On the night of Jan. 27, 1961, TV viewers saw something a first. Jackie Gleason apologized for the show he appeared in the week before.
The show You’re In the Picture premiered on Jan. 20, 1961. Jackie Gleason hosted the game in which celebrities stuck their head through holes cut into illustrations. Unable to see the pictures themselves, they asked questions to help them guess the scene they appeared in.
If the celebrities could guess the picture, the show would send 100 care packages in the celebrity’s name. Otherwise, it sent 100 care packages in Gleason’s name.
To call the new series a flop was an understatement. After that first episode, Gleason approached CBS executives. In a 1985 appearance on The Tonight Show, Gleason said he explained to the top brass that he had to go on to make an apology. They resisted, saying they don’t allow anyone to go on and apologize for their programming.
“Well, this week, you’re gonna,” he told them.
So one week later, Gleason appeared seated at the center of a nearly-empty studio. A few crew members stood in the shadows in the background.
“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,” he said.
He explained that he had been asked to host the show on a night he was supposed to be out of town. Executives called him into an office to explain the idea.
“This guy came in and demonstrated this game, and I want to tell you, we fell down,” Gleason said. As the hilarity continued, they called in people from nearby offices. “Now you can imagine how this built up in our opinion is a great show. It just caught on.”
Unfortunately, the laughter in the office did not translate when the program hit the airwaves.
Here’s a snippet of the single episode and his resulting apology:
While critics ripped the first show apart, they apparently had a change of heart after Gleason’s unprecedented apology.
He continued from the third week on with The Jackie Gleason Show, carefully trying to make people laugh and forget that You’re In the Picture ever existed.