Countdown (American game show)

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An American adaptation of the British game show Countdown, also called Countdown, was planned to be aired on United States television beginning in September 1990. However, the show never made it on the air; only a pilot episode was ever recorded. The pilot was produced by the Guber-Peters Entertainment Company and hosted by Michael Jackson, a Los Angeles, California-based radio presenter (not to be confused with the pop singer of the same name).

The concept for the show was not picked up after the pilot, apparently on account of producers thinking that its premise was too "brainy" to appeal to the general American public. (It was also for this reason that no numbers rounds were featured at any point during the program.) No known attempts to bring the Des chiffres et des lettres format to North American television have been made since, and despite the absence of a Countdown equivalent on the continent, residents of the United States and Canada are currently not eligible to compete on the British show either.


The American version included no numbers rounds or formal conundrums, only letters rounds and word-based puzzles. Additionally, instead of two contestants competing one-on-one, two teams of two competed, with each team consisting of a regular player and a celebrity. During the pilot, these celebrities were actors Heather Thomas and Woody Harrelson.

The pilot included three letters rounds. Letters picks proceeded in the same manner as in the British version, with one of the regular contestants selecting nine letter tiles from two piles (one containing only vowels, the other only consonants). The player who chose the letter was the one on the team who was trailing in terms of points. All four contestants, including the celebrities, then had 30 seconds to create the longest word possible from some subset of the letters on the tiles. The Countdown clock music used in Britain in the early 1990s (composed by Alan Hawkshaw) was reused for the American pilot while its clock was ticking down.

Along the same lines as the modern British 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown episodes, all four contestants declared words at the end of the 30 seconds, but the scoring system differed in two notable respects: both teams received points, rather than only the winning one; and the score allotted to each team equalled the sum of the lengths of the words declared by its celebrity and its regular player (for instance, 11 points would be given if the regular player had a 7 and the celebrity a 4).

During the third and last letters round, only eight letter tiles were selected, with the final tile here being a "wild card" that could represent any letter.

Unlike any other known international versions of Countdown, the American version was planned to include cash prizes as a regular feature – it was stated that any non-celebrity player who found a nine-letter word would receive a prize of US$25,000.

The team who led after three rounds proceeded to a final bonus round, which used a system resembling the British version's conundrums and Teatime Teasers. A category or theme, such as "At the Movies", was revealed, and seven scrambled words of 4, 5, 6, 7, 7, 8 and 9 letters, were presented to the team, who then had 45 seconds to solve as many of these scrambles as possible. The solutions to all scrambles pertained in some way to the category. A bonus of US$200 was given for solving each scramble; getting all seven instantly augmented the prize money to US$10,000.

See also

  • Countdown (British)
  • A Word or 2 (South African), the first English-language adaptation of Countdown outside Britain that made it to air
  • Letters and Numbers (Australian), a later English-language adaptation

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