When it comes to TV game shows, my current and enduring favorite is Jeopardy! I shout out responses and seldom answer in the form of a question. My worst categories are world geography, chemical elements, and British royalty, while foreign phrases, pop culture, and words containing certain “syllables” seem much easier. I find Alex Trebek a little too eager to demonstrate his own knowledge and French language skills – while his German pronunciation leaves something to be desired. I have answered many a “Final Jeopardy” question correctly here at home, but I would never be able to figure out how much to wager so that I could win by just $1.
I have watched game shows since childhood, with only sketchy memories of some very early ones. I remember Bess Myerson modeling a mink coat on The Big Payoff and beaming housewives winning refrigerators as emcee Jack Bailey exclaimed, “How would you like to be Queen for a Day?” Then there was You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx’s cigar, his odd humor, and the “secret word” duck; I am not sure what the point of that game was.
I also found panel shows interesting, including What’s My Line? on Sunday nights. Panel members questioned contestants to determine their occupations and donned fancy blindfolds to guess celebrities who disguised their voices. Host John Daly directed guests to “Sign in, please,” on a chalkboard. One popular and oft-repeated question: “Is it bigger than a bread box?”
There was also a panel on I’ve Got a Secret. Guests whispered their secrets to Garry Moore, and the panel got to work. A Google check reminded me of a local connection: in 1956 Albert McAlexander of Carysville appeared on the show with Jimmy, his roller-skating horse.
To Tell the Truth was the most compelling panel show. I ran about 50/50 in correctly guessing which of the three contestants was being truthful. I found it intriguing that some people are great liars and learned there is an art to truth-seeking interrogation, both lessons providing valuable preparation for future classroom management issues.
Eventually I “participated” in some of the games I saw on the TV screen. It was not hard to follow the timed stunts introduced by Bud Collyer on Beat the Clock; my sisters and I even tried to replicate a few of them. A couple of years ago a glitzy, updated version appeared in the form of Minute to Win It.
More fun because I could actually play along was Concentration, the child’s memory game brought to TV life for cash and prizes. I still remember emcee Hugh Downs intoning, “similar but not matching” for unsuccessful guesses.
Later I watched Match Game because I like competitions based on words and phrases. By that definition, I should also enjoy Wheel of Fortune. But I am not such a fan: the show seems overproduced and just too predictable. In a “six degrees of separation kind of way,” a former student, Kelly DuLaney Houtz and her husband spun the wheel one evening with Pat and Vanna.
My absolute favorite show involving words was Password. Of its several TV incarnations and revivals, the classiest was the 1970’s version hosted by Allen Ludden. I also occasionally watched The $10,000 Pyramid because of its words-in-categories play. The title of the show was periodically adjusted for inflation, eventually ending as The $100,000 Pyramid.
I am not adept at cards or prices, so shows like Card Sharks and The Price Is Right have never held my attention. I do, however, like to be challenged on knowledge, all things trivial and random. Thus, I prefer game shows involving questions and answers – or answers and questions, in the case of Jeopardy!
Of course, I never understood any of the questions asked by host Hal March on The $64,000 Question; I just liked seeing the contestants standing in small cubicles and wearing headphones. Sadly, the pool of people who recognize the origin of “That’s the $64,000 question,” and its less expensive version, “the $64 question,” is steadily declining.
I did not watch 21, also replete with headphones and isolation booths. I have, however, read about Charles Van Doren, the handsome college professor who defeated his equally intelligent but less popular opponent with answers provided by the show’s producers. The film Quiz Show recounts the scandal, which caused the demise of the genre for several years.
A handful of other question-answer shows caught my attention. Student teams representing universities on the General Electric College Bowl set the format for current high school quiz bowl competitions. More recently there was Cash Cab, in which unsuspecting taxi riders won money by answering challenging questions posed by the driver en route to their destinations in New York and Las Vegas.
Regis Philbin, the delightfully irascible host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, seemed to re-energize the category several years ago while adding a couple of phrases to the national vocabulary – and my classroom. I pressed the occasional uncertain student: “Is that your final answer?” And a few unprepared kids dared ask to “phone a friend.”
But Jeopardy! remains for me the gold standard of game shows. I will continue to play along with Alex and the contestants each evening in the privacy of my own living room. Who knows – I might even someday live on the edge and go for a true daily double!
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.