The Password Game Show: Secrets of Its Success

password game show with jimmy fallon

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The Password game show has had an impressive history. While it hasn’t enjoyed a continuous run on the air quite like some other shows, Password retains its status as classic and memorable. In fact, it’s done so for 60 years! There’s just something about its puzzling gameplay and famous contestants that continues to draw viewers and fans.

The Password game show has had an impressive history. While it hasn’t enjoyed a continuous run on the air quite like some other shows, Password retains its status as classic and memorable. In fact, it’s done so for 60 years! There’s just something about its puzzling gameplay and famous contestants that continues to draw viewers and fans.

Password Game Show Rules at a Glance

At its core, Password follows a basic premise: Guess the secret passwords and win prize money for doing so. It’s the rules that must be followed that make the game interesting, however. This is true of any game show that’s worth watching, from Wheel of Fortune to Classic Concentration.

  1. Two teams of two contestants each compete against each other.

  2. At the start of each round, one player on one team is given a word. This is the password. They then try to get their teammate to guess the password by describing it using only one word.

  3. If their teammate fails to guess the password or they go past the time limit, the other team gets a chance to guess. This process is repeated until a team correctly guesses the password.

  4. Every time a player gives their teammate a clue, the password’s point value decreases by one. The value starts at 10 points. These points determine how much prize money the contestant wins at the end.

  5. A round concludes when one of the teams correctly guesses the password.

Illegal Clues You Cannot Play in Password

The game’s off-screen judge keeps track of several “illegal” clues that players cannot use to help their partners find words. These could be words that aren’t real or are a different version of the password. If any of those words are used, the turn passes to the next team.

Celebrity Contestants on the Password TV Show

Aside from the rules, the most important aspect of Password is that each team includes a celebrity. The celebrity is paired with a “civilian” contestant. Typically, the celebrity is the first person to give the clue words, but the responsibility switches to the civilian between rounds.

Some notable entertainers during the show’s history include Betty White, Rod Stirling, Bill Bixby and Lucille Ball. Many of them have made regular return appearances as well. 

These celebrity guests were and are the main reason why Password is so appealing to audiences. It’s entertaining to watch popular actors and TV personalities struggle to solve a puzzle just like anyone else would.

Password’s Long History on Television

The Password game show has had an eventful history on network television. Revivals and revisions, some more substantial than others, have helped keep the game show in the public eye.

The Original CBS Password Show (1961-1967)

Password first aired on CBS in 1961. It was created by Bob Stewart, produced by Goodson-Todman Productions and hosted by Allen Ludden. The show’s original run lasted for six years, ending in spring 1967.

For most of its original run, Password was received favorably by audiences as the first program to pair celebrities with contestants in a game show setting. Unfortunately, the show could not maintain its ratings. Other popular shows started to air in the same time slot. The heads of CBS eventually decided to cancel the show rather than make the effort necessary to keep it going.

The ABC Revival of Password (1971-1975)

Though Password had been canceled, its reruns saw noteworthy success on smaller stations. This success prompted the executives at ABC to contact Goodson-Todman Productions. They wanted a chance to revive the game for their audience. Goodson-Todman Productions accepted, and new episodes of Password hit the airwaves in the spring 1971.

This new iteration did well for the first few months, but it eventually lost out to the competition. The show’s producers did what they could to keep the show alive and draw back the audience. They implemented new features and gimmicks, but they weren’t substantial enough to keep people’s interest. This release of the Password game show ended in summer 1975.

The New Password Game Show on NBC (2022)

After decades off the air, the Password game show returned to network television in August 2022. The new NBC version of Passwordis hosted by actress Keke Palmer. Jimmy Fallon serves both as executive producer and as a featured celebrity contestant on the show.  

Password 2022 uses the same rules as the previous iterations of the TV game show. Each of the two teams consist of one contestant and one celebrity guest. The first episode, on August 9, 2022, was dedicated to the late Betty White, who was a regular contestant on the original show. Other notable celebrities on the 2022 version of Password include Jon Hamm, Chelsea Handler, Heidi Klum, Martin Short and Meghan Trainor. 

Each episode of Password is an hour long. Contestants vie for the chance to win up to $25,000 in prize money. 

Updated Versions of Password on TV

Aside from the original format, a few other versions of the Password game show have aired on television over the years.

Password Plus and Super Password

Two updates to the Password game show were Password Plus (1979-1982) and Super Password (1984-1989). They were nearly identical to each other. They also shared most of the same rules with the original. The main differences were the inclusion of new game modes.

  • Password Puzzle: When a contestant correctly guessed a password, it was added to a board behind them. These words would all relate to a person, place or thing. The goal was to guess what the passwords had in common. If a team guessed correctly, they’d win additional prize money.

  • Cashword: This game was exclusive to Super Password. The team that solved the second puzzle of the episode would be given a harder word to guess. If the celebrity could get their partner to deduce the word in no more than three attempts, they’d get $1,000 added to their score.

  • Alphabetics/The End Game: This was a round that had the same gameplay but a different name for each show. Password Plus had “Alphabetics,” whereas Super Password had “The End Game.” At the end of each episode, the winning team would take on this final challenge. They had 60 seconds to guess 10 passwords, revealed to the celebrity one at a time. The passwords followed in alphabetical order from the first letter of the first password.

Million Dollar Password

Million Dollar Password was a short-lived version of the Password game show series, running from June 2008 to June 2009. Regis Philbin was its host. As the name implies, contestants had a chance to win a million dollars. There were two main rounds and one final round. Contestants and celebrities would trade partners between the game’s first two rounds. 

During the final Million Dollar Password round, the contestant and celebrity with the highest scores from the previous two rounds play together. They’d try to get each other to guess a series of five passwords within a 90-second time limit. If they succeeded, they would move on to another set of five passwords. Completing six sets of passwords would win the civilian contestant the million-dollar prize.

Keep Your Game Show Research Going

There’s a lot to love about Password and other classic game shows. It’s fun to watch people, whether celebrities or regular folk, scramble to find the correct answer for a puzzling challenge. Would you like to study up on more memorable shows that tested their contestants in similar ways? Take a moment and learn all about the legacy of the Lingo game show. Did you know Ronald Reagan’s son was the original host?

Zac Pricener has been a content creator for the past eight years. He’s a bit of an all-around nerd, and he has a bad habit of working movie and TV show references into conversations whenever possible.


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