#156 - Dollar A Second: The 1981 Unsold Pilot
Because Chuck Barris needed to remake a show just as poorly as Michael Bay remakes franchises.

 

Unsold Pilot (1981)
Text by: Robert Seidelman

Chuck Barris is a certifiable madman in the game show world.  While he's had tons of success with his four sanest shows in The Newlywed Game, The Dating Game, Treasure Hunt and The Gong Show, the rest of his pilots or original shows that followed suit can be summed up as being either a rip-off of The Newlywed Game or just painfully bad either format wise or in cringe worthy moments that would make the most sociopathic person change the channel to avoid schadenfreude.  There's also one element to Barris about game shows that he also liked, and that was taking formats from the 50s and early 60s and making them new again.  Barris did this with Camouflage in 1980, which ran for a blisteringly short two months before being axed, namely due to what he did with 3's a Crowd, which was more than likely the worst Game Show to come out of the 70s.  In September of 1981, he got Treasure Hunt back on TV with Geoff Edwards and was more than likely looking for a companion to it so he could tie up an hour instead of a half.  He decided on trying a format from the 50s that had a nice run on both the Dumont network, a forgotten piece of TV Nostalgia which aired live sports and a lot of interesting period pieces which are no longer available, due to the masters being destroyed, and also on NBC and ABC for varying parts of the mid 50s.  The show was Dollar A Second.

Before I get to the pilot, let's talk about the original for a second.  The show, sponsored by Mogen David Wine, was normally hosted by Jan Murray.  Jan was a good host for the time and actually cared about the contestants making a good amount of money for being on stage and playing the game to make every second count.  I guess a good modern comparison would be someone along the lines of Blaine Capatch: someone who was genuinely funny and knew when to make the game matter the most.

 The game was this:  The contestant had to stay on stage for as long as they can before the Outside Event completed.  The Outside Event varied from show to show, the one most known to game show fans is a toy train going around a track x amount of times.  During that time, the contestant was asked a series of questions such as what area does an animal live in.  For example if Jan said goldfish, the contestant would say an aquarium or bowl.  This would continue until the contestant runs the questions out or they make a mistake.

Once they make a mistake, they have to pay the penalty, which involved their spouse being put in a precarious position and the contestant picking one of four levers or ropes to pull.  If nothing happened, the game continued.  If the penalty happened, the audience got a laugh and the game ended, but the contestant was allowed to keep whatever winnings they had accrued.  If the Outside Event completed, they lost all the money earned, but was given $1 for each correct answer.  Since the game usually took up about 10 minutes or so, and the amount of questions being fired off, getting $20 as a consolation isn't that bad.

In short, it was a fun little timewaster.  It was during a time where simple, yet fun shows lasted a good while, such as any of Mark Goodson/Bill Todman's programs, You Bet Your Life and even Jack Barry/Dan Enright (albeit those were rigged) had nice long runs in the fifties.  Sadly, because of it being in the early days of television, most of the show's episodes were destroyed in ABC's purge in the early 70s with only a couple of episodes being either in film archives or in the hands of tape traders.  The original Dollar A Second has two that exist; one hosted by Jan the other hosted by Dagmar while Jan was on vacation. 

So let's see how Chuck managed to screw up this simple show with his brand of silliness and buffoonery.

Well, there's Bob Eubanks as host.  Bob is a great host, and it shows here.  Even though the game itself is taken about as seriously as most sane people treat die-hard fans of Twilight, Bob at least gives it some structure and make it look like an attempt at a show.  My main problem though is that he is best at talking to contestants and getting the best out of them.  For proof, his years on The Newlywed Game and on Card Sharks when he's talking to either the contestants after their explanations are out there and the 10 people in the audience polling group.  Sadly, that is never showcased here.

The core format is left unchanged.  Contestants, now dressed up in various costumes for a reason to be explained later, answer questions posed by Bob until they make a mistake.  However, Chuck decided to complicate matters besides just simply answering the questions verbally.  Instead, the contestant had to perform some sort of action to give their answer.  For example, this contestant had to click wooden shoes together to give the amount of feet an animal has.  For example, if Bob said a horse, she'd click the wooden shoes together four times.  They would answer the questions in the way required until they made a mistake and had to pay the penalty.  More often than not, the contestants on the pilot would get confused by either putting on the wrong hat due to the confusing rules of the game or some other form. 

The penalty is also left mostly unchanged, but with more elaborate setups than on the 50s version that eat up a lot of time.  For example, this couple is wearing baker's outfits and the penalty involves making a pie and catching it on a pan, except one of the pans is on a very short chain, while the others can catch it and not have it splatter all over the husband.  If the penalty happens, then the game is over and the contestant(s) keeps whatever money they have accrued. 

The other thing held over is the Outside Event.  Sometimes the contestants are given an option about picking an outside event, whereas others have them thrusted upon them at the start.  This one involves someone putting nickels into a slot machine until they hit a jackpot.  Once a jackpot happens, then the contestant loses all the money but gets a consolation prize instead of $1 for each correct answer in the original. 

That's basically it for the pilot.  But why is it hated amongst the fandom, even though it stays fairly true to the original?  While the original put more emphasis on the contestants themselves and every mechanic around them, i.e. the questions and the penalties, the proposed pilot put heavy emphasis on the gimmicks of the entire show i.e. the looks of the penalty boxes and the getups that the contestants wore that went with said penalties, which takes away the main aspect of wanting to watch happy people win stuff.  Instead, it's the same Barris trope of 3's A Crowd of watching caricatures have something bad happen to them.

The way the questions were answered is another one as well.  The original was verbal while the pilot was physical, thus there is never a clear answer to it all, save for the shoe clicking one.  So, if people are watching, they'll be just as confused as the rest of us.  Finally, it's the gimmicks themselves.  Everything from the robot, to the outfits, to the setups for the penalties was just one gigantic gimmick that was a page out of the Barris Playbook that everybody was getting sick of already.  In conclusion: Barris tried to make a goofy show outlandish in its goofiness to the enjoyment of nobody.  Thankfully it didn't sell and we were given a superior Treasure Hunt revival on its own.  Bob would work for Goodson-Todman throughout the rest of the 80s with Trivia Trap and Card Sharks, and with Barris again on The New Newlywed Game after it was sold in 1985.  Chuck Barris went away after Treasure Hunt was cancelled and in 1985, gave us The New Newlywed Game and The All New Dating Game in 1986 before retiring for good in 1989.