Jackie Gleason once hosted a show so bad that it only ran one episode, followed by an on-air apology

Ironically, the apology got better reviews than the show itself.

The Everett Collection

Jackie Gleason is a total TV powerhouse, right? There's no way that anything he touches could flop. Especially if it doesn't just flop, but flops so magnificently that it goes down in TV history.

Well... this is the story of You're in the Picture.

At the time, Gleason was already a huge star. The Jackie Gleason Show (started as Cavalcade of Stars and later renamed) was a big success, coming in at #2 in the Neilsen ratings for the 1954-1955 season. Its most successful sketches were spun off into their own show, a little thing you may have heard of called The Honeymooners.

By 1961, the world was Gleason's oyster. On January 20, 1961, the same night that John F. Kennedy was inaugurated, he appeared as a host on a brand-new show called You're in the Picture.

Have you ever put your head in one of those character cut-out standees at a park or festival? That was the basic premise of the show. A panel of four celebrity guests would appear in a "picture" by placing their heads in the cut-outs of a famous scene or song lyric, and would have to ask Gleason yes/no questions to guess what the scene was. If the guests guessed correctly, 100 CARE packages would be donated in their name. If they didn't, the packages would be donated in Gleason's name instead.

The first episode had "pictures" featuring Pocahontas rescuing John Smith, four playing cards, a group of men leering at a woman in a bikini, and high schoolers at a track meet. The celebrity guests were Pat Harrington Jr., Pat Carroll, Jan Sterling and Arthur Treacher.

How bad was the show? After the episode finished, Gleason asked the stagehands what they thought. When all they could offer was "the commercials were great," Gleason knew he was in trouble. It took very little time for the critics to confirm this.

The next week, audiences tuning in for the second episode of You're in the Picture were treated to something unusual: Gleason sitting in a chair on a bare stage, where he proceeded to apologize for the bad quality of the show. Gleason called the show "the biggest bomb in history."

It wasn't all bad, though. After all, this is still Jackie Gleason we're talking about. He handled the on-air apology with a sense of humor and a little good-natured self-depreciation, like when he tried to identify who was responsible for the terrible show without taking the blame himself and ended up blaming the stagehand who said, "You're on the air" before the show. Another moment involved having stagehands bring out an example of one of the pictures but with their heads turned away, which Gleason jokes is because they don't want their wives and families attached to the show.

The apology, ironically, got much better reviews than the actual show. However, show sponsor Kellogg's pulled their sponsorship after Gleason made a joke during the apology about how his coffee cup contained a new kind of coffee called "Chock Full O’Booze."

Gleason obviously bounced back okay, since he's one of the most famous comedians of all time. For the rest of us, You're in the Picture serves as a reminder that even the greatest of us all can have a bad day.

