Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Best Game Show

I am resigned to the fact that the only way I will ever get rich is if someone just gives me the money.

Not through my education, which given the way the interest on my student loans keeps compounding is not only the most expensive thing I’ve ever done but will also continue to keep costing me money for years.

Not through my hard work, since I rarely do any hard work and much of the time I spend “working” is actually spent writing entries like this, which has a way of keeping billable hours down. That and my clients rarely see the need to pay me.

With hard work and education out as sources of riches, that leaves luck and knowledge. Which means the lottery or game shows.

I’m already playing the lottery as much as I can ($2 per week, about – a big chunk of the allowance Sweetie gives me), so game shows are the last frontier for me, the only way that I stand to get rich in my own lifetime, to have a lifestyle that involves no alarm clocks, no ties, no traffic jams, and a lot of traveling, hotels, continental breakfasts, and plenty of time to read so that The Ministry of Special Cases does not sit for weeks on the dresser by my bed, slowly gathering rings from the baby bottles which get set on it each night when both A and B wake up at the same time and Sweetie has to get me to give one of them a bottle, too, after a few sips of which the twin I'm holding falls asleep, so I set the bottle aside on the only open spot on my dresser: the shelf where the book I’m reading sits. Or, I should say, the book I would be reading except that I rarely spend time reading because I’m usually exhausted from those all-nighters with A and B, and when I’m not exhausted, I have TIVO which is set to record a variety of great TV shows including
Three’s Company and, now, Torchwood, which I watched last night and which looks really, really good, not least because the previews for the second episode made it look as though they’re going to hunt an alien that makes people want to have sex. Sex and aliens. Think of it. It’s the perfect combination for a TV show. Or an invasion of the Earth, because we'd let them.

While you think of that, also think of this: Why was it still called Three's Company after Chrissy moved out, and Terry moved in and Cindy kept coming around?

If I was rich, I would have all the time in the world to watch Torchwood and read The Ministry of Special Cases and still spend some time with the family. But getting rich, like I said, means that I will have to, I think, win a game show.

(Or sell my latest idea for a TV show. My longtime fans – well, fan—okay, Sweetie and anyone who happened to stumble across this blog through some weird search – know that I wrote a sitcom that will someday be a great hit [you can read the pilot here] but I also the other day on the way home from work had a genius idea for another sitcom that would make me rich just on the concept, plus I’d cast A and B in it and get rich off of them, too, but not in a creepy Joe Simpson way; in the good-stage-parent way, except that I can’t think of an example of a good stage parent, so I might have to be the first.

The idea is this: Fuller House. It’s a simple premise: Ashley (Ashley Olsen) is suddenly widowed in a non-scary/non-threatening way and is left with identical twin boys and some girls to raise. So she asks her identical twin sister Mary Kate (Mary Kate Olsen) to move in and help her – but Mary Kate brings her would-be filmmaker fiancĂ© with her, and he sells the family's life as a reality series that he's directing.

This is genius, I know. Sweetie claimed it wasn’t and that it was the plot of Hope and Faith. I don’t know how she would know that, since nobody has ever watched Hope and Faith, but I checked on IMDB and that’s not the plot at all. So it would work.

And you naysayers who point out that Ashley and Mary Kate played one person on the original Full House and so it doesn't make sense to cast them as twin sisters on some kind of continuation which doesn't even include Bob Saget because I don't like him, he almost keeps me from watching How I Met Your Mother, but not quite because I don't have to see him, too, can just be quiet. It’s TV. It doesn’t have to make sense.)

But until that idea, or my other sitcom, gets picked up, I’m stuck with game shows. And I thought I would get rich off one game show in particular a while back, one of only two game shows I’ve ever tried to get on. I don’t bother with the newest game shows out – Deal or No Deal, The Power of 10, whatever else is out there. These game shows don’t require any knowledge at all, so far as I can tell. Deal or No Deal requires only luck, or seems to require only luck, since the contestants the one night I watched it seemed completely incapable of grasping the concept of the odds that the briefcase had $1,000,000 in it when that was one of 10 remaining choices and the other 9 all were $100 or less; and were simultaneously incapable of grasping the concept of “a bird in the hand…”

No, I like game shows that require skill and knowledge, and not the weird knowledge you need for things like Wheel of Fortune. “Before and After” my butt. Who would ever come up with "Tom Cruise Missile" as the answer to a puzzle? I’m looking to showcase and use real knowledge, or at least real trivial knowledge, and that means that I tried out – many many times – for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

When that show had its first go-round with Regis, I and the family watched it religiously because it was a lot of fun and gave even non-smart people a chance with the multiple choice and all. And I was a natural for the show, I figured, because I was (am) really smart, and because I really wanted to be a millionaire. So I constantly, whenever I could, called that number they had and took the test and on three separate occasions I passed the test and they said that someone would call me the next day if I was selected to go on to the next round – in New York! With Sweetie there! With lifelines back home!

