You're in the Picture: The '60s Game Show That Was So Bad, It Required an On-Air Apology

Jackie Gleason on the set of You're in the Picture, arguably the worst game show to ever air.
Jackie Gleason on the set of You're in the Picture, arguably the worst game show to ever air.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

On January 27, 1961, comic actor and newly-minted game show host Jackie Gleason walked onstage at Studio 52, a CBS television facility on West 54th Street in New York City. The set was practically barren, with a chair, two small tables, an ashtray, and a lamp.

After being introduced by announcer Johnny Olson and with television cameras trained on him, Gleason addressed the live broadcast's viewers directly.

What they had seen in that timeslot the previous week, he said, was “the biggest bomb in the history of television.”

Gleason was talking about his own series, a game show titled You’re in the Picture. And its first and only episode was so awful that Gleason felt the need to apologize for it.


You’re in the Picture was the brainchild of Don Lipp and Bob Synes, both television producers with experience in game shows, and was produced by Steve Carlin, who also had experience—though perhaps not the kind that looks good on a resume. Carlin was at the center of the quiz show scandals of the 1950s, when contestants confessed to being fed answers or asked to throw games on The $64,000 Question.

The idea was simple, and that was part of the problem: In You’re in the Picture, a panel of celebrities would be tasked with sticking their heads through a large tableau that they couldn’t see and then ask questions of the host in an attempt to identify their situation. It was similar to the kind of muscle and bikini images left on display at Coney Island, where people would have their pictures taken. The dynamic would allow for the host to toss jokes around in a manner similar to Groucho Marx, the film star who went on to great success as host of You Bet Your Life.

Jackie Gleason tapes a television show in the 1960s.
Jackie Gleason tapes a television show in the 1960s.
Martin Mills/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Both the producers and CBS had their star in mind: Jackie Gleason. The actor had become a household name thanks to The Honeymooners, the sitcom that ran for only a single season in 1955 and 1956 but managed to remain memorable in the years and decades to come. Gleason, a savvy businessman, had the foresight to film the comedy using the Electronicam, a method for preserving television programs that was uncommon in the 1950s. It allowed him to later sell the show to MCA, who could syndicate the clean and sharp footage. (Gleason got $2 million, a bargain for MCA, which reaped millions from the series.)

Because of Gleason’s popularity, he had a unique arrangement with CBS where the network paid him a guaranteed $100,000 annual salary whether he worked or not. This kept Gleason in the network fold. While a six-figure sum for doing nothing may have been tempting, Gleason enjoyed working and made frequent appearances on variety and game shows, including The $64,000 Question. When he was approached about hosting You're in the Picture, he was eager to participate.


Gleason understood his role immediately: With his quick wit, he would be able to have fun with the concept and use the game as a clothesline for humor. No money was at risk for the players, who would be expected to be amusing personalities.

Gleason later recalled that he and producers did dry runs of the show for secretaries and that everyone loved the idea. But when the show was formally announced in December 1960, the problems began mounting early on. Producers had issues finding guests for the first panel, but finally settled on actors Pat Carroll, Arthur Treacher, Jan Sterling, and Pat Harrington Jr. While they were a talented bunch, none of the performers were particularly known for their sense of humor.

That meant the bulk of the heavy-lifting would be left up to Gleason. For the debut episode on January 20, 1961, he ran through a series of tableaus with the guests, including scenes depicting Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Pocahontas rescuing John Smith, and an image inspired by the popular “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” song, among others.

Unlike Marx, who often had some lines prepared, Gleason went out live and unrehearsed—save for scripted endorsements for sponsors Kellogg’s and Liggett & Myers cigarettes. While he was gregarious and charming, the game play was not. The panelists—who would often all appear in the same scene at once—asked mundane questions, seemed confused, and rarely guessed correctly. Worse, the stakes were nonexistent. If the panel won, 100 charity packages would be donated in their name. If they lost, the packages would be donated in Gleason’s name. For viewers, there was virtually no emotional investment in the outcome.

