TAPE/AIR DATES

March 23, 24, 30, and 31, 1977

NETWORK(S)

QUBE

ANNOUNCER

Tom Weebil

PRODUCED BY

Howie Blumenthal for Warner Cable



 

“Ladies and gentlemen, How Do You Like Your Eggs?..."

 "...Your answer to this question will directly affect the play of television’s first two-way game of public opinion!”

You know…I actually feel I need to give some background info first.

In 1977, Warner Cable in Columbus, OH developed an experimental cable TV system called QUBE. QUBE offered subscribers 30 channels (a huge number for 1977): 10 broadcast channels (including stations in Cleveland & Cincinnati), 10 channels offering a new development called pay-per-view, and 10 “community channels” which were channels with very specific target audiences (for example, channel C3 was a channel of exclusively children’s programming called Pinwheel).

The big screaming deal about QUBE came courtesy of the “magical box” pictured above. It was the special remote control that offered you instant access to any of those thirty channels…but there was one other feature. Those five numbered buttons on the right of the control were what allowed you to “communicate” with the program that you were watching.

Many of QUBE’s live programs would involve the on-air personalities asking a question directly to the home viewers, with the home audience voting with their buttons. Warner’s Vice President of Sales felt that this would revolutionize, among other things, political debates. He offered a scenario of the moderator telling a candidate, “We’re going to find out right now if our home audience thinks you’re telling the truth. Audience, vote (1) Yes or (2) No.”

Reality was a little different...Most of the programming was uninteresting or derivative (the above image comes from "Talent Search," a QUBE series that was shamelessly ripped off from "The Gong Show"). The experiment quietly ended some time around 1984.

It was with this view of a new and better tomorrow that Warner Cable executive Mike Dann headed to New York to go to a To Tell the Truth taping and convince Bill Cullen to come to Columbus for a few weeks in March, 1977 (nine months before QUBE would officially launch) and host a total of four pilot episodes of a new game show to air live to about 200 home viewers whose homes were hooked up to the service in advance for experimental broadcasts. Bill said yes, and here's how it worked out...



Pilot #1

Two married couples compete. Bill alternates presenting each couple a question with five choices; the viewers at home vote for their answers as the the couple watches pre-recorded footage of people in the mall giving their answers.


Each member of the couple then decides independently what they think the most popular answer will be. If either one chooses the most popular answer, it’s worth one point. If both choose the most popular, it’s worth two points.

In a two-point win, the couple has the option to gamble by picking the least popular answer. If they do this, they steal one point from their opponents. If they fail, the opponents steal a point from them.


 

The first couple to score five points wins the game and the Atari Super Pong 10 system, while the losers receive dinner for two at Jai Lai.

The winning couple plays the Perfector Round. Bill asks another question and reads five more choices to the home audience. This time, the couple must arrange all five choices in correct order from most to least popular. The couple receives $10 for each choice placed correctly, or a new television for perfect order. Home viewers who participated in voting for the broadcast were treated to a free airing of the pay-per-view movie Funny Lady, which received one star from Roger Ebert.

And that was opening night. The crew had some bugs to overcome, and they had to find a way to get the job done faster (the broadcast ran eight minutes over). But they had three more chances.



Pilot #2

Tonight, we hit a pretty big road block for any new game show: a game that simply doesn't go well. In a game where it takes five points to win, the first point isn't scored until the 8-minute mark; the score is 4-1 at the 23:30 mark. Ten minutes later, Bill announces that they're calling it a night, with the score still at 4-1.

Not the greatest kick-off for a new format, and to say the least it's not a great kick-off for the new technology that your company has invested $10 million into. With five days to go until the next broadcast, the "Eggs" crew showed they'd rather be smart than stubborn about making the show work, and began looking for ways to tinker.



Pilot #3

The young, inexperienced crew at QUBE seems to be getting their act together by the third go-round. The sound effects and graphics operate more fluidly and coherently than in our first two shows, and sure enough, they're trying to offer us a faster-paced game with more variety tonight.

We’ve cut down the number of choices for each question from five to four, making it a little easier for the couples to score on each question. That extra slab where the fifth choice once appeared is now replaced by a fascinating statistic: the number of home viewers participating in each question. This could possibly make “How Do You Like Your Eggs?” the first TV series ever to keep track of its own ratings during the broadcast. And good news…five more viewers joined the show during the night.

