First episode: January 3, 1966
Last episode: September 26, 1969
Seen weekday mornings on NBC
(10:00-10:30 through 1966, 12:30-1:00 thereafter)
Two contestants faced a game board with nine boxes: eight numbered boxes and the "Eye Guess" box in the middle.
The contestants were given eight seconds to study the correct answers hidden behind the eight numbered boxes. Bill asked a contestant a question, and the contestant had to recall, by number, which box hid the correct answer. One correct answer in the round would be an answer the contestants hadn't been shown, hidden behind the "Eye Guess" box. The contestant declared "Eye Guess" if they believed the answer was hidden behind it.
A correct pick earned 10 points; an incorrect answer gave control of the game to the other player. The first player to score 100 points won the game, $1 per point, and the chance to play the Bonus Board.
The original bonus round had Bill reading the names of celebrities, with the game board now hiding the names of their spouses. The contestant had to match each celebrity to their spouse.
This was quickly replaced by the Bonus Board. The eight numbered boxes hid one of seven prizes, or a STOP card. Contestants picked prizes one at a time until they uncovered the STOP. If they picked all seven prizes without hitting STOP, the contestant also won the prize hidden behind "Eye Guess," a new car.
Very late in the series, the format was changed to one in which the contestants played the game for prizes instead of points. The first contestant to collect seven prizes won. In the bonus round, the numbered boxes now hidden seven GO cards and one STOP. Uncovering all the GO cards without hitting a STOP earned a car.
NBC introduced two new daytime shows the week of October 17, 1966 (The Pat Boone Show and The Hollywood Squares). As part of the hoopla surrounding their debut, Eye Guess had a special celebrity week with different stars playing the game each day. Monday's guests were Joan Fontaine and Darren McGavin, Tuesday's stars were Betsy Palmer and Barry Nelson, Wednesday featured Julia Meade and Mel Brooks, Tuesday saw the comedy team of Marty Allen and Steve Rossi, and on Friday, Jack Clark stepped in to host so that Bill could play the game against his wife Ann.
Mel Brooks remembers his appearance on Eye Guess (originally printed in GQ): The week of October 17–21 in 1966—that would make me about 40—was a special celebrity week on Eye Guess. Bill Cullen was the host....I was teamed up with Julia Meade. Remember her? Actress, very pretty young lady, blonde… Okay, never mind. I don’t think I won, but I did get the take-home game.
Anyway, the show is over, and I start walking toward the podium to say good night to Bill, to thank him for having me on. He starts coming toward me cross-stage, and I don’t know what he’s doing. His feet are flopping. His hands are flying everywhere. He’s doing this kind of wacky walk-of-the-unfortunates that Jerry Lewis used to do. So I figured, what the hell, I’ll join him. I start doing, I dunno, this multiple-sclerosis walk, flapping my arms and doing the Milton Berle cross legs—my own Jerry Lewis impression…
And Julia is whispering, “No! He’s crippled, Mel!” I don’t even hear her. Finally we meet in the middle, we hug, and he says to me, “You know, you’re the only comic who’s ever had the nerve to make fun of my crippled walk. Everyone’s so careful, it makes me feel even worse.” And I realize, Oh, my God, this guy is really crippled! It was my worst moment—and if you weren’t me, probably the funniest thing that ever happened.
Eye Guess represented the beginning of a new stage in Bill Cullen's career. The Price Is Right, his most successful show, had ended its nine-year run, and I've Got A Secret was coasting through its last couple of seasons. The scandals had ended big-money quizzes years earlier, but now even the untainted game and panel shows had fallen out of favor. Game shows were no longer a big deal, and their hosts were no longer big stars, at least not to the degree they had been before. Aside from a four-week run of I've Got A Secret in the summer of 1976, Bill would never again host a network game show in prime time. Game shows were now relegated to the networks' daytime schedule, as well as the profitable but lower-profile world of first-run syndication.
Bill had changed too, of course. Once introduced as the "bright young comic", he was now as witty as ever, but a seasoned veteran with two decades of game show experience. (He was almost 46 years old when Eye Guess premiered.) As a younger generation of hosts got by mostly on looks, Bill had talent to spare. It wasn't just that he made it look easy. To him, it WAS easy, and his less-is-more approach would serve him well over the next two decades.
A late-night producer once described Johnny Carson's devil-may-care style as "sitting back in the seat and driving with one hand on the wheel". In the less competitive world of daytime and syndication, Bill worked in much the same way, finding he could operate just as well at the edge of the spotlight as in the middle of it. In his own words, "I hope never to be a big, really big star. I may never be one in any case, but I've seen too many big names burn themselves out on television."
Nowhere was his relaxed style more evident than on Eye Guess. The preposterously simple format created its own humor with comically mismatched answers, and Bill added to the fun with irreverent (by 60s standards) shenanigans that showed he wasn't taking any of it seriously, least of all himself. In the one color episode that survives today, he's seen joking around with off-screen announcer Jack Clark, kidding the contestant who returned from "yesterday" even though it's obvious that they're taping multiple shows, arbitrarily giving extra prizes to players who fared poorly and even bringing humor to the mundane home game plug by showing the camera a Password box instead.
Eye Guess was the first series from Bob Stewart Productions. Stewart, who had created The Price is Right, To Tell the Truth, and Password, had departed acrimoniously from Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions in 1964 to form his own company. Stewart, who had formed a close friendship with Bill during their years on Price, signed Bill to host under an unusual deal for a host. Because Stewart had so little money to work with in his first venture as an independent producer, Bill hosted the show in exchange for a percentage of whatever profits Stewart made from it.
Live broadcasting had led to the famously loaded schedule that Bill had for much of the 1950s and early 1960s (he was on radio or television for a total of 25 1/2 hours per week at one point). Because the development of practical videotape had now led to more efficient pre-recording schedules, Bill was only in the studio for two days a week, but still maintained a packed schedule. He taped Eye Guess on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, a daily NBC segment called Emphasis, and a syndicated radio segment, Ideas for Better Living.
A single color episode (which aired on Game Show Network) and a black-and-white kinescope of an additional fifteen minutes from another episode are all that are known to have survived.