Welcome to another installment of “What Went Wrong?”. Today, I’m interviewing one of the many dark horses of the game show world, Bill Rafferty. You know him best from 3 shows. Those would be Every Second Counts, Card Sharks, and Blockbusters. I had the pleasure of interviewing him via Facebook. Here’s what he looks like, just for reference.
Just a note: I heavily edited this interview, mostly capitalization. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just that, according to him, ” because of vision problems my typing sucks”. Yet, he managed to get all this to me in the same day. For that, I thank him.
Greg Palmer: Hello, Bill. First off, how did you get involved in show business?
Bill Rafferty: I got my start in show biz here in San Francisco. A am by trade a stand up comedian. George Schlatter was remaking his original comedy hit Laugh-In. He cast me, Robin Williams, and three other SF talents in the new show. It created a lot of buzz around the country. The show was not successful on NBC. It did lead to me being brought back to the network when George launched Real People on NBC a few years later. 5 years in prime time.
GP: Now, most people don’t know this, but you got started on a reality show called Real People. Well, most of my readers are college students, they don’t know what Real People is about. Heck, I hardly know what it’s about myself, seeing as it’s not rerun anywhere. Yet through this, you managed to get on Family Feud with Sarah Purcell (who coincidentially hosted a Goodson-Todman game show with Bill Anderson). What is Real People about?
BR: Real People was the reality show that started it all. The original cast was me, Sara, Fred Willard, John Barbour and Skip Stephenson. The first 6 shows were live. It was the show that created the phrase “infotainment”. We would travel the country doing stories about real people from the eccentric to the truly heroic. I also feel that I helped define the role of the interactive reporter that is so prevalent today. The show really struck a chord with [the] Heartland [of] America and gave me a new journalistic news persona that I still profit from today.
(And here’s a clip from the British version)
GP: Your first big game was Every Second Counts, it lasted a year in syndication. First off, how did you get involved with this? What was it like working on the show? It lasted only one year here but much longer in England. 7 years to be exact. [You may want to look it up on YouTube to see what I mean.] Why do you think that is?
BR: I hosted a series of specials for Westinghouse called Evening Special Editions. This plus Real People led to Every Second Counts. It was the perfect show for me. It meldedmy comedy with hosting, I loved it. To this day I think it was the best show I ever did. The reason it did not last was very competitive politics at the Westinghouse [corporate] level. There were some people there who simply did not want the show to succeed. A real eye opener. The good part? It introduced me to the game show community.
GP: The two shows game show enthusiasts best remember you for were Card Sharks and Blockbusters. First off, the one I’m most interested in, Card Sharks. How did you get selected for that job? What I liked about your version was the use of Prize Cards, special cards hidden in the deck that had prizes and cash attached to them. Those prizes would be given to the winner of the match. I always thought that was a nice touch. What was it like working on the show [that you can remember]? Surprisingly, your version lasted only a year, which is a real shame because I liked it. Why do you think it lasted only a year? In your opinion, Bill, what went wrong? Do you think we’ll see another version of Card Sharks in the future? Would you like to see one?
BR: I was originally offered the network version which I passed on. A mistake. Then they came back and offered me the syndicated version. I think I had such a bad taste in my mouth from Every Second Counts, I could not see the forest for the trees. I got to work with the master, Mark Goodson. Working on the show was truly a great experience. The reason? As stated, Mark Goodson. A true genius. The show did not last because it did not draw. But when it was cancelled we were doing very well in NYC. Also, the syndication marketplace was getting really competitive. A lot of money to be made. As far as another version, why not, but I doubt it. As long as Wheel and Jeopardy are there, [there] is no room in broadcast. It’s a 500 plus channel universe.
