"Let’s Make a Deal" was, on the surface, a fairly simple game show in which the object was to successfully trade with the host for various cash or merchandise prizes. Most of the time, it was a straight trade with only one contestant interacting with the host ("Would you like to keep the contents of that box or trade it for what’s behind the curtain?"), but occasionally, two contestants would compete to price small grocery items, with the winner having the opportunity to make the deal.
An unsuccessful trade would result in the contestant winning a "zonk," a supposedly worthless item such as a mule or a giant rocking chair. (Although contestants legally had to be given their zonk if they wanted it, in practice, most eagerly traded it for a nicer consolation prize after the show.)
At the end of the show, two contestants were given the opportunity to trade their prizes for a choice between one of three doors. Various prizes were hiding behind each one, but only one was the "Big Deal," a prize package that was often worth over $10,000.
The dealing wasn’t over yet, though. While the closing credits rolled, the host walked through the audience giving small cash awards for items people might have brought to the studio, or even might not have brought to the studio. ("I’ll give you $50 for an eggbeater, $100 if you’ve got a hard-boiled egg.")
Two things made "Let’s Make a Deal" one of the most popular game shows of the 1960s and 1970s, though: charismatic fast-talking host Monty Hall, and the costumes worn by the contestants. The costumes originated because Monty was picking the contestants himself from the audience, so people started wearing funny hats and holding up signs to attract attention, and things snowballed from there to the point that costumes became mandatory, in effect. The other two cast members of the original version were model Carol Merrill and announcer Jay Stewart, who was frequently seen on camera bringing items out for Monty to trade or in costume sitting atop zonks.
"Let’s Make a Deal" premiered on NBC on December 30, 1963, at 2:00 P.M. Eastern time, but it soon moved to 1:30 to counter "As the World Turns" on CBS. NBC also briefly ran it in prime time on Sunday nights in the summer of 1967.
A contract dispute led to Monty Hall taking the show to ABC, where it ran in the same time slot beginning December 30, 1968. ABC also ran the show in prime time from February 1969 to August 1971; the weekly prime time version was then syndicated until 1977, while the daytime show ended July 9, 1976. In its last season, the syndicated version was taped at the Las Vegas Hilton.
The show was revived in daily syndication in the 1980-81 season (taped in Vancouver), and then again from 1984 to 1986 under the title "The All-New Let’s Make a Deal" (having returned to southern California).
Yet another revival returned "Let’s Make a Deal" to the NBC daytime lineup, this time at 10:00 A.M., beginning July 9, 1990. This time, it was taped at Disney-MGM Studios near Orlando, and there was a new host, Bob Hilton. Ratings were low, though, and even the return of Monty Hall as host in the fall didn’t help; this version ended January 11, 1991.
Five years later, a semi-revival showed up on the Fox prime time schedule for a few weeks beginning on September 1, 1996. This was an hour-long show with the title "Big Deal" and host Mark DeCarlo. On this version, contestants had to perform humiliating stunts or guessing games to win prizes before trading began.
Because you can't keep a good game show down, "Let's Make a Deal" returned to NBC on Tuesday, March 4, 2003 for a limited run as an hour-long prime-time show. It was back in essentially its original format, goofy costumes, zonks, and all, although this time the prizes were bigger. Once again, there was a new host, Billy Bush, more willing to make deals than his cousin. Monty Hall, now serving as executive producer, appeared on the first episode to symbolically pass on his microphone to Bush (the mike used in the segment wasn't the same model that Hall had used on the original show, but only obsessive game show fans would have noticed).