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Word Grabbers

Producer: Ron Greenberg
Host: Jim Lange
Celebrities: David Letterman, George Miller, Johnny Dark, Tom Dressen, Alliene Flanery, Roberta Ferrill, Heather Harwood
Taping Info: January 29, 1976, NBC Burbank
Made it to Air: No
Availability: The January 30, 1976 pilot is available at UCLA.
Other Pilots:
  • This show was first tried in the run-through stage in New York City with DJ "Cousin Brucie" Morrow as the host. Celebrities used in the run-throughs included Bill Wendell, Stubby Kaye and the Andrews Sisters. Earlier versions of run-throughs involved many civilians rather than a celebrity format and was called Throw Me a Line.
  • The next day, pilots were shot with Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dick Gauthier, Jan Murray, Fannie Flagg, Jack Cassidy, Elayne Joyce and Jay Leno. The review below is for a run through done the day before.
  • A weeks worth of shows was recorded at KTTV in 1977 with Art James as host with celebrities Arte Johnson, Jo Anne Worley, Lyle Waggoner, Avery Schreiber, Vicki Lawrence, Pat Harrington and Barbara Feldon. The shows never aired.
  • In 1991, it was retitled Class Clowns with host Bruce Gold.
  • In 2001, it was retitled yet again, this time to The Smart Alecks, and the host was now Ron Pearson. The comics were mostly unknown, but did include one now-known: Chelsea Handler.

In the process a game show takes from going from an idea to an actual show, there has to be many, many run-throughs to get timing down, see parts of the game that aren't working or basically to see if this idea can even work. With celebrity-based games, this becomes even harder since you are not going to be able to even get B-or-C listers to sit in for these rehearsals. In this instance, we have a rare copy of a run-through with the game Word Grabbers, so this review is not for a true pilot since this is only an 11 minute clip. In this case, struggling comedians were rounded up and the game was played.

Jim Lange, wearing plaid pants that would make Herb Brooks blush, is the ringmaster for this game that pretty much mimics Eye Guess. A statement is read, and the final word is assigned to one of seven possible celebrities. The beginning of the round is pretty much just stabs in the dark, as players start to establish where the answers are. Jim Lange reads the statement, and if the player selects the correct celebrity, $25 is added to the "pot". The celebrity is then asked to answer the statement for an additional $25. For example, the statement "In what sport can you see an athlete reach for a high ..." and the player would need to find the word "fly". After finding the word, if the celebrity says "baseball", an additional $25 is added. The first player to get four matches wins the pot and moves onto the bonus.

The bonus was a sped up version of the main game without the additional part of the celebrities answering the statements. If the player is able to get all seven matches in 60 seconds (or the 62 seconds the contestant got in this run through), the player picked up an additional $1,000 for their first win or $5,000 for their second. It must have been real exciting since David Letterman looked at his watch during the round.

The major flaw in this game was not the game play, which is somewhat weak, but the choice of host. Jim Lange was not the man for this game, since he seemed to be intimidated by Dave and his comedy posse. At one point he told George Miller "not to do jokes", after which George got very passive-aggressive back at him in an exchange that Jim Lange didn't seem to understand. It seems Mr. Lange didn't get the memo that games with weak formats have to be played for comedy. Also, according to producer Ron Greenberg, after some of these run-throughs he decided that the unknowns seemed to work better, and he wanted to go with them. However, he was overruled by the network who wanted more star power, but they did relent and allowed him a slot for one of them. And in a move that apparently would be repeated years later, he pushed for David Letterman. The network chose Jay Leno, who was not in this particular run-through.

(Thanks to Howard Blumenthal for some information on the other pilots)

This pilot has been viewed 6051 times since October 6, 2008 and was last modified on Dec 12, 2009 14:46 ET
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