Sunday, May 12, 2013

GSV Pilot Review #2: Gambit (1979)

GAMBIT (1979)

A Heatter-Quigley Production
Host: Wink Martindale
Dealer: Debbie Bartlett
Director: Jerome Shaw
Music: Stan Worth (The music was the same as Las Vegas Gambit)
Network: Unknown. If you, tell me.

Gambit was and will always be a classic. Why would they want to tinker around with a great format? Well they did. And it crashed and burned. 1979 came around and Heatter-Quigley wanted to pitch a revival with Wink, who would've potentially pulled double duty with Tic Tac Dough. The core of the main game stayed the same: answer questions to win cards, get 21. The game modifications just didn't click however.
Voila. The poster board slate.
Yes, that's a giant skeeball-type machine awkwardly placed in the center stage. More about that later.

With your host Wink...
And our new card dealer, Debbie Bartlett

MAIN GAME:  Get 21 or as close to it without going over. Answer a question correctly to earn the right to take or pass a card as dealt by Debbie.
Get 21, and you win this pot. The pot increased by $500 after every game it was not won. And clearly, Pacman  is in the background as part of the set and he would have made his debut here.
The Gambit Answer Machine. This was the first big problem, IMHO.
The form of the questions themselves is where the trouble started. Instead of knowledge questions like the original, the questions were Scrabble-like clues to a Hangman-style answer. Example below:

We're playing for a 3....
The clue: "He gets up very early."
The Gambit Answer Machine will then randomly select the number of letters revealed in the answer.
 It actually kind of resembles a Scrabble Sprint Round.

The clue again: He gets up very early. Naturally, we're looking for "Rooster."
  Two out of three games won the match and a chance at the pinball bonus game.

BONUS GAME:  The winning couple was given six balls, three for the husband, and three for the wife. The balls were just rolled into the board, there was no aiming at all. Wherever the ball rolled determined the prize. 
If the ball was rolled into a hole in a prize column, an ace, or a jack, it stayed there...

Get two balls under a prize column and win that prize....
Get two balls in either Ace plus either Jack, and you win a car for getting 21....

If the ball fell into one of those red dead zones, the ball was lost for the remainder of the bonus game.

Or  light all six letters in the word Gambit and win $10,000.

The couple could also light up the letters in the word Gambit for $10,000. Once the ball fell into a letter hole, it was popped back out and remained in play. The lit letters carried over into other bonus games. 
In order words, if a couple lit three of the letters in one bonus game and they won the following match, those three letters would stay lit, and they would only have to light the other three. Simple huh?

So long!

FINAL IMPRESSIONS: The answer board just did not work for Gambit, IMHO, I much preferred the general knowledge questions. The bonus game was completely out of place. Wink was Wink. The Answer Machine thankfully did not make it on Las Vegas Gambit. So now we know that there was a small relatively obscure entry into the history of Gambit. Ok b'bye.


  1. Was this pitched to NBC? There would be 1 more Gambit pilot done by Spring 1980 that got sold as Las Vegas Gambit which featured the regular Gambit Board bonus round but used a special 52 player audience with cards in their hands (The living deck). I think the 2nd. and 3rd. editions of Fred Westbrock's Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows had a description in the Las Vegas Gambit entry about the bonus round which was taken from an unaired pilot source.

  2. I don't know about this pilot... credit for trying, at least, but it just seems so random. It almost feels like they were trying to cross-pollinate Gambit with The Magnificent Marble Machine, and what they got was this strange hybrid of the two.
    There's nothing conceptually wrong with it, but

    As far as networks go, if it's a late-'70s Heatter-Quigley show the network would most likely be NBC, but that's just an assumption on my part. My reasoning works a little something like this: H-Q may have wanted to sell NBC on a logical companion show for High Rollers, but wanted to mask the fact that both it and Gambit have what amount to the same structural format at the end of the day (similar to the Barry & Enright Q&A duopoly of The Joker's Wild and Tic Tac Dough), so the pitched Gambit was altered to no longer resemble the preexisting series quite so much. It may have been okay if the two shows were on different networks again, as was the case earlier in the decade when Gambit was on CBS and the original High Rollers on NBC, but the similarities between the two might have been too much if partnered on the same lineup, which is why we see all this seemingly pointless tinkering. Or at least, that's my theory; I've nothing to back this up, of course.

    Interesting to see that some of the set pieces from this pilot (most notably the lighted "GAMBIT" logo and Wink's podium) survived into the Las Vegas version with only minor cosmetic alterations. Waste not, want not. And to be honest, the endgame for this isn't that bad; it's more of an awkward fit than anything else, but there's nothing conceptually wrong with it. I think I might have preferred H-Q went with this when they decided the Gambit Board needed to go (about midway through Las Vegas Gambit) instead of simply lifting the Big Numbers verbatim from High Rollers and plonking it onto the Tropicana's stage. Even as a six-year-old watching in early 1981, I thought that was kind of lame, and all it did was make me miss High Rollers.