Jeopardy’s producers decided the 2003 College Tournament would be held at Yale. Excellent choice. Not just because it’s down the street from work, which it is, but because Yale is steeped in tradition and excellence.
I have been involved in a number of Yale events over the years, and every time I’ve interacted with its students, I’ve come away impressed.
Unlike your high school prom, Jeopardy was able to make a gymnasium totally unrecognizable as such, and move in with everything you need to make TV. Cameras, a lightning grid that would make a rock band jealous, a new Jeopardy set… it was all there and in place. A replica of Rodin’s Thinker wore a Yale cap.
As the weatherman from the ‘host’ station, I was invited to say a few words to the 1,500 or so in attendance for the two final shows. To quote the title of a long forgotten Broadway show, “We Bombed in New Haven.” It was not my finest, most stellar moment, as a live entertainer.
When I am unhappy with a performance, I want the opportunity to do it again. It’s frustrating.
Johnny Gilbert, the man who starts every show by saying, “This is Jeopardy” did the real warm-up and seemed like a nice guy. Bob Boden from Game Show Network once did a count of Johnny’s TV shows – and the count reached over 50.
I was very excited to meet Johnny, because I’ve always had this ‘thing’ about announcers. It probably goes back to the first time I attended a game show broadcast. It was the early ’60s, NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and I can’t remember the show or host for the life of me.
I do remember Wayne Howell. He was the announcer and he did the warm-up. He was great. I remember how impressed I was that we were getting this comedy routine before the show. He was really killing with some really old material.
More than anything, I remember the floor manager calling out “thirty seconds to go” and Wayne, not missing a beat, adding, “if you have to.”
With the warm up over, Alex Trebek came out. So many people look different on TV, not Trebek. He looks exactly the same. Though I don’t sense he is outgoingly warm, he spent a great deal of time in the audience answering questions. That personal contact is very important. I give him credit for that.
Because the shows haven’t yet aired, I will hold my tongue on exactly what transpired, only to say, the three contestants were male, very smart and astoundingly young. One could easily have passed for 14 or 15. None of the three came from Ivy League Schools and one attended a more or less a local, non-selective college that you’ve never heard of.
Though the staff tries to tape Jeopardy in real time, doing a half hour show in 30 minutes, that was not to be. A few of the responses weren’t what the writers had expected. Were they as right as the chosen answer? A conference took place – research was performed. This was no two bit game show. Someone was going home with $50,000 and a car. The answers needed to be correct beyond the shadow of a doubt.
There was also a bit of technical trouble. One of the computers used by the contestants to write their answers went down. Technicians coaxed it into working on the first show, but couldn’t get it to cooperate for Final Jeopardy on the second.
During one of these breaks, I was introduced to Harry Friedman, Executive Producer. He had the confident manner of the guy who knows how to get the goose to continue laying those golden eggs.
I could tell from speaking to him that he knew a show like this had to be a first class production in every way to succeed. Everything had to look perfect.
When we began taping without the computer working, one of the staffers told me how Harry was a major stickler, and that the problem must have been insurmountable for him to allow production to continue.
In local TV, unfortunately, because we’re live and on a much tighter budget, we often move through problems without solving them. Jeopardy can’t afford to do that. I am so jealous.