The Bootleg Files: Talking Pictures

BOOTLEG FILES 703: “Talking Pictures” (unsold 1968 pilot for a TV game show). LAST SEEN: On YouTube. AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: No commercial value for a single episode of a failed production.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not likely.

For every television show that gets on the air, there are an infinite number of projects that get proposed but fail to find a slot on the broadcast schedule. Many of these projects never advance beyond the concept stage, but often these endeavors find their way to a level known as a pilot, which serves as a test of what the program would look like if it received the okay to become a full-fledged addition to the channel line-up.

One of the most interesting pilots for a potential series was a 1968 game show called “Talking Pictures.” With an all-star panelist line-up and an emphasis on light humor, the program should have been a shoo-in for approval. But the pilot showed that its concept was too cumbersome and nowhere near as clever as its creators imagined.

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“Talking Pictures” borrowed the basic plot of then-popular memory-recollection game shows “Concentration” and “Eye Guess” with the stellar onslaught of “Hollywood Squares.” In this endeavor, there were 10 celebrities behind shutters bearing numbers, and nine of the 10 were introduced to the show’s two contestants via a bit of shared of personal data. The contestants had to remember which data was connected to the specific celebrity behind the numbered shutters – those who matched the information to the star won $25 per correct answer. The tenth celebrity in the mix was not part of the initial introduction, but would be the joker in the pack who turned up dressed as a character from history or literature. There would be two rounds in the half-hour game, with the contestant scoring the most points declared the winner.

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For the 1968 pilot episode, there was plenty of on-screen talent: the starry slate of celebrities included Carol Burnett, Angela Cartwright, Lorne Greene, Stubby Kaye, Peter Lawford, Ann Miller, Agnes Moorehead, Tom Smothers, Jan Sterling and Paul Winchell. Allen Ludden, who helmed the popular “Password” game show, was the host. The program was produced by Stefan Hatos-Monty Hall Productions, with Jay Stewart’s familiar voice as the announcer. In retrospect, “Talking Pictures” was quite interesting at several levels. For starters, Carol Burnett and Tom Smothers were at the top of their respective ratings on 1968 television and did not need to be doing game show appearances. Burnett volunteered her Tarzan yell and Smothers offered his distinctive brand of goofy comedy, which helped liven up the program considerably. Also adding to the charm was Ann Miller (bringing some old-school Hollywood glamour) and Stubby Kaye (arguably one of the funniest men in the era’s show business scene).

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Furthermore, the information that the celebrities shared about themselves was quite interesting. Jan Sterling offered a brief anecdote of how she missed being a passenger on the ill-fated 1937 flight of the dirigible Hindenburg, while Agnes Moorehead blithely acknowledged a failed marriage and Ann Miller recalled a wild childhood incident when she clobbered a music teacher with a violin. The joker in this pack was Paul Winchell, who turned up in heavy theatrical make-up to amusingly play Dracula in one round and Pancho Villa in the next.

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Unfortunately, the heavy dosage of star power was also the problem with “Talking Pictures.” With 10 celebrities on display, the show tried to give everyone equal attention within the tight half-hour frame. As a result, relatively little meaningful time was spent with each performer. It seemed as if 10 stars were rounded up and given little do to but get in some fleeting quips.

Also, the guessing game was a bit too easy. Unlike “Concentration” or “Eye Guess” with their multiple cards to flip over in a memory quiz, the contestants on “Talking Pictures” didn’t have that much to memorize. This was particularly acute in the second of the two rounds, which went by very quickly.

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The pilot of “Talking Pictures” was taped on February 25, 1968 at CBS Television City in Hollywood – and the CBS location would explain having Carol Burnett and Tom Smothers on the show. Some sources say that another pilot of this program was taped in 1967, but details on that effort are sketchy. Alas, CBS’ executives were not convinced that “Talking Pictures” was right for their daytime schedule and the pilot was never aired. In 1976, “Talking Pictures” was resurrected in another pilot, this time with Monty Hall as the host and a guest list including such TV stalwarts as Arte Johnson, Kaye Stevens, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Lyle Waggoner, Jaye P. Morgan, Soupy Sales, Johnny Brown and Phil Foster. But that effort was also unsuccessful and the venture was never resurrected.

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The 1968 pilot is on YouTube – its sourcing is uncertain, and it is fun to see this unauthorized upload begin with the words “Video Calibration” on the screen. If anything, it is a jolly relic of a long-gone TV era and one of the more interesting misfires of its time.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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