On Friday night, July 11, 1958, a new tv show debuted on ABC called E.S.P. The reviews were absolutely scathing. “Whatever dignity this ‘phenomenon’ has enjoyed in the past was quite brutally destroyed on the opening session of the new network show,” a Variety reviewer wrote. The New York Herald said, “It took no sixth sense to figure out that ‘ESP’ is fairly dull viewing.”
Who thought two people trying to guess the symbols on a deck of ESP cards would make exciting tv? Everyone involved, except host Vincent Price, had very limited careers after this fiasco.
Poor Vincent Price. First he took 10 minutes to laboriously explain and demonstrate everything that had been done to prevent fraud. I can’t tell what sort of deck they used exactly, because the cards were described as five sets of three cards each, and that’s not the deck designed and in use by the Parapsychology Laboratory. The contestants would then get $100 for every correct guess.
The guests were screened beforehand for ability, and Price hailed them all as has having amazing talents. According to Variety however, the contestants looked embarrassed to be there. Worse, when the game began—airing live from NYC—they failed to deliver. (Not surprising actually.) I’m don’t know how many long television minutes went by before one contestant, a 25 year old ex-Marine boxing champion named Gerald Argento, finally managed to guess three cards correctly, defeating the other contestant, Mrs. Rasie Basu, a Delhi born lawyer who worked at the United Nations, and winning the right to come back the following Friday to face another contestant.
According to an ABC press release, Argento was going to face a Manhattan secretary named Kathryn Papaelion, but I can’t find any confirmation that a second show ever aired.