Bullseye (lost pilots of dart-based game show; 1981)
Bullseye was a long-running darts-based game show that originally ran for over 300 episodes from 1981 to 1995. Broadcast on ITV, it challenged three teams to answer general knowledge questions and compete in darts games. It proved a surprise hit during its original run, in part thanks to its host, the comedian Jim Bowen. However, the show's early production was troubled as its two filmed pilots were declared too terrible to air following a series of errors by a nervous Bowen, prompting the decision to have them wiped.
Bullseye was conceptualised in response to the game of darts' exploding popularity throughout 1970s Britain, making it a mainstream sport on television and within most pubs across the country. It was also the product of Andrew Wood's extensive research into the viability of British game shows, harnessing his findings to create a fresh yet inclusive new show. Convinced a darts-based game show would meet this criteria, Wood teamed with former The Golden Shot host Norman Vaughan, offering him co-creator status in exchange for presenting the concept to ATV. Subsequently, the concept reached ATV's Head of Light Entertainment, Jon Scoffield, who greenlit a few pilots. However, he ordered that Vaughan, whose time hosting The Golden Shot after Bob Monkhouse proved a major disappointment, could not host this new show. Nevertheless, Vaughan's co-creator status meant he would profit from the show if it reached television screens.
Peter Harris, who previously worked on The Muppet Show and fellow ATV game show Family Fortunes, was assigned as Bullseye's director. The show's proposed host was Dave Ismay, who had been influential on other ATV game shows like The Golden Shot. Ultimately, Ismay had to turn the role down as he had committed himself to cruise shows. At least three other candidates also rejected hosting duties. Thus, ATV turned to Jim Bowen as their fifth choice. Bowen, a stand-up comedian, had kickstarted his television career by featuring in the slapstick children's show You Must Be Joking, as well as making regular appearances on the stand-up television show The Comedians. Bowen readily accepted the Bullseye gig, having noted game shows typically made stars out of their hosts, including that of his close friend Bob Monkhouse.
The pilot episodes were recorded in September 1981. At first, it appeared hiring Bowen as the presenter was a huge mistake. Having lacked experience hosting game shows and showing clear signs of nervousness, Bowen's inaugural two outings were disastrous. By his own admission, Bowen frequently messed up when explaining the game's rules and making small talk with the contestants. Most infamously, one contestant explained he had been unemployed for the past two years. Upon hearing this, Bowen simply exclaimed "Smashing!", much to the chagrin of the guest. Three-time BDO World Champion John Lowe appeared in the pilots. He expressed that while the shows did take a while to film thanks to Bowen's mistakes, they nevertheless proved "hilarious".
But according to Harris, an ATV review of both pilots led to a universal consensus: that the episodes were exceptionally terrible, and that for Bowen's sake, they needed to be fully scrapped. This proved an especially costly decision, as a car and a caravan were given out to winning guests, costing ATV between £46,000-£64,000. Following the canned pilots, Harris met with Bowen over Chinese and imparted crucial advice and encouragement. Another 13 episodes were filmed throughout September, which Bowen declared as "marginally better". Even so, Bowen jokingly remarked that the main producer was still unhappy with the show's quality, even claiming he would ignite the set and place Bowen on top of it. Nevertheless, it was decided the "best" recording would air first, on 28th September 1981. Initially, it seemed Bullseye would be a one-series wonder, as though ratings were decent at first, they had plummeted by 7.5 million following episode 7.
Just as Bowen concluded his television career was finished, Bullseye suddenly rebounded greatly and generated unexpectedly high ratings by episode 10. Soon, Bullseye was renewed for another series, becoming one of Britain's most famous game shows and airing for 15 series from 1981 to 1995. During its peak of success, some episodes reached the 20-million figure. Bowen attributed this surprise success to the show's unintentional humour factor, including his frequent gaffes and its absurd prizes (most famously speedboats).
Because the pilots were almost immediately wiped from existence and were never broadcast on television, they are considered permanently missing. The only media surrounding the pilots comes from accounts by Bowen, Harris, Lowe and others involved in their production. On 23rd April 2023, Lowe provided some photos of the first pilot, showing him in action and the presentation of the car prize. Outside of this, little else from the pilots have resurfaced. The pilots are not the only lost Bullseye episodes as some that did air were later found unaccounted for within ITV's archives.
- Bullseye (partially found coverage of professional darts tournaments; 1979-1981)
- Bullseye (partially lost episodes of dart-based game show; 1981-1986)
- Darts and Shove Ha'penny (lost early BBC televised darts matches; 1936-1939)
- Professional Darts Players Association detailing the history of darts in Britain, including its rise in popularity in the 1970s. Retrieved 24th Sep '23
- Boggenstrovia's Bit detailing the show's history, including its scrapped pilots and dramatic rise in popularity. Retrieved 24th Sep '23
- Bullseye where Wood discussed the show's conceptualisation and legacy. Retrieved 24th Sep '23
- Television Heaven documenting the show's creation, its games and how it became a surprise hit. Retrieved 24th Sep '23
- BAFTA page on Peter Harris. Retrieved 24th Sep '23
- Independent obituary for Dave Ismay. Retrieved 24th Sep '23
- 29th October 2006 issue of The Sunday Mail reporting on how Bullseye almost never became successful under Bowen thanks to two failed pilots. Retrieved 24th Sep '23
- UK Game Shows summarising Bullseye and its failed pilots. Retrieved 24th Sep '23
- British Classic Comedy summarising the life and career of Bowen. Retrieved 24th Sep '23
- The Daily Mirror where Bowen reflected on his time hosting Bullseye and how it rebounded from its shaky start. Retrieved 24th Sep '23
- The British Television Pilot Episodes Research Guide 1936-2015 summarising the pilots and noting that they were junked. Retrieved 24th Sep '23
- John Lowe Facebook post discussing his time on the pilots and providing a few photos. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- Dartsweb's Bowen obituary where Lowe also summarised the "hilarious" pilots. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- Unicorn page on Lowe. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- Kaleidoscope noting the two pilots are missing, as are some episodes that did air on television. Retrieved 24th Sep '23
- Missing Episodes discussing lost Bullseye episodes including the wiped pilots. Retrieved 24th Sep '23