BIG GAME

Airdate(s):
June 13- September 19, 1958
Network(s):
NBC Prime Time
Announcer(s):
Wendell Niles, Johnny Jacobs
Produced By: Jackson Stanley

"Welcome to television's most exciting game show, in which our guests go hunting not with gun or camera, but with quick wits and intuition for big money, and...BIG GAME!"

Tom took his first shot at hosting a game show on a series that turned out not to be a direct hit.

If at any point, these rules sound confusing, just take a breath, say "Battleship" to yourself, and start reading again. Two contestants, one a returning champion, compete. Each contestant has a 25-space game board out of view of their opponent. Before each game, the contestants secretly place a Hippopotamus (which fills 2 spaces), a tiger (3 spaces), and an alligator (4 spaces).

Once that's taken care of, Tom alternates asking questions to the contestants. For each round of questions, each contestant is asked a 2-part question in the same category. One correct answer is worth three shots, two correct answers nets six shots.


 

The contestant then removes the shots they've earned from a chute next to their podium and places them into a 25-space pegboard, which lights up the corresponding space on their opponent's board. Placing it in a space occupied by an animal is a "direct hit," and placing shots in all the spaces occupied by a single animal pays cash rewards. A contestant wins $100 capturing their first animal, an additional $400 for the second animal, and an additional $1,500 for the third and final animal (and all cash accumulated is deducted from the opponent's winnings). The first contestant to capture all three of their opponent's animals wins the game and the right to meet a new opponent.

This was the first venture into the game show business for the established disc jockey, local beauty pageant host, trade show host, and commercial announcer who followed in his brother's footsteps to Hollywood, and believe it or not, his memories of "Big Game" aren't pleasant. Watching a film of his big break decades later, Tom could only remark, "I can't tell you how bad it was." The legendary emcee, believe it or not, even had choice words for the young man standing behind the podium on this series: "I was absolutely pitiful."

I wouldn't go THAT far, but Tom definitely has some "newbie" symptoms in the only surviving episode. He has brief spells of confusion and has to correct himself periodically. He's absolutely not to blame for the series' failure, however.

For one, viewers might have found it to be a silly game; watching a contestant arrange a hippo on a wall so that his opponent can "shoot" at it may have struck more than a few people as absurd. The show also came along at the worst possible time; it premiered only 11 days before "The $64,000 Question" was hastily pulled from the airwaves as the quiz show scandal erupted; ANY game show that premiered in June 1958 would be a hard sell for viewers. The series was also on in one of the worst time slots it could have had in 1958; "Big Game" was slaughtered by Lawrence Welk.

So, in conclusion, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was Tom Kennedy. Tom found his grove very quickly and was by far a better emcee only a few months later when "Dr. I.Q." came along. Welcome to the biz, Mr. K!

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