First episode: January 14, 1980
Last episode: June 20, 1980
Seen weekday mornings 12:00-12:30 on NBC  
 
Two teams of three players (two celebrities and a contestant) score points by identifying words connected thematically in a chain. In the bonus round, the celebrities construct questions adding a word at a time, and the contestant tries to come up with the answer to the frequently awkward query. The bonus round went through no less than three different scoring variations in the six months the series was seen.
       
Despite cheap production values, this was a fun game with a bonus round so good it was later spun off into its own game (the similarly short-lived GO).  A noon time slot hurt, since a great many local stations in the Eastern Time Zone were airing their own newscasts at that hour.    For the two weeks of shows that aired April 7-18, Geoff Edwards replaced Bill as host.  Bill was filling in for an ailing Allen Ludden on Password Plus.  See our Guest Appearances page for details about Bill's visit to the Password Plus podium.
The NBC publicity machine didn't exactly work overtime in coming up with promotional material for this series.  Here's the best they could do for a press release:   "Bill Cullen has such a love for words, he is frequently a celebrity guest on other word related shows."

The pilot for this series was recorded on October 28, 1979, and it had several minor differences to the show which eventually aired.  In the pilot, teams consisted of a celebrity (Joyce Bulifant and Nipsey Russell) teamed with a husband & wife pair.  Either the husband or the wife played alongside the celebrity partner for each game board, so only four of the six players were active at any one time.  The bonus round scoring was different than ANY of the variations seen on the air.  In the pilot, the winning team started with a penny, and added a zero to their total for each correct answer.  Seven correct answers in sixty seconds would have been worth a then staggering $100,000.  It's not surprising that this bonus version was never used.  As game play improved, the top prize would have been hit far too often.

Here's an odd little news item found in a 3/17/80 issue of People Magazine:
 
LOX STEP
When Barry Manilow closed the set of his upcoming ABC-TV special to anyone not wearing a Bagel button (a security badge he devised, named for his dog, Bagel), the crew members on Bill Cullen's neighboring Chain Reaction game show retaliated. Since they couldn't watch Manilow at work during their breaks, they made up their own security stickers with the words "Cream Cheese" and banned the Bagel brigade from catching THEIR act.

EPISODE GUIDE 

PILOT (Oct 28, 1979)
Joyce Bulifant 
Nipsey Russell
January 14-18
Joyce Bulifant
Nipsey Russell
Patty Duke Astin
Fred Grandy
January 21-25
Joyce Bulifant
Robert Mandan
Didi Conn
Jay Johnson
Jan 28-Feb 1
Elaine Joyce
Nipsey Russell
Vicki Lawrence
Richard Paul
February 4-8
Jo Anne Worley
Michael McKean
Joanna Gleason
Richard Paul
February 11-15
Peggy Cass
Robert Mandan
Shelley Smith
Fred Grandy
February 18-22
Debralee Scott
Soupy Sales
Lois Nettleton
Jay Johnson
February 25-29
Anita Gillette
Soupy Sales
Lois Nettleton
Bart Braverman
March 3-7
Debralee Scott
Robert Mandan
Joanna Gleason
Robert Walden
March 10-14
Anita Gillette
Allen Ludden
Betty White
Brian Patrick Clarke
March 17-21
Anita Gillette
Nipsey Russell
Gina Hecht
Fred Grandy
March 24-28
Patty Duke Astin
Nipsey Russell
Joanna Gleason
Brian Patrick Clarke
Mar 31-Apr 4
Joyce Bulifant
Robert Pine
Judy Norton-Taylor
Jay Johnson
April 7-11*
Vicki Lawrence
Jack Carter
Gina Hecht
Wesley Eure
April 14-18*
Jo Anne Worley
Robert Walden
Constance McCashin
Richard Paul
April 21-25
Elaine Joyce
Robert Mandan
Didi Conn
Ken Kercheval
Apr 28-May 2
Susan Richardson
Daryl Anderson
Betty White
Jay Johnson
May 5-9
Jo Anne Worley
Steve Kanaly
Sharon Spelman
Sal Viscuso
May 12-16
Anita Gillette
Ken Kercheval
Judy Norton-Taylor
Richard Paul
May 19-23
Anita Gillette
Ron Silver
Vicki Lawrence
Wesley Eure
May 26-30
Laurie Walters
Nipsey Russell
Sharon Spelman
Brian Patrick Clarke
June 2-6
Alison Arngrim
Nipsey Russell
Gina Hecht
Daryl Anderson
June 9-13
Vicki Lawrence
Robert Mandan
Judy Norton-Taylor
Richard Paul
June 16-20
Joyce Bulifant
Ron Silver
Betty White
Jay Johnson
*Geoff Edwards hosts
For those of you curious enough to ask but not curious enough to count, Nipsey Russell appeared during six weeks (not including the pilot), more than any other celebrity.  Anita Gillette, Robert Mandan, Richard Paul and Jay Johnson each made five appearances.  Joyce Bulifant and Vicki Lawrence appeared four times each.

Read the original Variety review from January 23, 1980
VIDEO        
All episodes appear to have survived.  Most (but not all) of the episodes have been seen on GSN: The Network for Games.

Watch a typical episode: 

FOR MORE INFORMATION
 
Screen grabs and more specifics at Adam Nedeff's Bill Cullen's World
The Chain Reaction page on Wikipedia