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You Bet Your Life

Producer: Carsey/Werner for NBC
Host: Richard Dawson
Announcer/Sidekick: Steve Carlson
Taping Info: August 3, 1988
Made it to Air: No, although the original version by Groucho Marx lasted on TV from 1950-61. There were also one-year syndication versions before this pilot with Buddy Hackett in 1980-81 and after with Bill Cosby in 1992-93.
Availability: Trading circuit

One of the largest misconceptions about the original version of You Bet Your Life is was that it was ad-lib. In actually, the show was strictly scripted and was heavily edited. They would film for an hour and trim it down to a half hour, keeping only the better bits. That, along with Groucho being Groucho, made for classic TV. Trying to make a five-a-week strip means you can't afford all of the writing or all of the editing. All you're left with is the game, and a pretty lame one at that.

Richard Dawson, not finding game show work since Family Feud originally went off the air in 1985 except for playing a sadistic host in 1987's movie Running Man, was tabbed to host this revival, probably because his humor seemed Groucho-like. Unfortunately, the humor seemed very strained here as the fun-loving (and swinging) Dickie Dawson of the 70's had been replaced by the much more serious (and married) Richard Dawson of the 1980's. Plus, the usually mobile Dawson seemed very constrained by sitting behind a desk.

The format was pretty much the same time-and-true format, two teams of two unrelated players came out one team at a time and were asked three questions, either $100, $150 or $200. Unlike the Groucho format, the money was not deducted for incorrect questions. Later, both teams came out and played four questions each at either $200, $300 or $400. The team with the most money at the end of this round went onto a bonus game. Also, the secret word was around, but since it was never guessed, we have no idea whether the duck survived for this revival.

In the bonus game, the sidekick Steve Carlson read questions with either true or false answers. The players locked in their answers over a 30 second period. If the players match on 5 answers and their matched answer is correct, the players split $5,000. If they don't reach five, $200 per correct match is added to their final score.

Trying to revive a classic is always risky. You can't stray too much from the original or the viewers won't like it, but if you just make a copy, the game seems stale. In this case, they hit the balance right, but Richard Dawson was not as charming as Groucho Marx, so the show fell flat. A lesson not learned five years later, as not even Bill Cosby could be successful on a five-a-week basis.

It's RICHARD DAWSON in You Bet Your Life. Dawson claims it's to eliminate confusion between this version and Groucho's, despite the fact the latter was in black and white.


Playing the role of George Fenneman was Steve Carlson.

Here's one mismatched set of players.

While the other set struggles with the bonus game.

This pilot has been viewed 8995 times since October 6, 2008 and was last modified on Dec 12, 2009 14:46 ET
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