Last month, Monty Hall taped his last "Let's Make a Deal," walking away from that lucrative game show after 18 years for a new half-hour series called "For the People."
It was his personal dream project, one that would allow him to take his brand of altruism profitably to first-run syndication--and, he hoped, millions of viewers. He has often said that charity work--not entertainment--is the real driving force in his life. (As a fund-raiser, he's had several hospital wings named after him and been honored with the Variety Clubs International Humanitarian Award, among some 300 awards from nonprofit groups.)
"I've done so many benefits across the country, that everybody owes me," Hall said.
"For the People" would let him cash in those chips. The concept: Each week, Hall puts several troubled folks in touch with others who can help them out, a kind of "Hands Across America Meets Real People." Hall figured it was the perfect show for the charity-oriented '80s.
But when he took the half-hour pilot to this year's NATPE (National Assn. of Television Program Executives) convention, the generosity stopped: enough independent stations didn't sign up, and Hall has had to put his dream on hold.
In the pilot, he found a job for the father of a baby awaiting heart surgery; saved a church kitchen from condemnation so it could go on feeding the homeless; got a recording contract for a woman trying to raise money for child survivors of a Utah mine disaster with a song about their plight; and raised enough money to send a group of senior citizens to a coveted bowling competition.
"I thought television would be dying for it," he said, still sounding a bit stunned over the rejection.
A spokeswoman for Worldvision Enterprises (not to be confused with World Vision, the Christian broadcasting outfit) which co-produces with Hall, blamed a market glutted with product. "There's less room to try something new," she said, "and this is quite different."
Hall said oversupply was a problem--"We were up against 'People's Court,' 'Divorce Court,' just about everything but 'Tennis Court.' "--but also admitted, "We did a couple of things wrong. We came in (to the convention) late, and shot the pilot in 3 1/2 weeks, and made some mistakes in our haste.
"The idea is marvelous, but perhaps our presentation was too prosaic, too much a documentary style. Maybe it needs a little flash, more production values. We may need to think more of the audience.
"It is a radical departure for television," he insisted. "And it was just too tough a sell at the last minute."
Now, he and Worldvision are "regrouping," trying to keep "For the People" breathing.
"We're looking hard at what we did wrong," Hall said. "I wouldn't go in (again) with the same pilot."
He said a network and "others I can't name" are interested in the concept, and he hasn't given up.
"I know it's right for our time," he said. "People do care. They really do."