It could never happen today.
There’s too much money involved for one thing. Local television stations realized long ago the benefits of filling their non-network schedules with syndicated programming like Seinfeld or Friends reruns.
It was good business.
It’s also a shame. Can there actually be anyone left on the planet who’s looking forward to revisiting season 3 of “Friends”?
“SO NO ONE TOLD YOU LIFE WAS GONNA BE THIS WAY!!!”
(No, they didn’t. If they had, I would have changed the channel before now.)
But this wasn’t always the case.
Bowling For Dollars was a locally produced staple throughout the 70’s on KTVI (Channel 2). Hosted by local Burt Reynolds wannabe Morgan Hatch, the show was actually a franchise, created by the same guy who came up with the “Romper Room”concept.
Maybe that should have been our first warning.
The St. Louis version was taped before what can only be described as the least disciplined “studio audience” in the history of television at the (since demolished) Arena Bowl on Hampton Ave.
When I say studio audience, I mean anywhere between 15-20 people, most of whom seemed to have been drinking leading up to the show. They were either related to one of the show’s contestants or people who showed up with the expressed intent of haranguing the host, Morgan Hatch. Amazingly, he didn’t seem to mind the interruptions at all. He, like many watching at home, seemed to get a kick out of the chaos which typically ensued.
With a sly grin, he appeared to get it. He was in on the joke!
For a kid like me, this was truly “Must See TV”.
The premise of the game was simple.
Each contestant received one dollar for each pin felled (e.g., a contestant who knocked down a total of eight pins won $8, though some versions may have had a $5 minimum for less than five pins). A Strike or Spare awarded $20. The real allure of the show was the Jackpot, which was awarded to any bowler who got two consecutive Strikes. The jackpot started at $200, $300, or $500 (depending on the version) and was increased by $20 each time it was not hit.
The show compensated for its lack of prize money and star power with a complete lack of dignity (or production value.)
To give you an indication of just how poorly it was produced, it made Wrestling at the Chase look like an Emmy Award nominee.
And yet it was this utter lack of production value (or lighting for that matter) that made it so much fun to watch.
It was so St. Louis…so 70’s.
Fittingly, station management came to its senses at long last in 1980 and pulled the plug on the show.
But not before it left an indelible mark…a stain if you will, on the local television landscape.
Even so, it was still funnier than any episode of “Friends”.