Bowling for Dollars is a long-running local bowling show that was produced by local TV stations in cities all across the country, where contestants win money based on how good bowlers they are. And if the contestants bowl very well, they could even win a jackpot cash prize.
The show's main set consisted of a sliding door from which the host emerged, as did the contestants, one-by-one. There was also a Jackpot light with a numeric display of its value, and a Pin Pal hopper (see below). There were also stands set up for an audience.
Local editions may have varied, but there were two musical themes used. One was a custom theme for the show's opening and close (with a short phrase to introduce each contestant). The other was played when a contestant hit the jackpot, also used for commercial bumper music in some editions. The latter was an instrumental version of "Keep the Ball Rollin'" by Al Hirt, a song originally done by Jay & the Techniques.
As each contestant appeared, the host would interview him or her for a couple of minutes. Then the audience camera would cue as the contestant pointed out who he brought along ("There's my wife Paula, there's my son Nick..."). The contestant was then instructed to pick a Pin Pal out of a hopper filled with postcards sent in by home viewers, then went off to the lanes where they would bowl at least two balls.
A half-hour show had seven contestants.
Each contestant received one dollar 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 less 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. If the contestant got only one strike, they got to pick a pin from a "pin board" for a prize from a local jeweler; one such prize was a genuine diamond ring. Finally, if a contestant did break the jackpot, he or she got to bowl one more time, and if that was a strike (a "turkey") they would receive yet another prize, such as a recliner chair or bicycle. The Los Angeles version awarded a portable television set for three consecutive strikes, and a car for four.
Each contestant, just before approaching the bowling lane, was instructed to randomly pick a postcard out of a large, horizontally mounted hopper. The name on the card was then read aloud by the host. These were Pin Pal cards, allowing a viewer at home to participate in the game on TV. Whatever the contestant won the Pin Pal won also, although the jackpot may actually have been split between the two of them. Many people wrote clever messages on their Pin Pal cards, like "Strike it rich!" A Pin Pal was only eligible once per show, in case folks tried to send an overwhelming amount of postcards.
To see what cities had their own local versions, click here.