where four (sometimes five) women shared their stories of woe in front of an audience and emcee, such stories ranging from a dearly-departed husband to a son crippled with polio. After all the ladies finished, the audience would applaud for the woman they wanted to see become "Queen for a Day". The winner (determined by the famous Applause Meter
) received not only what she had originally asked for, but a slew of other prizes furnished by the show's sponsors. The show was created and produced by John Masterson, who would later enjoy greater success as the creator of The Peoples Court
Debuting on April 30, 1945 as Queen for Today
on the Mutual radio network with Ken Murray as host, the show was originally broadcast from New York. A few months into the run, the show moved to Los Angeles and was given its more familiar title; Murray was replaced by Jack Bailey, and beginning in 1948 the show was simulcast on television in the local Los Angeles market.
The show proved to be so popular that it got national television exposure on NBC
from January 1956 to September 1960, then over the weekend moved to ABC
and continued until October 1964. Two revival
attempts, a 1969-70 syndicated run helmed by Dick "Motormouse" Curtis
and a 2004 Lifetime one-off hosted by Mo'nique, both ended in failure.
But opinions varied. While some praised Queen
for helping the unfortunate and showcasing the generosity of America, both contemporary and modern critics bashed it for being a sickening spectacle for ratings that only gave anything helpful to the winner
— basically a crass, trashy, exploitative Reality Show
(long before the term existed) that explicitly played on people's misery.
Modern viewers have also noted that Bailey was often downright patronizing toward the contestants, if not openly insulting — while they talked about a myriad of unfortunate events such as losing their homes or suffering through terrible medical problems, he threw out sarcastic barbs and jokes at their expense. Thus, what was seen as wholesome back then comes off as downright creepy and sleazy today.
- All or Nothing: Only the lady crowned Queen actually got anything to help her situation. The rest got...well, not much. It was said to be nothing, but was in fact a small Consolation Prize such as a toaster oven or a camera.
- The reason why "nothing" was used? Because there were a small number of contestants who lied to get onto the show, and were found out after their shows aired. Having rightly felt cheated, production reasoned that by stating that only the winner gets any prizes, the ladies had better not think about anything but playing it completely straight.
- Thing-O-Meter: The winner was determined by an Applause Meter.
This show provides examples of:
- I Need a Freaking Drink: In most of the circulating episodes, Jack Bailey looks and sounds like a man who had a few shots beforehand. It might also explain his great skill at being a Jerkass.
- Long Runner: Nineteen. And a half. Freaking. Years. In daytime. Five days a week. Most of it helmed by someone who looked and acted quite like an alcoholic, but could've simply been...
- Obfuscating A Hangover: And if so, Jack Bailey is the best example of playing this trope straight in the history of broadcasting.
- Reality Show: Probably the Ur Example for competitive variants.
- Sadist Show: Ho. Lee. Shit. Look at the below, and explain to us how the hell this lasted 20 years.
- The losers got absolutely nothing as compensation for being on the show, at least from the viewers' standpoint. They actually got a decent consolation gift, but as detailed above this wasn't mentioned on-air to avoid getting liars as candidates.
- The audience (and Bailey) would sometimes laugh at some stories, with Bailey throwing out insults and sarcastic remarks. They may have been meant in fun (as it were) back then, perhaps even an attempt by Bailey to soothe the contestants who were (very understandably) not only wracked by their personal problems but nervous due to the natural pressures of a TV show, but they certainly don't seem so innocent these days...
- Not even the show's assistants (also female) were safe, as Bailey openly insulted them as well. One existing episode even has him saying "Let's give a big hand to Mary Ann for finally doing something right." No, seriously. Unlike the above two, there's really no excuse for this one.
- Sound to Screen Adaptation: 1948 for the Los Angeles area, 1956 for the nation.
- Title Drop: Jack's opening sentence.