I plan to do a JEOPARDY! column every Saturday, complete with cliffhangers. This may be an artifice, but so were the Saturday matinee cliffhangers. You always knew if OUR HERO were hanging off the precipice at the end of the reel, that his horse and a piece of rope would save the day in the beginning of the next scene. Didn’t you?

Every weekday at lunchtime from 1965 to 1968, while growing up in Binghamton, NY, I would go to my maternal grandmother’s house and watch JEOPARDY! with Art Fleming as the host, and Don Pardo (later of Saturday Night Live fame) as the announcer. I watched with my great-aunt Deana Yates, who lived with Grandma Williams. (About the only decent scene in the movie Airplane 2 was the Art Fleming JEOPARDY! sequence.)

The money was much less then. The clues in the first round ran from $10 to $50, with the second round double that. Watching that program, I learned that the ZIP Code for the Spiegel catalog in Chicago was 60609, and that Rice-A-Roni was “the San Francisco treat.” I probably learned some other stuff as well. But I went to high school in 1968, and didn’t come home for lunch, so I watched the program only sporadically thereafter, and by the time the show went off the air in 1975, I was off at college and hardly watching it at all.

Meanwhile, I tried out for one of those Pyramid shows, hosted by Dick Clark, when I was living in NYC in 1977. I must have done miserably; even my sister, who didn’t even watch the show, got a callback, though she was not ultimately chosen, either.

JEOPARDY! returned in 1984 as a syndicated show hosted by Alex Trebek, former host of High Rollers, a show I would watch occasionally. I was almost instantly captivated by it. The questions addressed popular culture as well as the more encyclopedic material. The set was more stylish. Also the money had increased tenfold, with the clues running from $100 to $500 in the first round, and again, twice that in the second round. As the show grew in stature in the culture, I knew I’d have to try out “sometime when I get to Los Angeles.” Meanwhile, I watched with a fervor that approached devotion.

Then I saw THE NOTICE in the Times Union, Thursday, April 9, 1998, Page: D5, 169 words. I almost missed it:

If you think you have what it takes to win at “Jeopardy!”, prove it at a pretest at Crossgates Mall April 29 and 30, 4 to 8 p.m. WTEN, Ch. 10, which airs the game show at 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, will sponsor the competition. About 75 Capital Region contestants who take the pretest are expected to advance to a regional contestant search in Boston May 14.

I hadn’t gone to Los Angeles, but Los Angeles had come to me!

The instructions in the paper were to call starting at 9 am to register. I called promptly at 9 and got a busy signal. I hit the redial regularly for about 20 minutes before I got through. Finally, I was able to make an appointment.

I rode up to Crossgates on my bike, not really knowing where I was going. (The tryout was at a closed department store, but since I didn’t usually frequent the mall, I didn’t know where this store – which I couldn’t name THEN, let alone NOW – was.) And I had made a 4:15 pm appointment, which I was in danger of missing.

Fortunately, I saw a WTEN truck. I followed a techie through a narrow passageway that wasn’t generally open to the public, getting there about 4:13.

There was a swarm of humanity in queue for the test, some for 4:30 and 4:45 appointments. I signed in, and was seated fairly quickly. We were in a section with a bunch of desks, arranged as though it were a classroom. The test itself was 10 questions. You needed to get seven right to get to go to Boston. I remember little of the test except that there was something about Egyptology that I may have gotten wrong. I also found out later that there was another test in every other seat, so that we couldn’t cheat. The other test had a question, the answer of which was Cal Ripken, Jr. (probably something about his “Iron Man” streak of consecutive games played.) Some folks wrote Cal Ripken, which was marked as WRONG, because there was a Cal Ripken, Sr., his father, who was also associated with baseball (and specifically with the Baltimore Orioles.) I thought at the time that I had gotten at least 8 of 10 right.

About 15 minutes later, someone read a list of names of people who had passed the test. I was ON the list! I went to the designated table and got a sheet of paper informing me that I would be able to take a bus to Boston on May 14 to take the REAL test. But I COULDN’T. I had a NON-REFUNDABLE train ticket to visit Detroit and Cleveland that week. (Obviously, I had missed that part of the newspaper notice.)

What will I do?

