Sale of the Century: Going Shopping

Sale of the Century: Going Shopping
Nine Network
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The final segment of Sale of the Century always involved a walk through of the prize packages on offer.

In this very first episode of the show, host Tony Barber announces that he and the winner Grant are going shopping, and the doors open to reveal a studio set full of prizes.

As new champion, Grant could only afford the first prize, a ’zippy little economical’ motor scooter. Barber and co-host Victoria Nicolls tell Grant about the prizes he could win if he returns, including furs and household appliances. 

Professor Sam Bull, whom Tony introduces to Grant as the man who sets the questions and adjudicates, models another prize – a dining setting.

Sponsorship and prizes play a big role in Sale of the Century and the end of every episode is devoted to showing off the merchandise. This is true even of this first episode, when new champion Grant has only earned enough to buy the motor scooter. The potential goods on offer are designed to tempt him to return the next night to keep playing. They’re also an effective form of advertising for viewers at home.

Note that brand names get a prominent mention; in the case of the domestic appliances we see a product shot of the Leonard company logo. The prizes do not just sit by themselves on a podium but are accompanied by models to bring them to life while a detailed voice-over extols their features.

The embedded sexism of the time is also demonstrated here with the images of sexy fur-clad models. Grant is told by Tony 'you may touch the merchandise’ and he strokes the fur coat as he answers questions about his love life. A selection of domestic appliances (fridge, dryer and washing machine) are advertised in the voice-over as being ’the answer to every woman’s dream’.

Sale of the Century – Series 1 Episode 1 Synopsis

Host Tony Barber and co-host Victoria Nicolls introduce the quiz contestants on the first episode of Sale of the Century. Each player starts with $20 in the bank and competes to press the buzzer first for an opportunity to answer general knowledge questions. Each correct answer is worth $5; a wrong answer loses the player $5. The contestant with the most money at the end of three rounds wins a chance to shop for major prizes at marked-down prices.

Along the way there are various temptations to spend money and win extra prizes. ‘Famous Faces’ is an opportunity to win prizes or score a $25 dollar bonus by answering a ’Who Am I?’ question. Grant, a student teacher, bests fellow contestants Rosemary and Bob to become the first Sale of the Century champion.

Sale of the Century – Series 1 Episode 1 Curator's Notes

Although Sale Of The Century premiered on the Nine Network in 1980, its origins date back to 1970 with the rival Seven Network’s Temptation. As with the majority of successful game show formats on Australian television, Sale of the Century originated in the US.

Reg Grundy writes in his self-titled autobiography (2010) that the US Sale of the Century (1969–1974 and 1983–1986) inspired his daytime quiz Temptation (1970) and its prime-time successor, Great Temptation (1971–74). When the Nine Network decided they wanted to revise the show in 1980 with its original title, Grundy went to the US and formally negotiated Sale of the Century format rights for Australia.

Long-time host Tony Barber put the format’s appeal down to the mix of quiz and game show elements, meaning winning required a combination of skill and luck. He wrote in his autobiography, Who am I? (2001, Random House): 'You finish up with a showcase for bright people with lots of ways for the underdog to still triumph’. Barber had even attempted to buy the Australian rights to the format himself and fought for the opportunity to host by hiring a studio and making his own audition tape when not initially considered for the job. Tony Barber hosted from 1980 until 1991 with Glenn Ridge taking over until the show’s demise in 2001. Best known for Sale, Barber also hosted Family Feud (1977–79), Jeopardy (1993) and Wheel of Fortune (1996).

Delvene Delaney took part in a test episode for the series, but the series’ first female co-host was Victoria Nicolls, already known for playing Raelene in The Restless Years (1977). Barber credits her with contributing to the success of the show before she left in 1982 to pursue her acting career. Nicolls was succeeded by Delvene Delaney, Alyce Platt, Jo Bailey, Nicky Buckley and finally Karina Brown. The announcer in this episode was Ron Neate. Pete Smith took over after 10 episodes.

A week’s worth of 5 episodes were pre-recorded in one day. Various format changes were made over time such as the introduction of ‘Fast Money’ and ‘Mad Minute’ question rounds, the inclusion of a home viewer on the Fame Game board, increased prize money and the introduction of a Winner’s Board. However the basic format from the earliest days remained unchanged.

This first episode of Sale of the Century aired on 14 July 1980 on the Nine Network. It was an immediate success, achieving record ratings for a number of years. In 2000 in a bid to combat declining ratings, Nine renamed the show Sale of the New Century, reverting back to the shorter title in 2001. In May 2005, Nine re-launched the program yet again with original title Temptation, lasting on air until 2009. Sale of the Century gave away in excess of $65 million in prizes over two decades.

Notes by Tammy Burnstock

Production Company:
Grundy Television Pty Ltd