If you wanted to sell a proposed new game show to the networks, what better way to give it some instant credibility than to have Bill involved? From the beginning of his career Bill hosted or guested on a variety of pilots. In addition to pilots, Bill also participated in informal run-throughs for network executives interested in buying a new game. In that role, he helped sell The $10,000 Pyramid to CBS originally.
This list includes includes not only shows that didn't sell, but also some others that made it to the air without Bill. Any information we may have on pilots for successful Bill Cullen shows would be located on the pages devoted to those shows. Listed chronologically, although given the nature of pilots, some of the dates are guesses.
Beat the Clock (April 14, 1949)
CBS was the prospective network for this pilot, a TV adaptation of Bill's radio quiz show. Less than a year later, Goodson-Todman and CBS introduced an entirely different game titled Beat the Clock, with zany physical stunts, hosted by Bud Collyer.
If the film of this pilot exists, it would be a holy grail for a few reasons. Bill was only 29 years old, and this predates the surviving 1950 episode of Winner Take All that currently stands as the earliest known footage of him. Second, even knowing this pilot was made lends a significant clue to the mystery surrounding the formats of the show. For Goodson-Todman and CBS to have started with a filmed pilot of the radio's Q&A version, and to have ended up ten months later with a completely different game, we can only surmise that either the network, the production company or both looked at the finished product in this pilot, concluded it didn't work, and started from scratch.
CBS Radio Pilot, Unknown Title (1953)
Billboard reported on a pilot that had Bill acting as host for a roundtable panel discussion with teenage girls. Each episode would have featured a male celebrity guest star with a teenage son or daughter. On the surface, it seems like an odd role for Bill, but the premise seems to bear a striking resemblance to Mind Your Manners, an NBC radio show starring a panel of teenagers and moderator Allen Ludden, best known later as the host of Password.
A Very Special Evening (Nov. 22, 1961)
This show would have had Bill welcoming viewers to a musical performance on location in nightclubs across the country. For the pilot, Paul Anka performed at the Copacabana in New York following his appearance earlier that evening on the Eydie Gorme-Steve Lawrence television show. (The Steve & Eydie program aired on the 21st, and this pilot filmed in the wee hours of the following morning.) Bill introduced the performer and closed the show, but did not interact with Anka. Celebrities such as Dick Clark, Tommy Sands and Nancy Sinatra were on hand to witness the performance. The series would have traveled to various nightclubs to capture performers' acts on a live stage rather than a TV studio.
This program combined Bill's talents with those of another individual not known for musical entertainment programming. The show's producer/director was a young CBS News employee named Don Hewitt. Hewitt, at the time already an up-and-coming star in the news business, would later achieve his greatest success and fame as the creator and guiding force behind 60 Minutes.
A film of this obscurity does survive. Unfortunately, we failed to win a 16mm print of the program when it turned up on an Ebay auction (the still here comes from the listing), but that listing and various vintage newspaper articles provide the details for this description. The original newspaper articles mentioned other possible titles for the show, such as A Date with Bill Cullen and Eyewitness to Entertainment.
The Face Is Familiar (1966)
Jack Clark hosted this Bob Stewart pilot, with Bill and Betsy Palmer serving as the celebrity panelists. When the show made it to the CBS prime time line-up, CBS sportscaster Jack Whitaker was the host and Jack Clark became the announcer. As in the series which aired, the object for the celebrities and their contestant partners was to unscramble strips of a photograph and recognize the famous subject. Bill did not appear in the few weeks this series was on the air.
Celebrity Doubletalk (1967)
Another Bob Stewart pilot hosted by Jack Clark, a copy of this program exists in the UCLA archives. Bill was a celebrity panelist for this show, teamed with Betsy Palmer against a team led by Florence Henderson and Darren McGavin. A team (two celebs and a contestant) saw a category ("Things said by a bride on her wedding night") and each gave a clue to the opposing team. The object, however, was to keep their opponents from guessing the category.
This is the earliest reference to the things-in-a-category theme that Stewart would perfect with Pyramid and use in various permutations for the rest of his career. The ideas that would become Pyramid were all there, but this early format had enormous flaws in the game structure (the object was to give bad clues, for example) and was played mainly for laughs.
We believe Bill participated in the pilot which sold this 1967-69 Bob Stewart series. TV researcher Brendan McLaughlin has put together a comprehensive list of guest appearances during the regular run of the series, and none of them match the photo we have for the show. Given that Bill participated in so many Bob Stewart pilots and given that publicity photos for a new series often come from the pilot episode, we're willing to bet that the photo (which also includes host Larry Blyden and panelists Joan Fontaine and Milt Kamen) is from the pilot.
Cash on the Line (1972)
As you may have guessed from the accompanying photo, this pilot went unsold but led to something greater within a year. Dick Clark was host, with celebrity guests Bill and Peggy Cass serving as the contestants' teammates. In the main game, contestants named items that could fit into a certain category. No details are confirmed about the end game but we suspect that it was played similarly to the later Pass the Buck end game. While this pilot went unsold, CBS ended up moving ahead with another idea that Bob Stewart was pitching with a similar premise. That idea became The $10,000 Pyramid, and the Cash on the Line main game became that show's famous Winner's Circle.
Credit for the photo goes to Eyes of a Generation, a magnificent site loaded with rare behind-the-scenes photos like this one.
(Aug. 3, 1976)
In each round of this question and answer game, a couple would receive a category for which there were two questions, an easy one and a hard one. Initially, the husband would decide which spouse would answer which question. Later, the wife would be responsible for that decision. That process would continue through multiple rounds. The pilot was created by Mark Maxwell-Smith for Ralph Edwards Productions.
Fantasies Fulfilled (Apr. 27, 1979)
What little info we have about this show comes straight from creator Stu Billett, who developed this show between his tenures with Hatos-Hall Productions and Ralph Edwards. The game was a spin on To Tell the Truth in which a celebrity panel met contestants who talked about fantasies they had. One had already lived out their fantasy in a pre-recorded segment, and the panel had to figure out who had their...wait for it...fantasies fulfilled. Doug Llewellyn, who later became host of Billett's The People's Court, appeared in the pilot, as did Cesar Romero, in a segment where the contestant's fantasy was to slow-dance with Romero. According to Billett, taping had to be stopped because the overexcited contestant caught a glimpse of Romero and relieved herself on the stage.
Strictly Confidential (November 8, 1980)
Dick Clark was the host of this Bob Stewart pilot that turned To Tell the Truth into a team sport. One contestant was teamed up with Jay Johnson, Betty White, and Soupy Sales. The other contestant was joined by Bill, Elaine Joyce, and Robert Mandan. Dick would read a vague teaser of some celebrity gossip mined from tabloids ("Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn have developed a unique relationship. What do they do together?") Three celebrity teammates would tell stories ("They do psychoanalysis together" or "They make obscene calls to each other" or "they give each other massages.") The opposing team would cast votes on which celebrity was telling the truth.