Continued next Saturday, June 4.
I finally watched the last 10 games of the Ultimate Championship over two early morning viewings. All I have to say is: It’s too bad more stories didn’t say “Brad Rutter wins” (except in his section of Pennsylvania, and on the JEOPARDY! site.) Most stories read “Ken Jennings loses”, because of his now celebrity status. At least Brad will have $2 million to lick his wounds.

Slippery affiliation

I was going to request a tape of the season finale of Gilmore Girls on this blog, but I’ve already been helped by a certain blogger.

It has been one of the very few shows that Carol and I watch religiously, ever since we caught it in summer reruns during its first season. It’s a soap opera, and I don’t mean that pejoratively at all. (N.Y.P.D. Blue, ER, Hill Street Blues are all soap operas.)

I had set the VCR to tape at home. But I neglected to tell Carol that she needed to put in a FRESH (just like the WB!) tape and the incumbent tape ran out of space about 20 minutes into the show! (I would have changed it myself except that I was still in Lake Placid.)

And since I was still in Lake Placid Tuesday, I went up to my room after the SBDC awards banquet at about 10 p.m., turned on the TV, flipped through the channels and came across an episode of Gilmore Girls. Initially, I assumed it was a rerun broadcast on ABC Family cable, but it soon became evident that it was THAT NIGHT’S episode, which I watched.

Most of the buzz about this series has about the rapier-quick dialogue between Lorelei and Rory, the relationship of Lorelei (and Rory) with Lorelei’s parents, and the Luke and Lorelei relationship- Will they? Won’t they? They did – now what? (An aside: I’ve long wondered if their names are nods to Luke and Laura from the daytime soap General Hospital.)

But the best thing about this show is about the parallel construction that the show tends to provide. I don’t always pick it up until the show is over. This season ender was about quitting. Will Rory quit Yale? Will her best friend Lane Kim quit her band? Where they each end up, and how they got there, was a real treat.

But why was it on at 10 p.m.? Was there some (amazingly rare) Presidential news conference or some major catastrophe that backed up the programming?


In the Plattsburgh, NY/Burlington, VT television market, there is no WB affiliate, so WFFF in Burlington (actually Colchester), FOX 44, broadcasts the 8-10 pm WB shows from 10 pm-midnight!

Those of you in large markets may not appreciate this fully. When I was a kid, there were 7 stations in New York City, 2 (CBS), 4 (NBC), 7 (ABC), 13 (PBS), and 5, 9, and 11 (all independents). Eventually, 5 became a Fox affiliate, 11 became the WB’s outlet, and 9 went with UPN (and moved to New Jersey).

(Incidentally, this numbering is the reason most fictional TV stations in those days were 3, 6, 8, or 12, the remaining numbers on the VHF dial, or some upper number on the UHF dial, Channels 14-83. Most notable is WJM, Channel 12, Minneapolis, on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And if you don’t know what the heck I mean by VHF and UHF, look here.)

But in a smaller market, such as Binghamton, NY, where I grew up (and at a time when there were only the three “major” networks), there were only two stations, WNBF, Channel 12 (CBS) and WINR, Channel 40 (NBC).

Then one Saturday morning in the fall of 1962, I turned on the TV just before 7 a.m. to Channel 34. Where there had nothing, suddenly we had a third station! It was WBJA, an ABC affiliate. My TV viewing choices had just increased by 50%!

What I didn’t realize until later is that Channel 12 (and perhaps Channel 40) were broadcasting some ABC programming before
Channel 34
came on the scene. I specifically remember Lawrence Welk, an ABC show, showing on Channel 12 Saturday nights at 6 or 6:30 pm. I recall that other ABC shows such as Bachelor Father, The Flintstones, Hawaiian Eye, Leave It to Beaver, Ozzie & Harriet, The Real McCoys, and Top Cat would show up on the schedule, often on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, outside of prime time (which was usually 7:30-11 pm in those days.) I remember these shows quite clearly, and most of them were off the schedule by the fall of 1962. I must have seen them SOMEWHERE. Cable didn’t exist and I didn’t go to New York City that often.

Apparently, shows broadcast by one network appearing on the affiliate of another network was common in most small markets, going back to the days when there was a fourth network, Dumont, in the mid 1940s to the mid-1950s.

You big-market folks just don’t understand the confusion!¦