My kids and I were playing ye olde Wii bowling the other night and I made the ultimate Dad Move™ by referring to “Bowling for Dollars.”
No one knew what I was talking about so I tried to explain the TV show that was a fixture on Channel 4 in Detroit when I was growing up.
Come to find out, the show was on in several markets in the U.S. then, from Baltimore to L.A., and it had some notable hosts along the way — Chick Hearn! Verne Lundquist!
The show was actually a franchise, created by Bert Claster of Claster Television, also the creator of Romper Room. Episodes of Bowling for Dollars were taped either in a local bowling alley, or on a pair of bowling lanes constructed right inside the TV studio.
In Detroit, the only host was Bob Allison, a fixture on the local airwaves.
As I tried to explain the show’s premise, I soon realized I had no memory of the scoring or prizes. Wikipedia to the rescue again:
Each contestant received $1 for each pin knocked down (e.g., a contestant who knocked down a total of eight pins won $8, though some versions may have had a $5 minimum for fewer than five pins). A strike or spare awarded $20. The real allure of the show was the Jackpot, which was awarded to any bowler who got two consecutive Strikes. The jackpot started at $200, $300, or $500 (depending on the version) and was increased by $20 each time it was not hit.
Some versions of Bowling for Dollars awarded prizes in addition to the money. In the Detroit edition of the show, a contestant who got a spare won a dinner for two at a local restaurant. If that spare was a split, they would also get two large pies from Buddy’s Pizza.
(The local restaurant was always The Roostertail, a mythical place on the Detroit River.)
One thing I’m still not sure of is how people were selected to be on the show.
I can’t find any Detroit episodes of the show on YouTube, but there are plenty of videos from other cities, like Baltimore and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
My next quest is to find the story behind “Beat the Champ.”