Bowling For Dollars

Jim Craig with two contestants

When Bert Claster Productions in Baltimore, Maryland began syndicating a show that involved your average bowler, little did they realize that they were dealing with what arguably could be described as television’s first reality show. The program was titled “Bowling For Dollars” and it hit the airways in the late 1960’s.

In 1971, program manager Bruce Lawson bought the Canadian rights and inserted it into a slot following the 6.30 Scan News. It became an instant ratings success. Episodes of Bowling for Dollars were taped at Victoria Bowl on Victoria Street in Kitchener and then later at the Twin City Bowl located downstairs at the Waterloo Town Square in Waterloo.

The first host of CKCO-TV’s Bowling For Dollars was Jim Craig, followed by Bill Inkol (longest serving host), Jeff Hutcheson and Tom Knowlton.

The largest jackpot ever won was $2,950.00 which was gradually built up over a period close to two years. On the very next show it was won again, only this time the windfall was much smaller – $150.00.

From year to year “Bowling For Dollars” audience numbers remained consistently high thanks to the popularity of 5 pin bowling good core audience and a chance to be on live television. 

Bowling for Dollars was a television game show on which people could play the sport of bowling to win cash and sometimes prizes based on how well they bowled. 

Bill Inkol

Youtube video courtesy of Danny Bailey

Bill Inkol also had a funny antidote to tell. This is from Dan Fisher’s wonderful KW Radio History site.

Bill tells the story of being on loan to the national network CTV for the 1976 Montreal Olympics.   In the course of events, Bill happened to strike up a conversation with actor Paul Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward, in town to enjoy the Games.   After a moment or two Bill noticed a young couple glancing their way. After a minute of obvious deliberation the couple stood up and began, hesitantly, to move toward them.   Bill then says to Mr. Newman and his wife that they’ve likely been recognized by some fans, and that they’re on the way over. But when the couple got close they walked right past the Newmans and said to Bill, “Excuse us, but aren’t you the host of ‘Bowling for Dollars’?”

Jeff Hutcheson followed Bill as the Bowling For Dollars host and recently contacted us providing the following information…..

Hi Paul.

I discovered this wonderful “trip down memory lane” website while perusing Dan’s Fisher’s website.

I can update you on the Bowling for Dollars info.  I took over the show in 1985, and continued to do it until 1992. At that time Tom Knowlton took over and I believe it lasted another two or three years and then went off the air. In the end, they had changed the format to 10 pin.

When I took over the show in 1985, we actually increased the jackpot from $1bowling_dollars_jeff5 per miss to $25 per miss. At one point during my tenure, the jackpot climbed to over $9,000, meaning we didn’t have a winner for almost a year. There would be 7 bowlers on each show, and, by the end of my run, we would tape 9 shows on a weekend and did this 5 times per year. We would tape 3 on Friday night, 3 Saturday morning and another 3 Saturday afternoon. We would start tape, and NEVER stop, no matter what happened, and that includes a bat flying thru the bowling alley. Sometimes we were the only lanes going when we taped, and we would actually get some crew, or people waiting to be on the show, to throw balls down other lanes to make it sound busy!

I only ever lost it once on the show (but tape kept rolling), and that was in my last season as host. The contestant pulled his ‘pinpal’ card from our bin, and I read the name cold, and I’ve never forgotten it to this day. Donald Twococks, from St. Catharines. Spelled as you see it.

I still get recognized for doing bowling, as I’m sure Bill and Tom do.


The last host of CKCO-TV’s Bowling For Dollars was Tom Knowlton and this is what he’s written about the show…

Bowling For Dollars was a straight-forward game show concept that seemed to work very well, and it had a lot of hugely devoted fans for many years. It was a real honour to follow Jim, Bill and Jeff to become the host of Bowling For Dollars in 1992.

At that time, the decision was made to switch from five pin to ten pin for the show. And, we bumped up the jackpot $50 for each contestant that did not come up with three strikes in a row. I’m pretty sure that while lots of small pinfall payouts were made over the course of my time hosting, there was only one jackpot won toward the very end of the show’s run, and it was for well over $13,000 dollars.

On great thing about the show is that almost anyone could give it a go, but we often had highly skilled league bowlers as contestants. During the show set-up, contestants would warm up with a few practice throws and seemed to get a lot of strikes! Which made me think that the jackpot was surely going to be won that night. But, of course, once we were taping the show and it was all “lights, camera and action,” nerves set in and the task of bowling 3 strikes in a row became a little more complicated.

Jeff is completely right about not stopping the recording once we got started! And the Pinpal draw was always dicey, because you just never knew what message might be on a card . I do remember one time I started reading a Pinpal card and realized (too late) that it was getting into some off-colour material! Finally, producer Peter Kent called cut and we stopped rolling tape. Thank goodness!

Tom Knowlton