And each time I waited and waited and didn’t let anyone use the phone and worried when people did call that somehow the call waiting would not work and I’d miss Millionaire’s call – really, I did worry that – and each time Millionaire failed to call me.

I was crushed. It is so much worse to nearly qualify and then not get picked for the next round than to not qualify. “Better to have loved and lost” is not true. Remember that guy whose friends tricked him into thinking he won the lottery by taping the numbers from the day before? I always felt kind of like that. (And if I was that guy, by the way, those friends would have been thrown out a window. That is the least funny joke I can imagine.)

So Millionaire, with its great questions and increasing level of difficulty, and even some strategy, and lifelines, and all, could have been The Best Game Show. But they broke my heart. And I can’t forgive that.

Millionaire’s betrayal returned me to my first love: Jeopardy!. I’ve always loved Jeopardy!. I love the buzzer, the questions, the categories (Potent Potables? Great!), the round where the scores can really change, Mustache-Trebek, bareface-Trebek, Final Jeopardy!, writing on the screen. But you know what I really love about Jeopardy!? The snob appeal. The fact that only smart people really love Jeopardy! and do well at it.

When I was in law school, my roommate and I used to compete at Jeopardy!, which is exactly the geeky kind of law school thing you’d expect pre-lawyers to do. He’d keep score, and we had rules – you could not answer before Alex finished reading the question, even though we had both read it already, and you had to answer in the form of a question, and we even disallowed lame questions like if you said “Who is 1984?” which is technically a question but a dumb one, so it didn’t count.

We competed like that to show each other that we were smarter, which is probably 99% of the reason someone watches Jeopardy!. I’ll admit it: it’s more fun for me to watch the show around people so I can rattle off answers and impress them.

Jeopardy! is the most challenging of all the game shows because it strives for that snob appeal. Have you ever taken the test to get on the show? My college exams were easier. Sometimes I watch and get one or two answers right the entire show. There’s no multiple choice, here, either. You know it or you don’t – no help. Just like life, in fact, if life required that you know the document that was the predecessor to the Constitution (and can quickly recall that information in the form of a question.)

(It’s What are the Articles of Confederation?, by the way, and when my roommate and I competed you’d have to ask it that way. If you said What IS the Articles of Confederation? you were wrong because “articles” is plural.)

But don’t think you just have to be able to spout esoteric information (not trivia, either; they ask real categories.) You also have to be able to consider how much to wager on Daily Doubles, and you have to gauge your knowledge of a category and make your Final Jeopardy! wager before even seeing the question. Alex will tell the players (and us at home) that the category is “Big Band Singers,” and you’ll think I’ve got this and wager all of it,

but all you really know is Frank Sinatra, and suddenly you’re faced with “He was known as the man who taught American to sing” and you’re stumped but the guy next to you is frantically writing “Who is Fred Waring?” and he’s right and you’ve got to hope that your wager, leaving you with $10,001, is enough to keep you ahead of him because who bets all his winnings?

It’s that strategy and calculation on top of all the information you need that puts Jeopardy! over the top in the end, because it lets geeks like me prove not just that they know more, but that they can outmaneuver the other nerds.

Jeopardy! has other points going for it beyond it’s ability to let me show off the one talent that a lifetime of comic books and D&D has left me with. It also has made its way into the pop culture as a test of smarts– remember, on Seinfeld, that time that George became a genius because he stopped having sex? How did he prove he was smart? By watching Jeopardy! and answering the questions.

Plus, Jeopardy! has spawned one of the very few memorable and funny Saturday Night Live skits. Will Ferrell’s Alex Trebek hosting celebrity Jeopardy! still makes me laugh just thinking about it.

A final reason why Jeopardy! is The Best Game Show: That exclamation point. It’s not just oh, hey, Jeopardy’s on. It’s This! Is! Jeopardy! The exclamation point, by the way, beats the tar out of Millionaire's question mark. (I told you. Broke my heart.)

I know that Jeopardy! doesn’t pay as well as that harlot, Millionaire, but it offers more snob appeal and has always been there for me and never led me on, not even the one time I was able to try to qualify, since I had to take a test and I apparently did not pass because they never notified me that they’d give me a chance to the second round. Jeopardy! hasn’t been flooded onto the airwaves, has not been handed over to not-Katie-Couric, has not been switched from prime time to mid-afternoon just before Ellen, and has not, in any significant way, changed itself. Even Wheel of Fortune has modified its puzzles, and eliminated the shopping with prize money.

Jeopardy! just keeps cruising along, with its columns of answers and Audio Daily Doubles and that awesome theme song. It will just keep cruising along, I imagine, timelessly putting its answers out there for you to respond to in the form of a question.

And someday, I’m sure, one of those answers will be He made his first billion when his “Fuller House” became an overnight sensation on television.

Remember to respond in the form of a question.

1 comment:

Jay Cam said...

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