Chain Reaction (game show)

Chain Reaction (game show)
Chain Reaction
Chain Reaction '80.jpg
Logo for the NBC version
Format Game Show
Created by Bob Stewart
Presented by Bill Cullen (1980)
Blake Emmons (1986)
Geoff Edwards (1980, 1986-1991)
Dylan Lane (2006-2007)
Narrated by Johnny Gilbert (1980)
Rod Charlebois (1986-1991)
Country of origin United States
No. of episodes NBC: 115
GSN: 130
Location(s) NBC Studios
Burbank, California (1980)
CFCF-TV Studios
Montreal, Quebec, Canada (1986-1991)
Sony Music Studios
New York, New York (2006-2007)
Running time 22-26 minutes
Original channel NBC (1980)
USA Network (1986-1991)
GSN (2006-2007)
Original run January 14, 1980 (1980-01-14) – June 20, 1980 (1980-06-20)
September 29, 1986 (1986-09-29) – December 27, 1991 (1991-12-27)
August 1, 2006 (2006-08-01) – June 9, 2007 (2007-06-09)

Chain Reaction is an American game show created by Bob Stewart, in which players compete to form chains composed of two-word phrases.

The show aired three separate runs: Bill Cullen hosted the original series on NBC from January 14 to June 20, 1980. The second version aired on the USA Network from September 29, 1986 to December 27, 1991 and was hosted first by Blake Emmons and later by Geoff Edwards. Another version, hosted by Dylan Lane, premiered on August 1, 2006 on GSN. This version aired its final original episode on June 9, 2007 but has continued to air in reruns since, currently airing Mondays through Fridays at 3:30 PM ET.



At the crux of the game was a word chain. In the chain, each of eight words (seven starting in 1986) was connected to both the word above it and the word below it in some way. By making inferences based on the revealed words and the revealed letters in incomplete words, contestants tried to fill in the word chains to score points (dollars on GSN). The team/player that reached the point/money goal first would win the game and play the bonus round, which was completely different depending on the series.


The first version of the show aired for 23 weeks from January 14 to June 20, 1980 on NBC and was hosted by Bill Cullen, except for two weeks when Geoff Edwards hosted while Cullen was filling in for Allen Ludden on Password Plus. The announcer was Johnny Gilbert. Chain Reaction aired at 12:00 Noon; however, many affiliates aired local news at that time, preempting Chain Reaction. The show was cancelled in June 1980 to make room for the 90 minute talk show The David Letterman Show.

Repeats of this version aired for several years on cable, first on the CBN Cable Network from March 29, 1982 to May 4, 1984 then later on the USA Cable Network from September 30, 1985 to the debut of the new version that originated from Canada. This version also aired on GSN from October 1997 to April 1998.

Main game

Two teams of three competed in each game. A team consisted of one contestant and two celebrity guests. The teams were shown the beginning and ending words of an eight word chain. Each word somehow related to the word above it and below it. A sample chain could be:


Each word is part of a two-word term, connected by common words (final four, four-square, square dance, dance party, etc.).

The challenging team began the game. In the event two new players were competing, a coin toss determined which team went first. Usually, the challengers were the blue team and the champions were the gold team.

As the game continued, the words would be revealed one letter at a time. A player's turn consisted of calling for a letter in the next word above or below one of the already revealed words and then guessing the word (note that the last letter of each word is not revealed). A correct response won one point for each letter in the word (two if the word had a '+' mark next to it) and that team kept control of the board. If the player in control was incorrect, or gave no guess, control went back to the other team. The game continued until either one team scored 50 points, or the chain was finished. If that happened, another chain was put up and the game continued until one team reached the goal of 50 points; any letters exceeding 50 points are not included to the player's score. That team's contestant won the game, $250 (later dropped when the final version of the endgame was introduced) and the right to play for $10,000 in the bonus round. The losing player got $5 a point for playing (changed to parting gifts with the third endgame).

Normally it would take two chains of words to complete a game, but three chains were played a few times. Also, it was possible for a team to win on the very first chain if they successfully guessed all six words.

Instant Reaction

In the bonus round, the two celebrities from the winning team attempted to get the contestant to guess a series of words or phrases by constructing a question one word at a time. The celebrities alternated giving words in order to construct the question, then hit a bell signaling the contestant to provide a response. Cash was awarded to the contestant for every correct response.