“You have braved a blizzard,” Gleason told the audience at the conclusion of the episode. A veteran performer, he knew a disaster when he saw one.


The reviews were unkind. “It didn’t just bomb,” wrote newspaper columnist Milton Bass. “No, it lay there in shivering agony, naked to the world, broken, beaten, skinned alive; and expired slowly, agonizingly, beyond pity, contempt, fear, or favor.” The debacle was compounded by the fact that Gleason was one of television’s biggest stars. Though television always offered flops, few were as high-profile. TIME magazine declared You’re in the Picture the worst show in the then-13-year history of television.

Though producers had arranged for another panel for the next week—one newspaper reported a second show was even taped and ready to go—Gleason didn’t believe it could be salvaged. The afternoon before he was scheduled to go on air, Gleason decided to appear on stage and offer an apology.

Jackie Gleason records a TV promo.
Jackie Gleason records a TV promo.
Michael Roberts/Hulton Archive/Keystone/Getty Images

“Last week we did a show called You’re in the Picture that laid without a doubt the biggest bomb in the history of television,” Gleason said, as the studio audience laughed.

Explaining that “honesty is the best policy,” Gleason proceeded to lay into his own week-old show. Calling it a “catastrophe” and comparing the first episode to the “H-bomb,” he spoke for 30 minutes, acknowledging the show had been terrible. In jest, he had stagehands wheel out one of the tableaus so Gleason could demonstrate how the game was supposed to work. The stagehands kept their faces turned away from the camera.

“You’ll notice, ladies and gentlemen, that the stagehands have their back turned to the audience,” Gleason said. “Now this is understandable. They don’t want to be identified with this thing. They have wives and children and are respected members of their community.”

While sipping from a cup, Gleason joked that he was drinking “a new coffee called Chock Full o’ Booze.” He read the bad reviews out loud and then confessed he wasn’t sure what he would do next week.

The same reviewers who had been so unkind to Gleason and the show were enamored with this rare moment of candor on television, and the apology episode was well-received. Gleason went on to fulfill his obligations with a talk show, The Jackie Gleason Show, in the You’re in the Picture timeslot for the next seven weeks. It was replaced by an anthology show, ‘Way Out, hosted by author Roald Dahl.

While shooting The Hustler in 1961, Gleason reflected on the show’s failure with a reporter from the Philadelphia Daily News.

“The show was just horrible,” Gleason said. “Now the mechanics of the show were perfect; the panel was as witty as possible under the circumstances and there were no technical mistakes. Nevertheless, it laid a bomb and I figure I’m to blame. I think if someone other than myself had been the host, or catalyst, or whatever they called it, the show would have been all right.”

Maybe. But it definitely wouldn’t have been as memorable.

Watch John Krasinski Interview Steve Carell About The Office's 15th Anniversary

John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
NBC Universal, Inc.

The Office just passed a major milestone: It has been 15 years since the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit British sitcom made its way to NBC, where it ran for nine seasons. To celebrate the show's big anniversary, former co-stars John Krasinski and Steve Carell reunited in the best way possible: Carell appeared as a guest on Krasinski's new YouTube show, where the two decided to spread some positivity.

Krasinski just launched his very own news show titled Some Good News, and it's exactly what we've all been needing. During this segment, he interviewed Carell via video call, and the two shared their favorite memories of working on the beloved workplace comedy.

"It's such a happy surprise," Carell said of The Office's continued success. "After all these years people are still tuning in and finding it." The two also addressed the question that's been on every fan's mind: is there a chance that we'll see the Dunder Mifflin crew reunite in some way?

"Listen, I know everyone's talking about a reunion," Krasinski said. "Hopefully one day we'll just all get to reunite as people."

You can watch the full episode below. (Carell joins the video around the 5:50 minute mark.)

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.