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You Bet Your Life (1991)


Producer: Bill Cosby/Carsey-Werner
Host: Bill Cosby
Announcer: Not credited, but it sounds a lot like Dick Tufeld
Assistant: Robbi Chong (as Renfield)
Taping Info: August 22-23, 1991, Walnut Street Theater, Philadelphia, PA
Other Pilots: According to a New York Daily News article, five pilots were shot in one day. According to a Knight-Ridder article, four pilots were shot over two days. Both the Marx and Dawson versions also have known pilots.
Made it to Air: It was aired for one syndicated season in 1992-1993

You Bet Your Life started out as a radio show in 1947 as a vehicle for Groucho Marx's semi ad-lib humor. Moving to TV in 1950, it remained a primetime staple until 1961, when Groucho revamped his show, changed it to Tell it to Groucho and moved it to CBS. The game was always secondary to the host's banter with contestants who usually had some fascinating tidbit about their lives. This being a comedian's game, it was tried again several times, a one-year Buddy Hackett version in 1980-81 that made it to syndication, and a Richard Dawson version in 1988 that failed to make the NBC lineup. Bill Cosby, probably one of the hottest commodoties in television at this time, gives it a whirl.

Instead of a studio, this pilot is shot in a theater. After brief byplay between Bill Cosby and his assistant "Renfield", two unrelated contestants are brought out on stage, in this case a basketball referee and someone looking to date. They are staked with three questions, and can wager any amount of their money if they can get it right or wrong after being told a category. In theory, the maximum a couple could win is $6,000 in this game.

The secret word was in play, just like in the Groucho version, but inflation has brought it up to $500. Instead of the Groucho duck, a "black goose" clad in a Temple sweatshirt came down. This money, however, did not count to the total score for the couple, since only one couple was brought to the bonus game for a chance at an additional $10,000. Couples split any money that was won.

The bonus game saw the couple with the most money won returning for a chance at an additional $10,000. First, a question is asked to the contestants. If they are wrong, the game ends and the players leave with no additional winnings, but also not losing what they won. If they are correct, they choose from one of three cards. If the card contains the black goose, their money is doubled (it is not known if that includes any secret word money). The third card simply says $10,000, and gives the couple the additional 10 grand.

Since it was for syndication and it was the 1990s, the show had to be fit within 22 minutes, and the attempts to get three games plus a bonus game in makes it seemed very rushed. Might have been better off trying to get just two games in to give Cosby more of a chance at byplay. Only real difference between the pilot and the regular show was the theater vs. studio setting.

No matter where they played, however, the home viewer did not warm to the show, as it was cancelled after one season. The CBS O-and-Os quickly snapped up the property even before NATPE, and usually placed it between the network news and the start of prime time, where it was creamed by Jeopardy in major markets. Its cancellation was announced in January of 1993 amidst ratings not even reaching half of what was projected, but original episodes continued to be made into March to fill out its on-air commitment.


Publicity photo from pilot (appeared in May 1994 issue of Ebony).


This pilot has been viewed 5661 times since October 6, 2008 and was last modified on Dec 20, 2009 17:44 ET
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