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Shopping Spree


Producer: Bill Derman Productions
Host: John Conte
Assistant: Ginger Drysdale
Announcer: Stan Chambers
Band Leader: Ivan Ditmars
Word Authority: Tad Kent
Taping Info: July 14, 1962 in California for NBC. This is the earliest pilot I've seen that was in color.
Made it to Air: Sort of. The main game of this pilot eventually became Word for Word, which was hosted and "created" by Merv Griffin. Word for Word aired on NBC daytime in 1963 and 1964. An unrelated show with the same title from Jay Wolpert Productions aired from 1996 to 1998 on The Family Channel.
Availability: UCLA Film and Television Archive

Bill Derman was a prolific local producer who had a bona-fide hit on local television in Los Angeles, KTLA's Beat the Odds. In 1962, Derman attempted to sell it to NBC, but was turned down. However, Derman was asked by NBC to make a pilot for another show based on words and a little bit of manic running, called Shopping Spree. B-movie actor and eventual TV station owner John Conte was the host, KTLA stalwart Stan Chambers was the announcer and Ginger Drysdale showed off why she didn't have a lucrative TV career ahead of her. At she at least had her husband Don pitch a victory against the Mets 5-4 the day before.

The game was a contest to see who can make anagrams out of a word longer. Two players alternated turns receiving one point per word and play continued until one of the players either came up with an illegal word, paused for too long or repeated a word, with players challenging by striking a bell with a xylophone mallet. After one player was done, the other player continued to do this until they also failed to come up with a valid word. At the completion of the larger word, the bonus word was revealed. If either player said the bonus word in their responses, they received an extra five points.

After two words, the player with the higher score won the game and moved onto the bonus round. The stage was filled with all sorts of prizes, ranging from inexpensive toasters to furs and cars. The player then picked which prize they really wanted and was given an amount of seconds equal to the score from the main game to find the tag for their prize. The tags did not match the prizes, the tag for the grandfather clock would actually have the tag for the car, for example. Once the players time was up, the individual tags were read and credited to the player. Occasionally, the tags were events rather than prizes, such as forfeit one prize or trade one prize for a different tag.

As alluded to earlier, the game show industry was not where Ginger Drysdale would be plying any talents. She was prone to gaffes, including one where she tried to escort the wrong player to the bonus game. Since this was 1962, there was not the technology of today to show the players and the home audience the used words. For this, there were two poor production assistants behind a glass wall similar to those boards you see on submarines in the movies writing the words backwards so they would appear forwards to the players. This low tech system also served as the scoreboard.

Fortunate for me, unfortunate for Bill Derman, this is one of the rare instances where I have good knowledge of the back story of the show. There was a lawsuit about this pilot, and fortunately I was able to get a copy of the suit via findlaw.com. NBC had a nine month option on the pilot, and they let that lapse in 1963. Derman then shopped the show to ABC, who declined it on the basis that it conflicted with their show Window Shopping, although that show had been off the schedule for a year. CBS also passed and an attempt to syndicate with United Artists also failed.

However, Merv Griffin was developing an anagram show for NBC. Merv's agent noted that the show bore a similarity to Shopping Spree, so in order to avoid lawsuits, Merv bought the rights to the game and Bill Derman received a creator credit. This deal was struck on August 7, 1963, which was one week after the rights to Shopping Spree could no longer be claimed by KTLA. The deal called for Bill Derman to receive $750 per week while Word for Word was on the air. This ended up being $42,000 for 56 weeks. KTLA sued for a share of these royalties and lost.

If you've ever wondered what terms of a pilot shooting can be, here were the ones for the KTLA version of Shopping Spree:

  1. Station agrees to furnish below the line facilities for a taped pilot entitled 'Shopping Spree' to be produced by Producer.
  2. Producer shall furnish and pay for all 'above-the-line' elements and costs as that term is generally understood in the industry except the staff announcer which will be furnished by Station. Station will also furnish the director as part of the 'below-the-line' facilities.
  3. Station shall furnish tape stock for this pilot and said stock shall remain the property of Station.producer may purchase the tape at cost. Station agrees to hold the tape for a period of thirty (30) days.
  4. In the event that there is a network or syndicated sale of the program, as that term is generally understood in the television industry, Station shall receive the sum of Seven Hundred and Fifty Dollars ($750.00) per week for so long as the series based on the pilot program is distributed. The terms and provisions of the foregoing sentence only apply if a network or syndicated sale is made prior to August 1, 1963. If, however, a network or syndicated sale is effected after August 1, 1963, Producer will reimburse Station in the amount of One Thousand and Fifty Dollars ($1,050.00).
  5. Station will furnish three kinescopes for sales purposes.
  6. In the event that a series results from this pilot, said series will be taped using Station's facilities and Producer will be charged the standard rates which Station charges other producers renting its facilities.

In retaliation of the the sale of Shopping Spree to Merv Griffin and NBC, KTLA canceled Beat the Odds, which at that point was still a very popular game enjoying a weekly run on the station. Bill Derman managed to get only one other game show on the air, 1967's The Perfect Match, before he moved into scriptwriting. Stan Chambers, the show's announcer, is still at KTLA and has been since its founding in the 40s. Ginger Drysdale divorced Don and disappeared into obscurity.

A Pilot Light Bonus:
Paramount Television Productions, Inc. v. Bill Derman Productions, 258 Cal.App.2d 1 (from findlaw.com), free registration required to read the case

This pilot has been viewed 7997 times since October 6, 2008 and was last modified on Dec 12, 2009 14:46 ET
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