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34 Comments

WilliamJorns 7 months ago
The fact that he went on the air and apologized for the show speaks volumes about his character. He truly was "The Great One."
TVEye 7 months ago
Mr Gleason was such a gentleman. When he was basically retired in Fort Lauderdale, he would stop at the golf/country club community he sponsored and lived at for dinner at least once a week in his limo and dressed sharp. He always made sure to wave and say hello when he passed thru the security gate where i was posted. Class act.
Grandma22 7 months ago
My prairie dog digs into cake and cookies
NEPatriot 7 months ago
You're In The Picture...perhaps the greatest flop in the history of TV game shows.
WonderGeorge NEPatriot 7 months ago
That's true, my friend - from what I remember, after this fiasco bombed, the time slot for the show was replaced by "The Jackie Gleason Show", which, in this case, was an interview program, where Jackie would interview prominent personalities, such as George Meany, head of the AFL-CIO.
Gayleistoons 7 months ago
How judgemental and ridiculous, if they only knew how truly bad shows are the in thing today.
ArchieB Gayleistoons 7 months ago
Quality shows are a thing of the past. All produces can think of is rehashing previous successes. I personally cannot stand copy cat shows or music for the most part.
tootsieg 7 months ago
I never heard of the show or the story that goes with it. Thanks MeTV. Learn something new every day.
daleuhlmann 7 months ago
This flop reminds me of another disaster that Me TV had an article about not too long ago: the infamous TURN-ON, ABC's disastrous answer to NBC's ROWAN AND MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN. That show, which was hosted by Tim Conway, was so bad that it was cancelled the same NIGHT, just before it had aired that evening on the West Coast. Conway, to give him credit, took the debacle in good stride, and made bad jokes about TURN-ON right up to the day he died.
cperrynaples daleuhlmann 7 months ago
Yes, and Turn-On had the same producer as Laugh-In! Theresa Graves was even hired on Laugh-in after Turn-On was cancelled!
Cougar90 cperrynaples 7 months ago
Two stations canned the show after the first commercial break, and 75 more said they would not air any future episodes. The ABC station in Cleveland told the network, "If you are going to write dirty words on the walls, don't use our walls." I wish we had tv stations with guts nowadays.
cperrynaples Cougar90 7 months ago
ALL TRUE! And as I said, both the broadcast and unbroadcast episodes are on YouTube!
heygrandpa 7 months ago
He sure had great records. Enjoy them still today.
forthekids 7 months ago
It was a mistake for Jackie to try and host a TV game show..he wasn't ment to mc a game show.
BrittReid 7 months ago
That's Jackie Gleason at his second best, next to Ralph.
Beatseeker BrittReid 7 months ago
na na no... the best was bufort t justice...(hope i spelled it right...)
Snickers 7 months ago
Wow! Really Gleason had to apologize for the show? Man that must have been a really bad program.
cperrynaples Snickers 7 months ago
Actually I found it very funny, and the apology is pure Jackie!
Runeshaper 7 months ago
WOW! I never knew about this. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing, MeTV!
justjeff 7 months ago
At least one full episode was broadcast - unlike "Turn On" - which was cancelled mid-show for being so bad!
cperrynaples justjeff 7 months ago
It depends where you lived! Some saw the whole show, Cleveland cut out after the first commercial, and many West Coast cities didn't see it at all! YouTube has the complete episode with commercials as well as the unbroadcast second episode!
justjeff cperrynaples 7 months ago
Finally! I'm going to check it out.... thanks!
cperrynaples 7 months ago
I have seen both the game show and apology on YouTube! If you love old games shows like What's My Line?, it's a must see! Fun Fact: Johnny Carson was intended to be on, but dropped out and was replaced by Pat Harrington, best remembered for One Day At A Time!
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Moverfan cperrynaples 7 months ago
Sooo...twenty years ago today?
Mike Mark 7 months ago
(1) 'Way Out, not Far Out.
(2) Produced by David Susskind, not Herbert Brodkin.
(3) Hosted by Roald Dahl (pre-Willy Wonka).
(4) Most of the episodes survive on bad kinescopes - I know, because I've got bootleg DVDs of a bunch of them.

Just so you know ...
cperrynaples Mike 7 months ago
Yes, it was THAT David Susskind! Also, Dahl was better known for his mystery stories, many of which were adapted for AHP! He even hosted Tales Of The Unexpected which collected those stories! And yes there is a DVD, but i'm told the quality is bad because it was live!
Mike cperrynaples 7 months ago
'Way Out was what they called "live on tape"; some special effects were involved, and retakes were sometimes necessary.
As to the quality, little if any thought was given to preserving the episodes, which were kept on kinescope film, which never looked good.
If you see the kinescopes, you'll see the original broadcast commercials, mainly for L&M cigarettes - a true document of their times (with those smoky folkies, Glenn Yarbrough and The Limeliters!).
Svengoolie's team ought to make a deal with whomever has the rights to 'Way Out;
these shows would make a great fill-in for Saturday nights.
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