There's something fascinating about worsts, especially when they think they're pretty good, or at least passable. God knows how I fall into these things, but this one had something to do with landing on a site full of FREE old movies (and another sister site with hundreds of FREE old TV shows), and finding myself at the very bottom of the failed-TV-pilot barrel.
I quickly discovered that this had been on YouTube for quite a long time, though I was the first to leave a comment. I think everyone else was just too stunned. This bizarre thing is an attempt to cash in on the wild popularity of quiz shows in the 1950s: To Tell The Truth, I've Got a Secret, What's My Line, etc. These involved people like Gary Moore and Durward Kirby making quips and holding up pieces of cardboard while a bell went DINGDINGDINGDINGDINGDING (I never could figure out if the DINGDINGDING was good or bad, but maybe that's because I was three), while Kitty Carlisle snuggled in white furs and rattled her jewellery.
In other words, panel shows, the good ones at least, were popular, all in good fun, and even, sometimes, had a touch of class. Bennett Cerf might show up, or Noel Coward, or - oh no, not Noel Coward.
So someone - someone had an idea, an awful idea, for a quiz show that was such a mess that after three or four viewings I still can't figure out what it is supposed to be about. Really, it's about nothing, and about five minutes in, the panellists begin to realize this fact and laugh wildly and make lame remarks to cover the awkward silence. Never has a 26-minute show lasted so many years.
As far as I can make out, the host of the show has brought in his next-door neighbor, probably for free, so that he can function as an Artist. The Artist is supposed to draw a picture in only ten lines. He draws a line, then gives it to the first panelist who copies it, who then hands it to the next panelist who copies it, who - yes, I know it sounds pointless because it is. It is just jeezly bad, from the outset.
Eventually you end up with an incoherent mess of bad drawings with dumb captions. The panelists seem to have been chosen at random - a horse-teethed woman with an ear-shattering laugh, a guy who looks like he's straight out of an SCTV parody, a - but, my God, who's this sitting on the end?
As with so many of these ancient TV treasures, there is, after all, someone on this dog of a show who would go on to be world-famous. And I'm not going to tell you who he is, so there. You have to watch. His presence seems to float, Buddha-like, above the seething swill of bad TV brewing below. He says some truly funny things that drop like shot pigeons because no one is paying attention to the budding comic genius in their midst. They're too busy screaming with fake laughter and making ugly and meaningless squiggles on sheets of paper.
It becomes truly dada-ist at the end of the show when the loser of a moderator starts yammering about how the folks at home are going to want to participate in this fiasco. Sitting there copying a line, then handing it to someone who copies a line, then. . . until no picture is produced. He displays special pads of paper the audience is supposed to buy for this purpose, which they are supposed to then "scotch-tape to the TV screen". You may now scream.
The sight of the (inexplicable - why is he there?) gum-chewing piano player, the awkward crowd standing around as if at a surreal cocktail party, and the producer - I guess that's who he is - nakedly pitching the show to sponsors in the ugliest manner possible - what can I say about this? I think it was Jackie Gleason, about whom I have mixed feelings, who hosted a game show that lasted exactly one episode. It too was about "art", but was called, I think, You're In the Picture (I'll try to find it, I'm sure YouTube has it somewhere). Celebrities had to stick their heads through holes in a fake painting, then ask panellists questions about what painting they were in - or something. Awful, awful.
At least Jackie had the magnanimity/humility to come on the air the next night and offer an apology that lasted one hour. He felt really badly about You're In the Picture and wanted everyone to know it. That kind of candour is rare now. Whatever you do, you cover your ass. You "lawyer up". If you fail, you go around saying "there are no failures" and "failures are the only way to learn". No one picked up this pilot, and I am sure very few potential sponsors even watched it all the way through to that tacky pitch at the end. I can see them puffing away on cigarettes and watching five minutes of it and saying. "OK, Mel, we're done on this one" or something, or "Next?" I can see the panellists slinking away without making eye contact, or maybe making fanning motions to each other as if to dispel a particularly sulphurous fart. I wonder if I could get into the head of that unrecognized comic genius, what he really thought of the whole mess. I have a feeling he saw it as just another gig, a way to get some exposure so that maybe, one day, he could do some real television.
Which, I assure you, is what finally came to pass.
(From Internet Archive)
Pass the Line (1954 unsold television pilot)
Usage Public Domain Mark 1.0
Topics Lame, Crap, WTF, 1950s, 50s, Fifties, Classic TV, Television, Game Show,Panel Show, Unsold Pilot, Unsold TV Pilot, Unsold Television Pilot,
Here's something so bad it makes "Queen for a Day" look like "Masterpiece Theatre". It is an unsold television pilot from 1954, for a game show called "Pass the Line" in which an artist slowly draws a picture in ten steps, and each step is copied by a panel of "celebrities". At the end of the incredibly awful pilot, the host and some other guy directly speak to the networks telling them why they should pick up the series (easily the best part of the pilot).
Run time 27 minutes 17 seconds
Production Company Cliff Saber Productions
Audio/Visual sound, black and white
Comments and Reviews
I'm a game show lover as well, but there's really no play-along element for the viewers -- it's just watching people copy lines of a drawing. Sure, it has the "shout at the TV" factor, but it's more along the lines of "This sucks!"
This has to be seen to be believed. This is the only thing Cliff Saber has done and it’s easy to see why.
BTW, Joe MacCarthy, the piano guy was there to entertain the audience---there would have been one if this had been picked up by a network---while the game paused for station identification and/or commercials.
This program is so bad, like a car wreck, you can't help but feel compelled to watch it.
The host realizes his creation is dying (while he's doing it). He constantly tries to speed up the "celebs"
During the filming of this pilot, you can hear the sounds of the traffic outside of the "studio". Without any doubt this is the most interesting part of this show.
The show is so bad even the dog walks out.
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