Cartoons, ugly set & Alex Trebek? Must be another Merrill Heatter masterpiece
Unsold Pilot for NBC: (1983)
The world of unsold pilots range the proverbial gamut. Some unsold pilots would have made fantastic shows on daytime or syndication such as the Twisters pilot from Bob Stewart for NBC or Top Secret from Wink Martindale for CBS. There are others that were ok, but needed some work to be great, like The Buck Stops Here pilot or Jack Barry's We've Got Your Number pilot. But then you have pilots, namely from Chuck Barris that were utter crap like Cop-Out or the Bob Eubanks hosted Dollar a Second. Then you get pilots that just make you wonder, "What the hell is this and how did this come up?" Ladies and Gentlemen. I present to you, Malcolm.
The opening to this pilot has Malcolm, the star of the show, and the host, Alex Trebek looking at each other like they're in a 80s buddy sitcom, sharing an apartment and every week they'd be funny misadventures over a big meal that Alex was preparing to impress Merv Griffin to give him the Jeopardy! gig but Malcolm was hilariously failing in helping Alex making the roast or setting the table or accidentally calling Merv Griffin Bob Stewart or something. It's cheesy to say the least and at the most, it's depressing really. I mean, you never saw Bob Barker & Johnny Olson or Dick Clark and Johnny Gilbert doing something like that on their shows.
The "Star" of the show is Malcolm himself, a weird squigglevision-esque cartoon that was to be the main focus of the show. Malcolm, voiced by Bob Stone, was not only the announcer but himself played a vital role in the show, but I'll get to that when I talk about the gameplay. While Malcolm seems inventive, he comes off as an annoying tool more than anything else. I'll explain more later on.
Alex Trebek hosted this pilot. He does his usual good job here, helping try to really sell the important aspect of Malcolm and the fact that the top prize for this show is $25,000 in cash and prizes. But sadly he's degenerated here to being the monkey for Malcolm, especially during the opening exchange between him and Alex, saying that "First of all, the show is called Malcolm because my uncle created the set and second of all, who ever heard of a game show called Alex?" Firstly, that's a terrible joke in the first place, even though the canned audience thought otherwise, and second of all, Malcolm only continues to degenerate from here.
But since Malcolm brought up the set. Let's do bring up this set. Aside from the big bright Malcolm Sign that makes for half of the set, the rest of the set i.e. the contestant podii and Alex's podium looks like it was stolen from a cheap 70s kids show, probably from Witchiepoo or some other crappy Sid & Marty Krofft show. It's bright, putrid and has absolutely nothing going for it at all.
But back to Malcolm. He starts to wear on you fast when he starts to interview the contestants. He loves to ham it up a bit, especially when talking to this English Teacher up here that he'll be in trouble when his participles are dangling. He was referencing to dangling participles...yeah, the joke was horrible as well. Not only that, Malcolm sounds like that guy from Middle Management that you just wanted to knock the crap out of when he told you that you had to work on Saturday after you had already put in for that time off to visit your sick mother.
Anyways, time to talk about the gameplay. It's interesting to say the least. Alex would ask a question that would always have two words in the answer. The first two contestants to buzz in would be moved into the playing position. The first person would get to answer the first part or the second part and then the second person to buzz in would answer the other part of the question. If both of them are right, then each of them gets 10 points.
If either one of the parts were wrong, both of them get put back to the playing position and Malcolm and the third contestants will be Malcolm's partner. They will be given a new question and usually when Alex asks it, Malcolm would pretend that this was Battlestars and give Alex a zinger of sorts. Sometimes they were good, but most of the time it would just make the show drag. Malcolm would always be first and would always have the right answer. If the contestant guesses right, they get 10 points. The first person to 50 points wins. While that might seem good, what could be considered a game breaker is that in play is Malcolm's Rule where if someone gets 50 points, their partner gets to stick around and play in the next game, which reminds me of Make The Grade's fire drill when you would see a contestant blitz the board and hit a fire drill and the dumbass still wearing Velcro shoes would win the game when they complete the fire drill out of luck and then the next choice is either a stupidly easy question or a "Free" space. I'd rather they'd just give it to the person in second place and in case of a tie, have a tiebreaker question where Malcolm gets put into the first space and in the second space is the person to buzz in first with the right answer. So the game isn't that bad, it just needs some work.
The Bonus Game had the winner play with Malcolm for all the Cash and Prizes on Malcolm's board, which had 8 monitors with subjects on them and behind each subject held either Cash or a Prize. The first correct answer revealed the prize and the second correct answer won it.
Alex would read a question after a subject or prize was selected. Malcolm would give his part first and then the contestant would guess the second part. For the first right answer in the subject the prize was revealed, second right answer and the prize was won. If wrong, Alex goes onto the next question before they could move on. The endgame lasted for either 90 seconds or if the top prize on the board was won, which was $10,000. While ok, the average time it took Alex to ask the question and Malcolm and the contestant to answer it would average around 10-15 seconds. Personally, that's too long. I'd rather have them try to fill up the M or light up Malcolm in 75 seconds and that would make for a more exciting bonus game instead of just one that just has the potential to drag on and on and on.
The show would then end with Malcolm riffing on the end credits, like the end of Whose Line is it Anyway? Sadly, it didn't work like that because Malcolm would make various in-jokes like the staff not being the staff and instead being from the NBC Studio Tour or Merrill Heatter not being there at all while the pilot was being filmed before begin given the hook and never seen again.
After watching this pilot, I felt a little confused and bewildered. The game itself wasn't that bad, but since the show was all about Malcolm, it's conceivable that you could have a round where Malcolm wouldn't even be used at all. Not only that, Malcolm would have worn out his welcome quick to the audience because the gimmick doesn't have that long of a shelf life at all and I'm certain NBC knew it since the pilot didn't get picked up and instead during this time, better shows such as Scrabble, Super Password, Hot Potato, GO! among others were picked up either in 1983 or shortly after in 1984.
Now while the show itself wasn't that interesting, the story behind how the pilot made its way onto the trading circuit is. Former webmaster of classicgameshows.com Mike Klauss was on eBay one day looking for game show memorabilia and found an auction for a tape called "Unsold Alex Trebek Pilot". The total cost for this show was $10 after the auction ended and when Mike got the tape and played it, it was Malcolm and he immediately put it up on his website and since his shut down his site due to him not having the time to run it anymore among other things, he put up the full pilot on his YouTube Channel.
You can check it out there just by searching "Malcolm Game Show" on YouTube.
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