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Dialing For Dollars

KTVU 2, San Francisco / Oakland
late 1960s - 1980s (?)
Weekdays, 1:00 pm
Plus a morning version, late '60s


I've always been under the impression that KTVU 2 originated the name Dialing For Dollars, and that it was also the first movie game in the Bay Area. These impressions could be completely incorrect, however. The show might have been modeled on a Dialing For Dollars in another market, and there might have been other movie games in the Bay Area before KTVU's version.

Whatever the details, Dialing For Dollars made a lasting impression on viewers in the Bay Area. The only other movie show with such a strong identity as a show was KTVU's Creature Features. But where Creature Features ran once a week, and was taped, Dialing For Dollars ran daily, live. And it ran for years, starting in the late 1960s.

Dialing For Dollars had at least two different hosts during its run.

If I'm not mistaken, the afternoon version of Dialing For Dollars premiered first. Mel Ventner was the host, and I wish I could remember him better, but it's all a blur at this point.

The host of the morning Dialing For Dollars was Pat McCormick. I don't recall the morning version lasting that long, but I could be wrong about that. At any rate, McCormick eventually took over the afternoon version, where he stayed for years and years.

McCormick was KTVU's jack-of-all-trades. He had been the personality behind the channel's puppet characters, Charley And Humphrey, and did the weather on The 10 O'Clock News off-and-on for years.

The show's target audience was non-working housewives, retired people, and (in my case at least) students home from school with illnesses real or faked.

McCormick was a skilled professional who knew his audience and seemed fond of them. His hosting was as pleasant and comforting as a bologna sandwich on white bread with a glass of milk. He also seemed to genuinely like movies, particularly Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s, and would often work trivia, biographical material, and Hollywood anecdotes into the host segments.

McCormick's presence was so apt for the midday hours, and the movies generally so watchable, that the show might have been a success even without the game segments. With the game, the show was a huge hit. I'd be surprised if it hadn't been neck-and-neck with the network soaps of the time, just as Creature Features was often #1 in the late-Saturday slot.

The format of the game varied little over the years. Viewer / contestants were called at home and asked if they knew a previously-announced bingo number (the count) and the current jackpot (the amount). "The count and the amount" became a phrase everyone knew, but no one had any use for outside the show. Try saying "the count and the amount" out of the blue to someone who was a Bay Area resident in the '70s, and they will almost always know what it was.

At first, if memory serves, the viewers to be called were drawn from a bin containing cut-up copies of Bay Area phone books. Perhaps that resulted in too few winners, because eventually they switched to drawing postcards sent in by viewers.






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