In the first format (which only lasted the first week of the series), the team was staked with $1 and had a 60-second time limit. Each correct response added one half of a zero behind the $1, meaning that after two correct responses the player would win $10, after four the player would win $100 and so on up to the $10,000 maximum.

For the next four weeks, the time limit was increased to 90 seconds and the first three correct responses each added a zero behind the $1. At that point, the contestant's winnings would be $1,000 and the next four correct responses each added $1,000 to their total. The ninth overall correct response increased their total by $5,000 for a grand total of $10,000.

The third format had the same time limit, but the contestant was not staked with any money and each of the first nine correct responses were worth $100. The tenth correct response increased the contestant's winnings to $10,000. In the final format, the team was again given 90 seconds and staked with $100 at the start of the bonus round. Each correct answer was again worth $100 and the ninth correct answer increased the contestant's winnings to $10,000.

If at any point a contestant provided an incorrect response, a celebrity gave two words in succession, accidentally gave part of the answer or passed the word, the word was thrown out and gameplay continued on to the next word.

Stewart later developed and expanded the bonus round of Chain Reaction into the game show Go.


The second version of Chain Reaction premiered in 1986, airing on the Global Television Network in Canada and the USA Network in the US. Blake Emmons hosted the show for a few weeks before being replaced by Geoff Edwards (although USA started the season by airing several weeks of Edwards episodes, then showing Emmons' reign). Rod Charlebois served as co-host/announcer, who presented the "home game" for the viewing audience. Charlebois was a local radio and television personality at CFCF radio and CFCF-TV in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where the USA version was taped. Rod was given an on-air role for most of the show's run, due to Cancon laws which required American shows taping in Canada to feature at least one Canadian personality on-air, since Edwards had no ties to the country in any way.

Main game

Each chain comprised seven words. The teams were reduced to two civilian players each and each was given one responsibility. One teammate was the letter giver and decided whether to give a letter to his or her partner or to other team's word guesser. As before, a correct response was worth points and control of the board. In Round One, each word guessed was worth 10 points, but the final word guessed in that chain was worth 20 (changed to 15 in season two). In Round Two, these values escalated to 20 points each and 40 points for the final word. In the event that a fourth chain was needed to decide the game, the point values were 40 points per word and 80 for the final word. The first team to score 200 points won the game. That team played the bonus game and returned on the next show.

During the run, two methods of earning bonus money were used. In the first season, the middle word of the second chain was also a bonus word (designated by a dollar sign) worth $250 for the team that guessed it. For seasons two to four, the players played a Missing Link. The team in the lead would be shown the first and last words of a three-word chain. If they could guess the word in between with no letters revealed, the team received $500. Every wrong guess added a letter while taking away $100 from the potential payoff.

For seasons three and four, only solo players participated and a score of 300 won the game.

Champions remained on the show until they were defeated or held their title for five consecutive days. During the first season, any team that retired undefeated received a $5,000 bonus[citation needed].

Bonus chain

The winning team/player could collect a cash jackpot by completing one last word chain. The team/player was shown the first word in a chain and the initial letter of the other words. One at a time, the player(s) would guess at the next word in the chain. For each wrong guess, the next letter would be filled in and a letter deducted from their account. If the team could finish the chain before running out of letters the team won the cash jackpot. If not, they (or he/she) won $100 per word, including the one at the top. The jackpot began at $3,000 ($2,000 with the solo players) and $1,000 was added each day it was not claimed. The highest pot was $16,000. While Emmons was host the account was nine letters. When Geoff Edwards took over it was lowered to seven.

The bonus chain was removed in season five, because the end of season four had an elimination tournament of champions, where the sixteen top winners of seasons three and four returned in a tournament format (sixteen players reduced to eight, then down to four and then down to two). The final winner of the final game won $20,000. Games were all played to 500 points.

The $40,000 Chain Reaction

On New Year's Eve 1990, the show was revamped with a tournament format featuring 128 players competing for $40,000. The game was played as before, but there was no bonus chain and two new players competed each show. The values for each chain remained the same, but if a fifth chain was needed the point values were 50 points per word and 100 for the final word.

Eight players competed on the first four shows. After four days, those four winners played two each for the next two days. Those two winners played on the seventh day and the winner of that game won $7,500.

The player who led after the second chain got to play a Missing Link for $300. The Missing Link changed its format as well. After the change, the first letter of the middle word was given, the first letter was worth $300 and subsequent letters reduced the value by $100.

