In my capacity as critic for this blog, I recently watched a week of the quiz show, Jeopardy!
One of the first things I discovered was the major reason this program used to be famous.
At one time, the categories from which the contestants are allowed to choose their “questions” to the “answers” were straightforward: the choices were often among such lists as “Composers,” “Rivers,” “Presidents’ Wives,” and “Film Directors.” In their search for a younger, less-educated viewership, these have been replaced by categories that are best described as “cutesy.” “Frankly Speaking” would be an example: the contestant must elect an answer from this category with no foreknowledge of what to expect. In this case, he finds that the question the writers are after refers to the first or last name, “Frank.” The old categories were, frankly, superior. Not only were they not cutesy; they also tested the educational backgrounds of the contestants rather than their quick recall of Franks who had achieved as little as 20 minutes of fame. Either no one now knows who Schubert was, or the new contestants are chosen largely for their knowledge of trivia.
Unfortunately, the superficial ploy of requiring contestants to preface their answers to these petty questions with the phrases “Who is?” or “What is?” is still a staple of the show. Forgetting to go along with this silly scheme is certain to evoke either a gentle reprimand or a disqualification by the host, depending on whether he likes you or not. And his likes and dislikes are easy to spot. Deference to him, his charm, his sense of humor, his superior intellect, etc., is the key. The slightest hint of one-upmanship is a ticket to failure. Not that there are many contestants who are willing to hint that their host is anything less than a medium-sized god: every person who might even suspect that said host is a low-brow, wannabe high-brow egomaniac has been axed from the roll in the screening process.
Warning to all contestants, or wannabe contestants: Be prepared to play straight man to this mediocre humorist.
And don’t even think of pronouncing French words correctly. Even if you do, this little man, who begins every sentence with the word “I,” will correct you.