Taped December 30, 1979 for Metromedia Syndicated TV
In late 1979, Bill and Bob Stewart teamed up to try to relaunch Eye Guess.
Two celebrity-contestant teams compete with the assistance of eight "Window People" seated in the apartment complex on the edge of the stage. As Bill emphasizes over and over again via the intended catch phrase of the series, the object of the game is to "remember what you heard and where you heard it."
To start the game, each of the eight window people gives a "punch line," the correct answer to an upcoming question. After all eight punch lines have been delivered, the window people run around and change seats with the goal of confusing the contestants. Bill starts with the team in control and reads a series of questions. The goal is to identify, by number, the window where you heard the punch line, NOT the Window Person who said it. As on Eye Guess, a team stays in control as long as they keep giving correct answers, and Bill re-reads every missed question until a correct answer is given.
Seven questions are asked in each round. In round one, every correct answer is worth 10 points. In Round 2, every correct answer is worth 20 points. 100 points wins the game. In a change from Eye Guess; in Punch Lines, the team that is trailing starts Round 2 in control. The flaw with this rule is immediately shown in the pilot. One team runs the board for seven correct answers and 70 points in Round One. The trailing team starts Round 2, gives five correct answers, and wins the game.
The end game is basically the front game with prizes instead of points. The team hears eight more punch lines and Bill reads seven questions. For every correct number that the team can give, the contestant wins a prize. If they play it perfectly and give seven correct answers, the seventh prize is a car.
Virtually all of the "Window People" were unknown actors and stand-up comics. It's unknown for certain if it would stay this way for the series, or if Bob Stewart simply wanted to save money for an unaired pilot and planned on using a celebrity panel for the series. Bill does make it a point to mention that "we may not know them now," which would seem to suggest that the idea was to stick with young up-and-comers. Most of them did go on to have consistent work as actors in the years to come, although there's one noticeable breakout star in the group--Edie McClurg would become quite well-known soon after this pilot through a recurring role on WKRP in Cincinnati and a spot as a writer and performer on the original David Letterman Show.
Here's the big problem with the show: They've taken a show that was wonderful because of how simple it was, and added and added and added to it. Eye Guess thrived for nearly four years with nothing more than Bill and two contestants laughing it up and facing a game board. With Punch Lines, they've tacked on an eight-person panel, a bunch of running around in the dark, and two celebrities. Why tinker with something that was so perfect when it was so basic?
Between the taping of the pilot and the summer of 1980, Bob Stewart apparently totally overhauled the game; an industry magazine ad promoting the show's availability for fall syndication suggests a completely different game than the one seen in this pilot. The magazine ad says that "contestants guess a specific response to a life situation and professional comedy teams are waiting to come up with their own answers."
Despite our own misgivings, the pilot actually did sell outside of the U.S. With the title spelled Punchlines, the series ran in Great Britain with host Lennie Bennett for 79 episodes, spanning 1981-84.