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The Joker's Wild (1968)

Producer: Jack Barry
Host: Allen Ludden
Announcer: Johnny Jacobs
Celebrities: Don Drysdale, Rosemary Clooney, Pat Paulsen, Irene Ryan, Rich Little
Taping Info: December 8, 1968, CBS Television City, Hollywood
Other Pilots: The 1970 pilot The Honeymoon Game featured a 3-in-1 game format, with this being one of the games.
Made it to Air: Yes, but without celebrities and without Allen Ludden. It joined the CBS lineup on September 4, 1972, replacing reruns of Lucy and survived until June 13, 1975, when it was replaced by Spin-Off. It also syndicated runs from 1977-1985 and 1990-91.
Availability: Trading circuit

Jack Barry had spent a decade trying to get his career back on track after the scandals of the late 1950's. Pretty much blacklisted, he bought a small radio station to help with the income problem while he worked on local TV in Los Angeles, either hosting a talk show or the local game shows Addograms and You Don't Say. After a brief and fruitless tenure with Goodson-Todman, he struck out on his own and produced this pilot for CBS in 1968.

Since Jack Barry sensed there would still be trouble with him hosting the show, he tapped Allen Ludden to do the pilot. Ludden had been bouncing around since the cancellation of Password in 1967, he shot the Talking Pictures pilot and hosted the syndicated clunker Win With the Stars. Ludden would eventually get back on the air with the revival of Password in 1971, so it is unknown whether he would have been the main consideration for the show when it hit the air in 1972 if he was still unemployed.

Unlike The Joker's Wild you know and love from the 70s and 80s or the one you detested from 1990, this one isn't much like it either except for the title and the three rear-projected panels. This version had celebrities! For the pilot, they were Don Drysdale, Rosemary Clooney, Pat Paulsen, Rich Little and Irene Ryan. Additionally, each celebrity was assigned a category: Drysdale did baseball, Clooney did music, Paulsen did politics, Little did show biz and Ryan did homemaking. The celebrities actually asked the questions, Allen Ludden was pretty much acted as a traffic cop.

Like the eventual game, there were five categories and a joker that were summoned with the pull of a lever. However, instead of dollar values, there were point values, with thirteen points winning the game. And instead of answering just one question, you could be answering up to three. After spinning, if each of the celebrities were different, you could choose to answer questions in each of the three categories for one point each. If the celebrities were two and one, each question would be worth two points, while all celebrities matching would bring forth three three point questions. And there were jokers, which could be used to substitute for any category, even if it wasn't on the board.

The contestant chose to answer one, two or three of the questions that could be offered. If a contestant answered the question incorrectly, the remaining questions were not asked and a different question in that category was given to the other player. Similar to the eventual aired show, a board of three jokers meant an automatic win if a question in a category of the player's choosing was answered correctly. It was not indicated whether the win could be stolen on an incorrect question. Players also got an equal amount of spins in each game, so there were the possibility of the come-from-behind three-joker win.

The bonus game was mostly identical to the first style used on the CBS version. The winning player spun and three prizes popped up. The player could choose to take the prizes offered or spin again. On the third spin, the prizes must be taken regardless of what they are. On this pilot, the player in the first game got $1,000 and a 1,000 gallons of gas (approx. 1969 value = $350) on the second spin, so she held and took the very long way home. There were no returning champions, as two new players came on to play the second game.

There were some problems. Like exhibited on Two Minute Drill thirty years later, some celebrities have trouble reading questions. Since this was meant to be a five-a-week series, some of the categories were too narrow to cull five shows of material (e.g.: Drysdale on baseball). The part I did like was the one-two-or-three question format rather than the single one, but I can see why the one question format was chosen since it did make the game go a little faster. It was also unclear whether this was meant to be a comedy series or a straight quiz, since many of the celebrity questions were written with zingers (Hollywood Squares being a popular show at the time).

Where knowledge is king and lady luck is queen, Where we inexplicably have five celebrities, its The Joker's Wild.

Here is the celebrity panel.

And the contestant area. Because of the celebs, the host is with the contestants.

And here's the first spin. A "Paulsen", a "Drysdale" and a "Clooney."

Here's a later spin. This one can be worth nine points if the joker is turned into a Paulsen and all three questions are answered correctly.

The first prize spin. These were obviously refused.

The second prize spin. A much better selection. Total retail value, $1,350 then or about $7,013 in 2006 money, $4,205 in cash and $2,808 in gas (Source: California Department of Energy)

It's a Jack Barry Production. No word on whether Enright had any involvement in this at all.

Taken from EBay.

This pilot has been viewed 7181 times since October 6, 2008 and was last modified on Dec 12, 2009 14:46 ET
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