hazel Bishop’s sponsorship and a period of having no main assistant (see production changes below). She reappeared as one of the models on the original version of The Price Is Right for its entire run.
The announcer for the show’s run on CBS was Bernard (“Bern”) Bennett until 1958. In October 1957, Beat the Clock ran a contest inviting viewers to submit drawings of what Bennett, who was never shown on camera, might look like. Over 20,000 viewers participated, and winner Edward Darnell, of Columbus, Indiana, was flown in to appear with Bennett on the December 2, 1957 show. When Beat the Clock moved to ABC, Dirk Fredericks became the announcer. Substitute announcers included Lee Vines, Bob Sheppard, Hal Simms, and Dick Noel.
Contestants were chosen from the studio audience and usually were married couples; other pairs were engaged, dating, or were a familial relationship. Collyer would ask them general questions (usually including where they were from and how long they’d been married) and usually asked if they had children, their ages and genders. Sometimes the couple would bring children on the show. Collyer usually would talk to the children, asking them what they wanted to be when they grew up, or, if the kids were not at the show, to have their parents wave to them on TV. The husbands on the show usually wore a business suit. Collyer would often ask the husband to take off his coat for stunts to make it less cumbersome (there were hooks on the contestants’ podium) or Collyer would hold the coat.
Occasionally, if there was going to be a messy stunt, the husband would come out dressed in a plastic jumpsuit. Similarly, wives would sometimes play in their “street clothes”, but sometimes the women would appear in a jumpsuit due to the fact that their own clothing might be too cumbersome or perhaps fragile. The women’s jumpsuits, unlike the men’s, which were rather plain, were patterned to look like a pair of overalls with a collared blouse underneath. The women would also often be issued running shoes instead of their own high heels.
Game format (Main Game)
One couple competed against the Clock to win a prize in stunts that required one or both members of the couple. The stunt was described and the time limit was set on a giant onstage clock. The time limit was always a multiple of 5 seconds, usually at least 30 seconds. At one point Collyer said that a 55-second time limit was the maximum, but later on, stunts occasionally had 60-second limits. On the primetime edition, the first stunt was called the “$100 Clock”. If the couple beat the $100 Clock, they moved on to the “$200 Clock” and the same rules applied. If they failed to beat the $100 Clock, they received a consolation prize worth less than $100. If they failed to beat the $200 Clock, they got a prize worth more than $100. On the daytime versions, couples continued playing as long as they kept beating the clock.
On the primetime version, if the couple beat the $200 Clock, the wife would play the “Jackpot Clock” in which the words of a famous saying or quote were scrambled up on a magnetic board and that phrase had to be unscrambled in 20 seconds or less. If successful, then the couple won the Jackpot Prize. If not, they got a prize worth more than $200. Occasionally, when the wife of the couple did not speak English very well, the husband was allowed to perform the Jackpot Clock.
The Jackpot Clock and the Bonus Stunt would provide the templates for the traditional quiz show bonus round, which would become a TV staple, starting in 1950 with the bonus question round on You Bet Your Life.
In the show’s earliest set design in available episodes, there was a round display near the contestants mirroring the Clock. This display had three rings of light like a target. The outer ring would light during the $100 Clock, the middle ring for the $200 Clock, and the center circle would light during the Jackpot Clock. This feature was removed in later set designs.
Some time during every episode (between normal stunts), a bell would sound. The couple playing at the time would attempt the Bonus Stunt for the Bonus Prize that started at $100 in cash. If the stunt was not beaten, it would be attempted the next week with $100 added to the prize. When it was beaten, it was retired from the show and a new Bonus Stunt began the next week at $100. The bonus (as the name suggests) did not affect the regular game, and win or lose the couple continued the regular Clocks wherever they left off. Beginning in August 1954, the starting amount for each Bonus Stunt was raised to $500, still increasing $100 each week.
Bonus Stunts were harder than the usual $100 and $200 Clocks and sometimes reached $2,000 and even $3,000 on rare occasions. The first time the Bonus reached $1,000 was on February 28, 1953, when it was won for that amount. In 1956, the Bonus Stunt was replaced by the Super Bonus.
There was usually a special technique for performing the stunt that had to be figured out, but even then, the stunt was usually difficult enough to require some skill or luck once the technique was realized. Viewers would usually try to figure it out and after a few weeks on the air viewers would often get it (sometimes Collyer would remark that viewers had been writing in and he would give certain dimensions of the props used so viewers could try to figure it out at home).