(here’s a clip from the first Cullen episode from 1980, to give you game show newbies something to compare:)
(and the British version:)
GP: Next, there’s Blockbusters. The first one was hosted by the legendary Bill Cullen. Did you watch a few eps of those before your first day? What was it like working on the show? Now, your version is somewhat panned because it didn’t have 2 people playing against 1, what made the original work. I’m reading a review on IMDB, and this user said your version is a “Pale, insipid revival of the prior show”. I don’t blame you personally, Bill. I blame the people at Goodson. I can imagine you didn’t have any input in the format at all, but if you did, would you have kept the 2-against-1 format? According to this same review, various failing elements include “a plethora of questions culled from Hints from Heloise and other silly rather than truly trivia-oriented topics” and “the fleshy, smarmy Rafferty who often seemed to misunderstand the basic strategy of the game and sometimes even got mixed up as which direction the players were headed on the game board”. I must say, I’m a bit surprised to read this. I don’t personally consider you fleshy or smarmy. A bit brash, but not smarmy, and certainly not fleshy. The only flesh I see are your hands, your head, and your neck. Everything else is covered. You’re just a nice guy from Queens who got stuck with a terrible format. I’m curious as to what you think about all this. What’s your reaction? What went wrong? I bet you didn’t know this, but during your run, there was someone else hosting Blockbusters in England, where it was a very successful game for teenagers. Yeah, they had teenagers playing for their schools. Huge success. Huge huge success, lasted 10 years on ITV.
BR: I loved Cullen. He was the best. The only thing I remember about the show is Bobby Sherman [the executive producer] telling me I was the first host to ever receive their questions by computer. I had no input. I took the job for the money. Also it was at the time that the truly great era of game shows was over. Donahue, Geraldo, [and] Oprah were on the rise. As far as a review goes, the guy makes his living reviewing game shows. That says it all.
GP: Oh, and here’s something else very interesting. You did a pilot for Reg Grundy called Run for the Money. For the longest time, it was thought that you and Bob Hilton traveled all the way to London to film this pilot on the set of Going for Gold (which was what RftM became). I learned from Mitt Dawson, a former Grundy employee, that you actually taped it at ABC and that Run was first, not Gold. Do you have any recollections of that pilot?
BR: No real memories at all. I did get to work for Bob Noah. Trivia: his son Peter produced Every Second Counts, and is now one of the most sought after eps [executive producers] in Hollywood. What truly great guys. I think that by this time, as I said before, TV was in transition to talk. These shows were admirable but destined to fail.
GP: Bill, I derived the title of my blog from one of your catch phrases, “the land of parting gifts”. I like that term, and apparently so does my friend who does an online version of Card Sharks. How did you come up with the term? It’s a shame that the only show that truly gives away parting gifts is The Price is Right. All the others give away either cash or nothing. Why do you think this is?
BR: “The Land of Parting Gifts” is truly an ad lib. It worked, they loved it, so it stayed. The reason they don’t give anything away is they don’t have to. It’s just enough for people to be on TV. Another Real People lesson.
GP: So, what are you doing now? What keeps you busy? If given the opportunity, would you like to host another game show?
BR: I am semi-retired now, I do what interests me. I am a contributor to the Fox News Channel from time to time. I will be on the Fox Business Channel next week. I had a show, an Emmy Award winner for Retirement Living TV, called Retired and Wired. The quasi-journalism hat I got from Real People opened a whole new world for me, covering technology from the . com revolution to the present. My real focus now is on comedy, my roots. I always regretted not being able to devote more time to it. But as head of a family of 5, you make the best decisions you can. The pain-in-the-ass boomer comedian is out there lurking and it’s me.
GP: Do you consider yourself a victim of ageism?
BR: As far as ageism goes, who cares? It’s not like these people are right about a whole lot.
GP: Finally, Bill, what advice do you have for people who want to enter your field of work?
BR: You better love it. If you do, you will find the necessary outlets to show your stuff. Especially now, technology and the Web make it so easy to be seen. Never forget in show business, you fail your way to the top.
And nobody could say that better than you, Bill. Here are some tidbits from the game show world:
* Two new guest announcers were announced for Price. First, there’s David H. Lawrence XVII. He’s the 17th “David H. Lawrence” registered at the Screen Actors Guild. I know, it’s weird. Here’s one of his videos:
The other is George Gray, last seen on this show:
Hopefully, you don’t remember him from this show:
I gotta say, there is something wrong here. We’re getting all these new entries into the announcing field. Why can’t we get someone with experience like Bob Hilton, Burton Richardson, or Rich Fields? It’s bad enough we have Joey Fatone announcing on the Feud.
I mean come on! Come on!
* Also, here’s a promo for Million Dollar Money Drop, fresh from BuzzerBlog.
I’ll be back soon!