David Letterman Plays the Joker in “The Riddlers”

In 1977, David Letterman was still a struggling standup comedian trying to break into television, which is the only way to explain why Letterman would ever take part in the mess of a pilot that is The Riddlers. Unless you’re a fan of David Letterman, perpetual b-list game show guests from the 70s, or things that are so bad, they’re good, The Riddlers is not worth watching.

The Riddlers‘s pilot has many things wrong with it. The most obvious are several format flaws. First, there’s the fact that Letterman is almost useless. The contestants are reading the riddles to other members of their team. The Riddler‘s doesn’t need a host and it doesn’t deserve on as good as Letterman. He exists solely to read the rules and repeat questions that have already been read. While it is necessary to repeat questions every now and then, no game show needs a dedicated echoer.

As if a built in redundancy isn’t bad enough, the starting team is almost guaranteed to win. The problem isn’t that the object of the game is to answer 9 riddles correctly. It’s that the losing team from the previous game starts the new one and keeps control of the game until they get an incorrect answer. It’s entirely possible for a really good team to win the game without the other team ever answering a question. The only reason that doesn’t happen in the pilot is because Joyce Bulifant isn’t too bright, which she has also demonstrated multiple times on Match Game, so it’s not like she was having a bad day.

It also makes no sense to have celebrities compete against ordinary people, even if the celebrities are winning money for home viewers. Since the home viewers are barely mentioned, it still looks like the celebrities are winning money for themselves or for Letterman, who needs it to “fight loneliness.” It would have made more sense to have each team made of 2 celebrities and 3 “civilians,” so that the celebrities wouldn’t have stolen the show and all the money could go to people actually playing the game.

To make matters worse, the “civilians” didn’t even win the game showed in this pilot.  All viewers know is that the team of “civilians,” which is made up of dance instructors, has already won $4,000. It seems like another one of Letterman’s sarcastic remarks until everyone agrees with him, which means that the dance instructors appear to have won $4,000 dollars before even playing the game. Supposedly, there were two pilots taped on the same day and this is possibly the second one, which would explain the discrepancy, but that isn’t made clear.

Throughout The Riddlers, Letterman is clearly at the top of his game, even though he doesn’t get much screen time until the bonus round, which uses made up “quotes” that famous people could have said had every conversation consisted solely of riddles. For the bonus round, Letterman has the 5 celebrities line up in order of “intelligence,” which is made even sadder when all the women argue over who gets the easiest question. In the end, only two of the bonus round questions are answered correctly.

After watching The Riddlers, it’s clear that the show had no chance of getting picked up. Letterman, who is only there for the paycheck and even rolls his eyes once, is the only thing the show has going for it. If Letterman didn’t go on to have a long career in late night, we might look back at this show and wish the host had another shot at fame. Fortunately, NBC didn’t hold The Riddlers against him and were smart enough not to give Letterman another game show.

About Allison Lips

I am the editor and founder of "Wait! What's a Dial?". I graduated from Rowan University with degrees in both Radio/TV/Film and Journalism.

Posted on September 3, 2013, in 1970s, Failed Pilots, Game Shows, Late Night, Talk Shows and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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