Induction #254 - Card Sharks: The 1996 Pilot
A True Falcon Punch To My Soul, A Card Sharks Fan


Unsold Pilot: (1996)

I will always love the 70s and 80s versions of Card Sharks. I thought that Jim Perry, Bob Eubanks and Bill Rafferty all had their charm and wit shine in the poll questions. Bob Eubanks notably emphasized this feeling by taking a mundane poll question and ragging on a failed show of his in The Diamond Head Game. What I also loved was the gameplay being balanced and the sets look fantastic. It was no surprise to me that you couldn't keep this type of show down for long, even after being cancelled for a second time in 1989. In 1996, All-American Television, who had recently acquired the Mark Goodson catalog of shows sought to revive a lot of the properties for a 1997 launch. We already covered the Match Game pilot in 1996 and that was a horror show. This one to me hurts a bit more. It's time to talk about the 1996 pilot of Card Sharks.

The host for this one is Tom Green. No, not the canadian who had ruled MTV for a couple years with his weird style of comedy who got a song about putting his bum on many things to reach #1 on TRL. This Tom Green was a sportscaster and has hosted a game show already called Sports On Tap. I liked him on Sports On Tap, playing up the role as a bartender and snark machine pretty well. Here, he's less of a snark machine and more like a robot and a bad joke teller. I'm assuming it's because of the format and lack of anything interesting about the questions that he could play off of, unlike the stuff on Sports On Tap, but we'll talk more about that in a moment.

He is flanked by card dealer DeeDee Weathers. A quick look at IMDB shows that she appeared in Tank Girl before getting this gig. She's fine for what she does as a dealer and announcer, but does nothing to stand out from the crowd.

Before we talk about the format, let's talk about the set and the biggest draw of Card Sharks...the Gigantic Cards. The set looks bare, with none of the glitz and color that both of the prior runs had. The color scheme to me doesn't look good at all with the orange background and glacier blue used in the props. It's more of a nightclub feel than a casino feel and it looks bad. The big sin though is in the cards.  The cards in the original runs and even the Bullard run looked great. The backgrounds were fantastic too. These cards...look like they went to a Walgreens and spent $5 on a deck of Bicycle Giant Cards. The main prop for Card Sharks and the most recgonisable got cheaped out on because of reasons.

The front game at the very least keeps the same style of questions as the Audience Poll Question from Eubanks & Rafferty's version. Tom asks a question about the group, or in case of this pilot "Rock Video Supergirls". As an aside, were Rock Video Supergirls a thing in 1996? I remember the scene from 1996 and in the videos of the rock bands of the era, it was all dark and alternative. I guess its a better name for them instead of the actual title for them; Strippers. One contestant gives a numerical answer and the other has to guess whether it's higher or lower. The one that is correct is the only one that gets control of the cards. So far, so good. Sure it's not the usual 100 people surveys, but at least it isn't so far removed from the original show.

What does get me is the setup for the cards. The setup is that both contestants play from the same line of 10 cards, kind of like the setup from the 2001 version. The contestants are shown the base card on the bottom most part of the card pyramid. They can change the base card if they like, but must decide whether the next card is higher or lower than the one before it. Instead the cards being already dealt out, DeeDee deals them out onto the board. A correct answer continues the play while an incorrect answer ends the turn and a new hi-lo question is asked. I have no idea why the other person doesn't get control after a wrong call is made. Did they really want to do more questions with the girl group? I don't like the idea of a bad call not having some sort of penalty, even if the plays are forced and there is no freeze option when you are dealt a 7, 8 or 9. At least the 2001 version had a pass option when you are faced with a middle card.

Something else that I noticed about the pilot is that the rules are sometimes enforced or not. I'm watching the pilot that Wink Martindale has on his YouTube page, which go check out that channel for a lot of gems, and one round has a contestant call a card wrong and that card is removed. The next turn has a contestant miss a call and that card is still on the board. I don't know if DeeDee missed the call or something, but when you're making a pilot, that's something you need to streamline if this is what you're selling to stations across the country. The person who calls the last card correctly is the winner of the game, gets $250 or $500 if they run the table from the base card to the top of the card pyramid. That rule though is also wishy-washy between pilots. According to the Game Show Pilot Light, which is a great resource, the pilot Mike Burger saw had a contestant fail at guessing the top card, and their opponent winning the game and $250. Either way, I hate that rule.


