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David Letterman: Game Show Host [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]

Long before David Letterman became the king of late night, he was just another struggling Hollywood comedian. During the 1970’s, Dave was a fixture as a celebrity panelist on many game shows until he finally got a chance to host one of his own. Fortunately, that video has made it online and is hilarious!

David Letterman grew up in Indianapolis and eventually worked as a weatherman in local television. He would eventually head to Hollywood, where he worked the comedy circuit and appeared as a game show celebrity panelist. Dave hosted a short lived morning show for NBC that led to his late night gig, Late Night with David Letterman. After a dispute over hosting duties of The Tonight Show, he moved on to CBS in 1993 and has been hosting his Late Show with David Letterman, since.

One of Dave’s rarer TV projects was hosting the game show pilot, The Riddlers in 1977. Now a copy has been made available online.

The Riddlers placed two teams, one made of five celebrities and one made of contestants with a common theme (five dance instructors were seen in this pilot). One player would read a clue and their partner would have to finish the answer to the hilarious riddle.

Solving nine riddles wins $500 and a chance to play the Crazy Quotes bonus game. Missing a riddle, passed play to the other team.

In the Crazy Quotes bonus game, players hilariously arranged themselves by intellectual ability to solve a series of more difficult riddles for a jackpot of $2,000.

This pilot also features 1970’s celebrity guests Jo Anne Worley, Robert Urich, Joyce Builifant, Michael McKeon, and Debralee Scott.

Take a look at the show that could have been, The Riddlers.

Too bad – the game was just awful.

The Crazy Quotes bonus game was just a mess all around. There was also a home viewer element somehow tied to the celebrity team that really wasn’t explained.

Letterman however, was absolutely brilliant and makes this piece of TV history a must watch. I love how immediately recognizing the game is a dud, Dave begins to mock it.

While the show never made it to air, this pilot did air once. The Game Show Network broadcast it in 1999 as a part of a lost game show pilot marathon.

Dave’s comedic timing was dead on. It was only a couple of year’s later that NBC would finally give him a show of his own, the daytime David Letterman Show, which eventually morphed into his late night show.

To me, this pilot looks as if it never went through an editing phase. I loved the exploding light bulb and Jo Ann Worley becoming an annoying camera hogging pig as it goes on and on. That part definitely needed edited, fellow panelist Michael McKeon (Lenny from Laverne & Shirley) even commented on the fact.

And that theme music, ugh! Is this some kind of twisted circus?

The Riddlers was a Bob Stewart production. The same company that brought us The $25,000 Pyramid and a bunch of other “guess the word or phrase” games.

THE 411

Title: The Riddlers
What: game show pilot
Host: David Letterman
Year Recorded: 1977

JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS:

I think Letterman is a comedic genius and I’m a big fan of his deadpan comedy. It would really be great to have seen him host a game show, but obviously he’s much better behind a late night desk.

Had this show actually made it to air, it would have never lasted long, and who knows what kind of damage that could have to Dave’s career.

For now, let’s hope he keeps renewing his CBS contract, so we can all keep on enjoying his Late Show antics every night!

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