After sixteen $7,500 tournaments were played, those 16 players played in a single-elimination tournament. The semi-finals was double-elimination and the two players remaining played one game for $40,000.

Home game

Each day, before closing the show, Rod would present the answer to yesterday's home game and the current game. The home game consisted of a Missing Link (see above) and was actually referred to as such during the first season, but later renamed simply "the home game" when this format was adapted as the new round two mini-bonus in the second season.

All cash values for the USA Network version were in Canadian dollars.[citation needed]


A new version of the show debuted on August 1, 2006 on GSN. This version was hosted by Dylan Lane and produced by Michael Davies' production company Embassy Row. Seasons one and two were taped at the Sony Music Studios in New York City. GSN began airing the second season on March 13, 2007 and ended it on June 9, 2007.

Each team consisted of three people of the same gender.

Main game

There were four chains in the main game of seven words. Gameplay was similar to the NBC version, except that the words in the chain were now always two-word phrases or compound words. In the first season, the final letter of a word would be revealed (though the fact that it was the final letter was not announced and sometimes wasn't evident). At that point, if the team did not guess the word correctly, the word was revealed and neither team received money. During the second season, the last letter was not revealed, although a shuffling placeholder was shown in place of the last letter. If the word was not correctly guessed, the other team had a chance to guess that word, but did not receive another letter.

In round one, each correct word wa worth $100, round two words were worth $200 and words in round three were worth $300. Whichever team was behind going into a round started the next round (in the event of a tie, the team who did not start the last chain started the next chain). In the fourth round (known as the "Betting Round"), teams could wager between $100 and $500 of their bank before being given their letter. If correct, they won their bet and kept control, if not, they lost the money and control. A team automatically lost if they went broke, and the game ended immediately.

Speed chain

After each of the first three rounds, whichever team correctly identified the final word to complete the chain was given the opportunity complete a four word chain with the first letter of the middle two words given. An example could be:

B_______ (BAKED)
A_______ (ALASKA)

The team had seven seconds to conference and come up with the two words. If correct, they won the same value as a single correct word in the previous round ($100–$300). If neither team completed the chain, neither team got to play the speed chain.


After four rounds, the team with most money won the game and moved onto the bonus round. However, if the fourth round ended in a tie, the teams were given alternating Speed Chains in a "sudden death" format. If one team did not solve their Speed Chain, the other team need only solve their next Speed Chain to win the game. This occurred once on this version. Both teams kept their money, and the losing team received unacknowledged parting gifts as well.

Instant Reaction

The team with the most money after the fourth round played the bonus round. Just like in the original version, the first two members gave clues by building questions, alternating one word at a time. If either clue giver gave more than one word in a row, builds a clue that is not loosely in the form of a question, or said part of the answer, the clue givers must move on to the next word. The third player cannot see the answers, but must ring in to guess the answer to the question his/her partners are constructing. Once the guesser rang in, no more clues may be given on that word. Any team member could also pass as often as possible to throw out the current word.

Season One

In the first season, the team was given 90 seconds to go through as many as 20 words. The three players all had their hands over a small bell with the answer guesser blindfolded and standing between the clue-giving players.

In the first 30 episodes, if a team got seven correct answers they would double their money from the main game; if they got ten correct, the main-game winnings were tripled. For the following 35 episodes, the requirements were reduced to only five and seven correct answers, respectively.

Season Two

A new format was introduced for season two. The guesser sat in a chair with their back to the clue-givers and held a signaling button to ring in. When the guesser rang in, the clock stopped for up to 3 seconds while the guesser gave their answer. If the team guessed five correct answers in 60 seconds, they earned an additional $5,000. If not, they were given $100 for each correct answer.

Foreign versions

Canada (Quebec)


An Italian version of the show entitled Reazione a catena premiered on July 2, 2007. The show, hosted by Pupo, airs on Rai Uno. It aired at 18:50 Monday through Saturday, with the first season aired through September 2007. The graphics are almost identical to the ones used on the current US version. The game is played with two teams of three players, though the players may be of any gender. This show is longer in duration than the US show because it includes extra rounds and challenges not present on the US show, some of which are adapted from the game show pilot Combination Lock.

On the Italian show, the third round of the game is the chain completion game that comprises the main game of the US show. The fourth round is similar to the bonus game on the US show, although the Italian version has its own bonus game played afterward.

United Kingdom

External links

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