Now if you're expecting the Money Cards to be on here, like it was on every single version of the show, even the 2001 version, well let me tell you that All-American hates you and everything good and decent about Card Sharks because they thought it would be good to get to know more about celebrities. The first part has a contestant shown 5 cards face down and they must remove one from the game. This is important because one of those cards has an Ace and if they have the ace left standing, then it's worth $5,000. Let that sink in for a second. Card Sharks is known for having a potential big payday. This is once again something the 2001 version did right with a potential $50,000+ jackpot that this pilot got insanely wrong.


But let's get back to the celebrities. Tom reads off a statement and the contestant has to guess which of the three celebrities said it on the pre-taped answer that was shot on the same quality cameras used on Small Talk. Getting it right kept all the cards in play while an incorrect one forced a contestant to discard one of the 4 remaining cards. This was done twice. After both questions, the cards are flipped over and the cards are worth $100 x face value. If the ace is flipped over, then that contestant wins $5,000.

This is a terrible bonus game for Card Sharks on multiple levels. Let's start with the card selection. A Contestant could lose the game before they win because they could discard the ace before even getting to the celebrity part. To me, that smacks of forcing losses. Now the celebrity stuff. This has nothing to do with anything else with the show. The producers saw how big shows like Extra, Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight were and wanted to take a big wet bite of that apple by saying, "we're more than just a game show, we have celebrity gossip that you can get on this show." This is one of the worst tenents that a game show could do: say you are one thing, but also another thing. Most of those shows are short-lived or terrible or both. Also, the celebrity statements aren't anything interesting whatsoever. It's generic fare that could come straight out of the filler pages of People or Entertainment Weekly.

Lastly, this show cheaped out for its bonus game. The Money Cards on all versions had the potential of great moments of victory. Norma Brown's perfect $28.8k win on the Money Cards back in 1978 was one of the most impressive feats and hasn't been matched, although others have come really close or had similar exciting moments. When a contestant risks $10,000 or more on a turn of a single card, it's nothing short of exciting. The most recent version of Card Sharks with Joel McHale had contestants winning over $100,000 because they were gutsy and that makes for great television. Instead, they went for a mediocre-at-best bonus game that has absolutely nothing to do with the front game at all. No calling higher or lower, none of that nonsense because celebrity. That's why.

It's no wonder why this pilot didn't sell. Everything about it is either cheap, or outright trash. The music is trash, the set is dirt cheap and trash, Tom Green and DeeDee were cheap, the payouts were cheap and the format was outright trash. For a massive fan of Card Sharks like myself, this was nothing short of a Falcon Punch to the soul. All of the hope and joy I had for the franchise was destroyed with the death-star like destruction of all I held dear by All-American.

This was supposed to be the partner show to the 1996 MG2 pilot and both of them were dismissed out of hand. These two were supposed to be the flag-bearers for a massive relaunch in syndication alongside a new Family Feud, What's My Line and a show called Animal Challenge. None of the pilots were sold for 1997. Match Game would sell in 1998 after reverting mostly to the 1973 format, complete with 1973 payouts but would be cancelled a year later and is currently on ABC over the summer months because Alec Baldwin and everyone else at Fremantle gives a damn about this show. What's My Line had a primetime pilot for CBS in 2000, but was voted out in favor of Survivor. Animal Challenge never saw the light of day. Family Feud was revived in 1999 with Louie Anderson as host. That show is enjoying a rennaisance after Steve Harvey took over in 2010 and is still at the top or near the top of the game show world in Syndication. Card Sharks would get a revival in 2001, but not without a massive overhaul from the 2000 pilot to the 2001 show. That would last 4 months. Like Match Game, Card Sharks was revived for ABC over the summer months. To me, the quality is suspect but it's miles better than this wretched piece of filth.

Well, that's #254 and the last one is coming up at the end of the month. See ya for the finale on September 30th as we induct the Fall of HQ.

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