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Whodunit?


Producer: Marble Arch Productions
Host: Ed McMahon
Celebrities: Eve Arden and Cesar Romero (as actors), Vincent Begetta, Barbara Feldon and F. Lee Bailey (as panelists)
Other Actors: Lorri Calhoun, Tris Coffen, Julie Crosthwaite, Doris Dowling, Paul Kent, Bernie Kuby, Robert Lussier, Kenny McGrath, Michael Minor, David Moses, Warren Munson, Kent Perkins, Al Ruscio, Dan Trent, Brooks West
Taping Info: 1978, probably in Los Angeles
Made it to Air: Yes, it aired for 6 weeks in April and May of 1979, replacing Harris and Company and then replaced by The NBC Comedy Theater, which was ironically a showcase of failed pilots.
Availability: UCLA Archive

As much as Ed McMahon was maligned during his time on The Tonight Show as having a real easy job, he sure kept himself busy moonlighting on various game show projects. He hosted Missing Links, Concentration and Snap Judgment while Carson was in New York and would do an occasional stint on Hollywood Squares plus his time on Star Search when Carson moved out to lovely downtown Burbank. So, why not host a prime-time show? Plus, you can do the rarely-used mystery-based game show.

The show opens with Eve Arden walking out to a ledge and getting stabbed (the stabbing is not seen on screen). Eve then valiantly walks to her desk to try to write down the killer, but she breaks her pencil. She then tries with a pen, scrawls down something, and expires. And in a guest shot reminiscent of Florence Henderson's on Police Squad, the show begins.

After the opening scene, Ed McMahon (replete with tux) comes out and explains what is going to happen. Now that you've seen the crime, we'll know show you the interrogation. And you will be joined by three special guests Vincent Baggeta from The Eddie Capra Mysteries, Barbara Feldon from 10 years of unemployment, and F. Lee Bailey from the bottom of the bottle of something. And, if it comes up, F. Lee Bailey and Ed McMahon could talk marine-to-marine. They're going to try to solve it too.

So, we now get to see all of the suspects. First up is Bull Andrade and Joe Fish, two patrons of the of the fat farm that Eve Arden was the proprietress. They are followed by staff member Virgina Calendar, Texan Pat Yancey (and you know he's Texan by his green cowboy hat and his cutoff jean shorts), Elliott Chase and husband of the deceased Charles Ives. They act out the interrogation, either giving solid clues or misleads. Then, comes the commercial. Or, at least a hole for a commercial, since all we get is the Whodunit? logo and the statement "inset commercial here."

Ed then plucks two members of the audience to play along, they are posted at podiums between the audience and the stage and will eventually be marked "Holmes" and "Watson". They get to listen as our three celebrity judges each get to request one scene to be replayed and get to question the actors while in character for a few minutes each. The actors do a good job staying in character and even are snippy at times, especially when Vincent Bagetta makes a pass at one of the actresses. Once the questioning is done, it is revealed which contestant is Holmes and which is Watson.

This is important because Holmes gets to guess first. At stake is a trip to London. Holmes picks incorrectly, as well as Watson. So it goes back to Holmes, who then guesses correctly, and is off to London. Two of the three celebrities guess it as well. I won't tell you because there may be an off chance you will get to see this at some point, and I don't want to spoil the surprise.

All in all, a tight little half hour full of surprisingly good improv by the actors during the questioning scene and a chance to solve a mystery on TV. Everybody loves mysteries. Well, that's it from Whodunit?, good night. The producer was Stu Billett, the director was Joseph Behar. This has been a Marble Arch Production, Executive Producer Martin Stanger.

Sorry, this just in. There's another half-hour! So, we now turn to a scene where Cesar Romero has just been poisoned. But wait, this was a scene-within-a-scene where the actors are actually shooting a soap opera and that's what was supposed to happen. Except Milo, played by Cesar Romero, doesn't wake up. So, Whodunit?

We now have new suspects Cy Wilde the director; Willy, the production assistant who is actually Milo's brother; Jack, the actor in the scene; Judy, the script girl; and Joan, wife in the scene and also the wife of Milo. Called in to investigate was Det. Williams of the Los Angeles Police Department. Det. Williams is African-American, which must be sending F. Lee Bailey through intense bouts of cognitive dissonance.

Just like the first round, two people are brought up to guess, but this time, the person in the "Holmes" position nails it on the first try. Also, none of the celebrities gets it right.

When Whodunit? made it to air, there were several changes. For one, the show was only 30 minutes long, so there was only one vignette. Two, the scoring was different as three contestants were brought down. They could try to guess before any questioning to win $10,000. If they got it right after questioning, they got $5,000. If they and the panel got it right, it was only $2,500. The six people who got the glorious job of playing a dead body were Loni Anderson, Mike Connors, Erik Estrada, Jack Klugman, Audra Lindley and Vic Tayback. Also, Stu Billett and Joe Behar were gone and replaced by game show veteran Bill Carruthers.

Of course, this was 1979 and NBC was willing to try almost anything, since Fred Silverman had destroyed the network. Whodunit? has the distinction of airing its entire run inside the run of Supertrain, the flop drama that symbolized the carnage that Silverman left behind. Although NBC billed this as a new concept in game shows, this actually was tried before on local TV in Chicago in the late 40's, including a young Mike Wallace playing a lieutenant, plus other failed attempts such as Key Witness and The Plot Thickens. However, this show was a failure, so it should have been little surprise that Whodunit? was a failure. Notice it hasn't been tried since.

A Pilot Light Bonus

Fun Facts About the Actors

  • Doris Dowling, who played Cesar Romero's wife in the second scene, at one time was married to jazz artist Artie Shaw.
  • Bernie Kuby, who played Joe Fish, one of the suspects in the first round, was one of the actors who played the people battling against Cliff Clavin the time Cliff made it on Jeopardy!
  • Michael Minor, who played Jack in the second segment, was a regular on Petticoat Junction for its final season and is the son of Don Fedderson, the original producer of Do You Trust Your Wife?
  • Warren Munson, the sheriff in the first scene, was Admiral Paris on Star Trek Voyager and Dr. Richard London on Port Charles.
  • Al Ruscio, who played Bull Andrade in the first scene, was also on Port Charles and played Stalin in War and Remembrance.
  • Brooks West, who played Eve Arden's husband in the first scene, really was Eve Arden's husband.

This pilot has been viewed 2955 times since October 6, 2008 and was last modified on Dec 12, 2009 14:46 ET
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