10 vintage pinball machines that were inspired by classic TV shows

Try not to tilt!

Hollywood may be the center of the television universe, but Chicago is the global hub of pinball. Coin-op arcade machine manufacturers such as Gottlieb, Bally and the aptly named Chicago Coin were all based in the Midwestern metropolis. 

Between 1960 and 1980, the peak pinball era and the golden age of color television, those two worlds would often unite. There were many pinball machines made that tied into popular TV series. Some were admittedly rather loose adaptations.

Let's take a look at some of our favorite pinball cabinets inspired by classic TV. No quarters required.

1. Wagon Train


1960, D. Gottlieb & Company

The hit Western gave its name to this early machine, which came decorated in a cowboys-and-Indians theme typical of toys from that era. A small figure driving the wagon backglass appeared to be Charlie (Frank McGrath) while a mustachioed man on the playfield resembled Ward Bond. Bond would pass away months after this was released.

Image: Gottlieb / Internet Pinball Database

2. Bonanza


1964, D. Gottlieb & Company

The Bonanza game seemingly had little to do with the Ponderosa beyond name. A quintet of cowgirls was prominently featured on the backglass — although if you look closely, the Cartwrights can be seen in the lower right, excitedly hopping a fence.

Image: Gottlieb / Internet Pinball Database

3. Star Trek


1971, D. Gottlieb & Company
1979, Bally

The Original Series inspired two "official" pinball machines. The first, released in 1971, had nothing to do with Kirk and Spock beyond the title. A more retro 1950s sci-fi design appeared on the backglass, featuring a woman in a space helmet and a rather Robby-esque robot. There was at least a green-skinned female alien? Bally's 1979 machine at least showcased the beloved Enterprise crew, albeit in baby-blue uniforms clearly promoting Star Trek: The Motion Picture, released that same year. Oddly, the machine that best captured the classic Star Trek look was the off-brand Star Ship machine from 1976. A spacecraft that was clearly the Enterprise flew across the backglass.

Images: Bally / BallyGottlieb / Internet Pinball Database

4. Time Tunnel


1971, Bally

The Irwin Allen time travel adventure inspired this groovy machine. Mod women swirled around a hypnotic portal on the backglass. It may have hit arcades in 1971, but the look was pure Sixties.

Image: Bally / Internet Pinball Database / Brian Saunders

5. Hee Haw


1973, Chicago Coin Machine Manufacturing Company

What "Rural Purge"? Networks famously shifted away from television shows set in the countryside at the start of the 1970s, but not all folksy TV disappeared. The cornpone humor of Hee Haw made it one of the most popular variety shows at all time. It was peaking in popularity when this machine two-stepped into arcades with its hoedown motif.

Image: Chicago Coin / Internet Pinball Database

6. The Fonz Pinball


1977, Coleco

Fonzie had a magic touch with the pinball machines in Arnold's. At last, here was a sitcom that prominently featured a pinball machine in its episodes. Naturally, there must have been an arcade game based on the show? Well, not really. The Fonz Pinball was a lightweight, smaller game made for homes by Coleco, the video game company.

Image: Coleco / Museum of Classic Chicago Television

7. Rawhide


1977, Stern Electronics

Movin', movin', movin', keep those pinballs movin'… Rawhide! The Western series had been off the air for a dozen years when this machine was released, but erstwhile star Clint Eastwood was a major movie star, so why not get nostalgic?

Image: Stern / Internet Pinball Database

8. Charlie's Angels


1978, D. Gottlieb & Company

Sorry, Farrah. You leave the show, you miss out on being a pinball illustration. Cheryl Ladd is represented on this Angels game, which might have the most realistic representation of a show's characters.

Image: Gottlieb / Internet Pinball Database

9. The Six Million Dollar Man


1978, Bally

Okay, so what we just said about that Charlie's Angels artwork looking like the actors? Case in point here. The Steve Austin on this backglass more closely resembled Evel Knievel than Lee Majors.

Image: Bally / Internet Pinball Database

10. Buck Rogers


1980, D. Gottlieb & Company

The Buck Rogers character dated back decades, but this game was emulating the hit television series, right down to its logo. Sadly, the woman on the backglass did not look anything like Erin Gray, and was more of a stock bikini model. Come to think of it, did that outfit inspire the infamous Princess Leia getup in Return of the Jedi?

