#128 - Shoppers Bazaar
To quote Merv Griffin, "It was wrong, it was just all wrong".

 

Unsold Pilot for NBC (1973)
Text by: Robert Seidelman

Wheel of Fortune is the highest rated game show currently on TV.  It's got everything you want from a game show: A fantastic host/hostess and announcer team, a simple game to follow along with, big money being given away, and a bright atmosphere that makes it all enjoyable to watch.  However, it wasn't always like that.  There was a long, arduous journey to get to where it was today.  I guess I should start at the beginning.  In 1973, new VP of Daytime, Lin Bolen was looking to freshen up the schedule with some newer programming and one of her targets was the aging Jeopardy.  She talked to Merv Griffin, the show's producer, and told him that they are looking to freshen up the schedule and wants to dump Jeopardy.  But since the show was still getting strong ratings at the time, he would get to make Jeopardy's replacement.  Merv came up with an idea for a TV Version of Hangman with the excitement of winning expensive gifts.  The first attempt of this would wind up being one of the most bizarre pilots out there.  The show is simply entitled Shoppers Bazaar. 

 

Young country star and future conservative political pundit Chuck Woolery would get the nod to host this show.  To be frank, he's the only thing on this show that is really really good.  This was his first gig hosting a game show, but he looked like he had been hosting them for 20 years prior, even though that would make him 16.  He's calm and cool under the lights and looks like he was having fun with the show. 

 

I want to start right now with the entire set.  The show is set in a big store called the Shopper's Bazaar.  The only big game props it has is the puzzle board that looks like it was created by Mr. Macathy's 8th grade Wood Shop class.  It looks absolutely hideous and gives you no semblance of a cohesive set piece.  The set itself though is a gigantic mess.  It's just prizes plopped down on tables and doesn't look really neatly done.  Instead of a Bazaar, it's more like a swap meet or a flea market. 

But now let's talk about the wheel itself.  It has to be one of the cheapest looking set pieces I have seen.  To be blunt, if the puzzle board was created by Mr. Macathy's 8th grade Wood Shop class, the wheel was designed by Mrs. Sangstrom's 3rd grade class during art time.  They just took a Las Vegas style wheel of fortune, added a start/stop mechanism to it and then added this ugly overlay.  There are some other problems with this wheel, but we'll talk about those a bit later on

The intro to this show has to be the longest I've ever seen.  It starts off showing us tons of merchandise and people going through the store with the instrumental of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the background.  It is by far, one of the most annoying songs in movie history and it is annoying here.  This part lasts through a minute before introducing a contestant and telling the audience what she is playing for.  The music stops and Chuck Woolery then comes in to tell the contestant to stop the wheel and play the game.  This repeats 2 more times before we are introduced to Chuck.  With all of that done, it truly is one of the most overdrawn intros in game show history, moreso than Show Me The Money.

Now to the actual game play.  The contestant in control decides when to stop the wheel.  Yes, the actual wheel is automated and is stopped by Chuck when the contestant calls for it.  The Wheel itself is different than what we know it now.  There are no bankrupts or prizes or stuff like that.  Instead, there's multiple Lose A Turns and various amounts of money ranging from $0 - $500 for the first two rounds and $0 - $1,000, the Buy a Vowel space where you MUST buy a vowel, a Free Vowel (Think Free Play) and a thing called Your Own Clue.

I should explain Your Own Clue.  When a puzzle is revealed, Chuck just gave the amount of letters and the round began.  When the contestant hits Your Own Clue, they pick up a phone and hear a clue from the announcer.  Instead of it being a real clue, such as "the Answer to the Puzzle was the 30th President of the United States", it's the category to the puzzle.  It just wastes 20-30 seconds of time in between spin, yelling stop like her life dependent on it.  Usually, the category did absolutely nothing and even the contestants razzed the usefulness of Your Own Clue.  To make matters worse, when two different contestants landed on it in the pilot, they didn't get two different clues, they each got the same clue.  Overall, it was a waste and a lame space on the wheel.

Aside from that, the show is the basic format of Wheel of Fortune.  Spin wheel, pick letter, win money.  Cost of a vowel is still the same at $250.  Now, instead of going shopping after winning a round, you qualify to win the prizes in which you selected, going from the least expensive to the 2nd level prize to the star prize.  Yeah, it's quite confusing.  This would be fixed when the 2nd batch of pilots for the show would be made.  The player with the most money at the end of 4 rounds wins and gets to come back for the next show and plays the bonus game.

The bonus game is played like the current one, but much more lame.  The contestant is shown a prize, but all the consonants are taken out.  The contestant has 30 seconds to guess as many letters as they can and try to solve the puzzle.  This brings up tons of flaws already, since anyone with half a brain can just rattle off consonants, fill the puzzle and win the prize in 20 seconds.  This is probably why Merv dropped the idea of the bonus round until 1978 with the Star Bonus icon on the wheel.

This whole pilot was one gigantic mess.  The basic rules are fine, but a lot of crap was thrown onto it to see what stuck.  Chuck was great, but the confusing way of getting prizes, the tacked on bonus round, the annoyance of having to yell "STOP!" in order to find out what you are playing for each letter is just downright abysmal.  No wonder in an interview Merv Griffin blatantly said that this pilot was "Wrong, it was all wrong."  Thus, the pilot would be retooled into another set of pilots with a huge wheel for the contestants to spin, a moving letter board that looked good, and other fun things.  That's right, this became the Wheel of Fortune Pilots from 1974 with dear drinky himself, Edd "Kookie" Byrnes.  After the show got picked up after those pilots, Chuck would take back the helm after it was reported that Kookie was sloshed when taping the first pilot and had a hangover during the second one.  Thank goodness this pilot didn't get picked up otherwise we may never have Wheel of Fortune.