To mix things up, Bill would occasionally precede the question by specifying who among the voting viewers he wanted for some questions. One question was for women only, while another was intended for the youngest viewer in each household.

The commercial breaks on this broadcast included a new feature, Studio Audience Match, in which the home audience voted on how the audience in the studio voted on a question.

The Perfector Round received a slight budget injection. This time, coming short of perfection nets $50 per correct answer. Not only that,  they’re making it easier by having Bill offer a clue and allowing the couple to change their answers after hearing it.

So there's definitely progress being made, but if there's a sign that there are still problems to be worked out, it's the 38-minute running time.



Pilot #4

It appears that the goal for tonight is, just once, to get the show done by the 30-minute mark. With that goal in mind, we have a fairly significant rule change: there is no more risk in a 2-point win. If you guess the least popular answer, you steal the point from your opponent. If not, there is no penalty.

And wouldn't you know it? That change was just enough for the game to be decided, 5-3, at the 18-minute mark of the show.


The final Perfector round is an amusing one, as Bill says, ever so diplomatically, that the show is absolutely determined to see somebody win the end game just ONCE before their experimental broadcasts come to a close. Bill basically lays it in the couple's laps by giving them THREE do-overs before revealing the correct rankings, and "How Do You Like Your Eggs?" comes to a close with a perfect night. The happy couple has a new color TV and a game of Pong to go along with it, and they pulled it off at just under the 30-minute mark.



THE BAD: Okay, guess what? This isn’t as bad as you might expect. No, it’s not a great show. It’s riddled with amateur technical difficulties, and it’s ridiculously slow-paced...With the tinkering done in the 3rd & 4th pilots, there was one solution for the show's pacing problem that was never pursued: simply having BOTH couples play every question, instead of alternating. The end game is too hard.

THE GOOD: But you know something?...The question writing is solid (I actually talked back to my TV), the element of risk is interesting, and the sounds and visuals are surprisingly solid for a local show coming out of Columbus, OH. And frankly, some of the answers featured in the man-on-the-street interviews were incredibly funny. (One woman openly expresses a desire to have an affair with her boss, among other gems.) There's a good game here somewhere, they simply didn't find it in time.


And hey, look at Bill’s performance. OK, if you want your proof that Bill was great at what he did, I now submit “How Do You Like Your Eggs?” as the end-all, be-all proof. Bill, in an unfamiliar city, acts as if he’s onstage for a show he’s hosted for years now, interacting comfortably with the contestants and crew for each broadcast like it’s second nature to him…which, in a way, it was. And during the technical snafus that drag the show now & then, Bill calmly and smoothly vamps his way through the storm without a care in the world. This is the show that proves once and for all that this site is devoted to a solid pro.

 

A FINAL NOTE ON QUBE…

Warner Cable & QUBE ended up taking a bath on their two-way TV system, but their other innovation, which they totally ignored when hyping the features of the new system, was what ended up staying. Up until QUBE came along, cable channels appealed to mass audiences, like broadcast networks would. Having designated channels for children’s programming, news, sportscasts, and other specific formats was an unheard-of concept, but it’s the one that stayed for good. If you’ve sat through 100-level media classes in college, you know this concept as Niche Programming.

Howie, a.k.a. Howard J. Blumenthal, the young producer in charge of the program, went on to game show fame with Remote Control and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

One of the channels introduced by QUBE featured a music program called Sight on Sound, which eventually grew into MTV. And channel C3 on the QUBE system, Pinwheel, would a few years later be renamed Nickelodeon. And now you know…the rest of the story.

 

SPECIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
The great photo of Bill at his desk that you clicked on to get to this page came courtesy from Jon Cornell, the set construction supervisor and art director for "How Do You Like Your Eggs?" On top of that, Jon was generous enough to supply us with his copies of pilots #2 and #4. He's now the webmaster of qube-tv.com, an outstanding retrospective on this one-of-a-kind project in television history.

Up One Level to: The Shows of Bill Cullen

Up Two Levels to: Bill Cullen's World

Up Three Levels to: Game Show Utopia