Sunday, November 8, 2015

The quiz show that ate my brain

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)

Published 1954
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.

WOW! I'm a gameshow fanatic & this piece of tripe was possibly the WORST I've ever encountered. 

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.

  Visit Margaret's Amazon Author Page!

I probably won't get to see this. . .

(A Facebook friend clued me in on the fact that there's a Muybridge biopic out - or, at least, floating around the art-house/film festival circuit. Meaning, I'm too late to see its first and last showing at the Rio (as in "where the hell is the - ?") in Vancouver. If this goes wide it'll be a big surprise, but I'm kind of glad someone took the time to make a movie out of this subject, no matter how obscure. The BBC documentary I saw on YouTube might have its facts more straight.)

Cambridge Film Festival – Eadweard – Review ****

By David Poole on September 11, 2015 @DavidFPoole

Kyle Rideout’s debut feature Eadweard, co-written with producer Josh Epstein, is a captivating look at the work of one of photography’s early pioneers, one who ultimately paved the way for the cinema. This tale of movement, obsession and murder is poetry in motion with artistry to burn.

Famed photographer Eadweard Muybridge, (Michael Eklund) tired of the static landscape scenes that made his name, is determined to record the essence of movement in a vast encyclopaedia of locomotion. Initially hailed as a revolutionary scientist, his switch to nude subjects leads to professional and personal friction. His growing mistrust of his wife Flora (Sara Canning) and her relationship with suave newspaper critic Harry Larkyns (Charlie Carrick) sets in motion a deadly series of events the could destroy Eadweard’s life and reputation.

Eklund’s Muybridge is an odd fish, gangly, loping and unorthodox in look and movement, and a taciturn eater of lemons. He is polite, even courtly with subjects, but capable of great cruelty, which is demonstrated by the animal vivisection and the abuse of “deformed” patients in the name of scientific endeavour. Eklund often resembles a snowy haired Daniel Plainview, hinting at the monomaniacal pursuit of Eadweard’s goals and darkness within. His voice resonates with the deep honeyed burr Daniel Day Lewis brought to the villainous oilman, which was in turn inspired by iconic director John Huston, the movie mastermind behind The Maltese Falcon, The Misfitsand The Treasure of the Sierra Madre amongst many more.

Invoking Huston is no coincidence. Muybridge here becomes the prototypical film director, constantly in fear of losing the light, yelling action to motivate his subjects, throwing tantrums when his instructions are ignored. He is even forced to pitch for funding and convince nervy backers to trust in his vision. His obsession and frustration in working in stills but desperate to capture movement is well realised. He strives for immortality through his images, equating them to fathering a child. The filmmakers seem to have found a kindred spirit. For all the sensational drama in Muybridge’s life, the focus on his work and skill is what shines through.

Appropriately for a film about “the godfather of cinema” Eadweard is technically assured, with stunningly beautiful compositions from cinematographer Tony Mirza. Elisabeth Olga Tremblay’s clever use of jarring edits creates, like Muybridge’s photographs, the impression of movement within a still frame, while visual effects superbly imitate the Great Man’s motion studies to illuminate how he saw the world. The production design by Rideout is handsome but unfussy, never falling into the fusty museum trap of many a period piece.

The film is not without its faults, however. Anna Atkinson & Andrew Penner’s all pervasively grating score overplays its idiosyncratic hand, sounding more suitable for a Wes Anderson directed hoedown than an arts biopic. Sara Canning is poorly served by weak characterisation, with Flora’s initial manic-pixie-photo-groupie and subsequent nagging wife personae afforded little of the nuance granted to Muybridge. Elsewhere the wobbly accents of minor players betray its Canadian production, while off screen dialogue suggests budgetary compromise. But as a vital glimpse of a significant figure in cinema’s prehistory these are small caveats to make.

ONE more Muybridge gif. . .


Maybe not quite as exciting as I thought when I saw the original images:

For one thing, I had to leave off the last two images because they overlapped and created a jerkiness that destroyed the continuity. The aim is to make a continuous little cartoon loop or movie of the horse cantering. I came close, though it's not as smooth as I had hoped. The speed was a problem: I tried nearly everything before settling on this, a little faster than the fastest speed on my gif program. Really, it's OK if you don't mind a little bit of jerkiness.

I guess.

But this is the LAST ONE. All that copying and cropping is making me weary. Muybridge, not having heard of gifs, never had this problem.

Actually, though. . .

I changed my mind. This is great. Compared to the other Muybridge gifs I see on Google, it's at least as good, if not better. There's a little bump or jerk in the middle of the action that may or may not be due to different frame sizes or framing problems, but that's not something I'm willing to solve on a Sunday morning.

Oops, changed my mind.

This is another version I made, having sized all the frames to exactly 500 x 500. See much difference? I don't either. The "jounce" in the middle isn't quite as noticeable here. But those smudgy little blocks of square film aren't framed very well either, and don't lend themselves to clean editing.

But now that I look at them both. . .

No, there IS a difference, in that the jarring bump is more of a jounce. It's as if there's a missing frame that should have captured that motion in the middle, so it looks like the rider's neck elongates. How to capture a horse and rider in ten frames a second?