Image: Gottlieb / Internet Pinball Database

SEE MORE: 11 weird vintage video games that were based on classic TV shows


M*A*S*H and Gilligan's Island are classic shows, but not-so-hot game cartridges. READ MORE

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PaulFoor 39 months ago
Anyone remember "The Twilight Zone" pinball machine? I remember playing that pinball machine in the mid 1990's to early 2000's.
Runeshaper 53 months ago
These are some cool pinball machines! Looks like a lot of fun :)
bnichols23 Runeshaper 25 months ago
Electro-mechanicals are the Real Deal, but they're hell to maintain. I really loved the old 3-digit machines that would sound like a machine gun if you "star-matched" on both (or all four) players!
Runeshaper bnichols23 25 months ago
Sounds pretty AWESOME!
bnichols23 Runeshaper 25 months ago
On the Super Jumbo ('54) there was a total max # of 26 replays, HOWEVER....

If a player matched on the final digit, of course, they won *a* game. (From here I'm going from memory on the numbers, so apologies if it's incorrect) if they matched & a star lit up over the number, they got another 6. And if the "JUMBO" above *that* lit up, they got another *12*, for of course 19. AND...

although 26 was the maximum number of replays it would actually give, IF by chance (& I saw it several times in my years playing it) all *4* players "Jumbo star-matched," the bells & knocker went off for 4 x 19, & it took a while for all 76 of the clacks to stop!

There was a complicated (& inviolable) set of "Jumbo rules" (Worry not, I won't go into them!) in the tavern. There had only been 500 of the game made, & the tavern owner owned 3 of them, plus two more for parts. If you & the people you were playing with were good, you could play & drink for very literally hours, & at closing still leave the max of 26 free gamnes on the machine. Drop a dime, buy one beer, & walk out without another penny spent 4 hours later. That was one sweeeet machine. :)

Runeshaper bnichols23 25 months ago
That is AMAZING! Sounds FANTASTIC! (-:
bnichols23 Runeshaper 25 months ago
OH, yeah. Serious fun, for $.10 a play. And that was still the same back in the mid-'70s when I was in grad school as it was when the machine came out in '54.

Part of the rules was that the low person at the end had to drop out & the next person in line got to play. UnLESS all players won a game (@ 600 points; you also got one at 800 & 900), then nobody dropped out. To show your place in line you put a dime on the left edge of the glass. There was a foot or more of dimes in a row many times, & that was just on the first of the three machines. Even with RoHo, Captain Fantastic, Fireball, & 7 or so other machines (*&* the pool tables), the Jumbos were the most popu;lar games in the tavern.
Runeshaper bnichols23 25 months ago
Sounds EPIC! Thanks for sharing!
dmarkwind 53 months ago
On the commentary on #10 - the Buck Rogers pinball art, you're way off base! The woman in the bikini isn't supposed to be Erin Grey's Wilma Deering (or Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia from Star Wars), it's Pamela Hensley's recurring Buck Rogers villain Princess Ardala and the art looks spot-on! Seems like this was written by someone who really wasn't very familiar with the show!
Lacey dmarkwind 53 months ago
They REALLY need to hire writers who are somewhat familiar with the subject. PARTICULARLY as Buck ROgers in on their network right now. It would be like the commentary on #7 pointing out that the cowboy on the backboard looks nothing like Ben Cartwright.
dth1971 53 months ago
In the 1990's I remember seeing a Rocky and Bullwinkle pinball machine - it was made in the 1990's, of course.
MrsPhilHarris 53 months ago
I like the looks of the Wagon Train pinball machine.
RobCertSDSCascap 53 months ago
#6. The former COnnecticut LEather COmpany were huge makers of electronic
games and video games in the 1980s.
RobCertSDSCascap 53 months ago
Anyone else see a pinball machine in an animated show and wonder if it
was based on a real one?
Eight Is Enough, Foul Play, etc.
Or see a pinball machine in a movie and try to figure out which one it is?
Load previous comments
Oops! American Dad!
Homer surprised the family by turning the basement into a game room!
The Warriors was a great film & the game on PS2 was AWESOME! Used to play that with my dad.
I played it with friends many times. Loved it!
RobCertSDSCascap 53 months ago
Where would pinball junkies like me be without the Internet Pinball Data Base?
Here is my first contribution to the amazing site.
MikeBat 53 months ago
Regarding the Buck Rogers pinball machine, that's not supposed to be Erin Gray on the backglass. It's Princess Ardala, who wore that costume in the first episode.
Utzaake MikeBat 53 months ago
Pamela Hensley as Princess Ardala.
This article's subject reminds me of a very obscure ad in either the Chicago Reader or Illinois Entertainer about forty years ago which featured a caricature of an angry pinball player screaming at the machine. Dude had a scrawny physique and terrible posture but a derrière with savoir faire.
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