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The Confidence Game


Producer: Heatter-Quigley
Host: Jim McKrell
Announcer: Kenny Williams
Taping Info: October 28, 1976, NBC Burbank #3
Other Pilots: No
Made it to Air: No


ESP was a hot concept in the 1970s. Many of the major production houses gave it a shot, whether it was Jack Barry's Blank Check, Goodson-Todman's Mindreaders or this effort from Heatter-Quigley. The patron saint of the Pilot Light, Jim McKrell, is your host in this test of figuring out what people you have never met knows.

In the main game, four players are seated in a semi-circle, each with their own podium. On the podium are two hidden buttons and a non-hidden phone. Yep, a phone. It's like Donato's Pizza now has a home game. Each player is asked a question from McKrell while the phone receiver is planted on his ear. They can press a button and be given the answer, or they can choose to go it alone. The other players then guess whether that player got it on their own ("knew it") or didn't ("got help"). The one player then gives an answer, and if they're correct, they get $100 for every player they were able to fool into thinking they knew it or not.

In the first round, the two male players each were able to fool two of their fellow contestants, and tied at $200 each. The tiebreaker consisted of one of the players hearing a question, with the other guessing "knew it" or "got help". One player was able to successfully bluff the other, and moved on to the "Challenge Round".

The champion and the winner of the main game face off in the Challenge round, there was a money tower with values of $50-$75-$100-$200-$300-$400-$500-$1,000-$1,000 (yep, 2 at $1,000). A question is asked, and the champion may try to answer for $50. If he declines, the challenger then may try for $75, and then the champion at $100, and so on until someone decides to answer the question. If they're right, they get the money, otherwise, $300 is given to the opponent. The round continues until someone amasses $1,000 or two minutes elapses. This round went like this:
  • The champion answered for $500.
  • The challenger answered for $500.
  • The challenger answered for $400.
  • The challenger answered incorrectly, giving the champion $300.
  • The challenger answered correctly for $200 more and won.
It was as dull as it sounds, despite the attempts to make it lively by having the players stare at each other and share the ring-in button. The loser of this round moved back into the main game. The first round was then repeated, with the dethroned champion winning the round and a trip back to the Challenge Round. Although it was ambiguous in the pilot, it looks like players stayed the week.

For the second Challenge Round, the money tree increased to $300-$400-$500-$1,000-$2,000-$3,000-$5,000-$5,000, with the incorrect answer penalty increasing to $1,500. The target in this round was $5,000 or two minutes, and the winner also received a new Chevrolet-Heatter-Quigley Vega. It was unclear if this higher total was for just the Friday show or for the second round on every show.

The game had some nice elements, but the presentation and scoring system botched any chance of it being successful. In the second main game, the first player was able to fool all three players, meaning the other players only had a hope of tying. The scoring system should have been $75 for each successful fool, and $50 for each successful guess. This would have eliminated ties and kept players in the game longer. The screen indication of "Got Help" in full Tempest-style vector graphics was incredibly cheesy. The challenge rounds lost all level of suspense with the hokey stare-downs.

A picture of the ticket for the pilot can be found on Dixon Hayes' Classic Squares site here.

This pilot has been viewed 7689 times since October 6, 2008 and was last modified on Jan 09, 2010 13:05 ET
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