Column: Turn it to channel 76 – and that’s my final answer

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 19, 2001

The game show’s opening sequence began, featuring that distinctive electronic-sounding music and that shiny logo.

Saturday, May 19, 2001

The game show’s opening sequence began, featuring that distinctive electronic-sounding music and that shiny logo. Our two-year-old, Jimmy, turned away from his toys and pointed at the TV.

Email newsletter signup

&uot;Look!&uot; he exclaimed. &uot;Jeppy! Jeppy!&uot;

The show was Jeopardy. Jimmy had just learned his first game-show title, although he couldn’t quite pronounce it.

Maybe, I thought to myself, I watch too many game shows.

Over the last few days, I’ve noticed Jimmy has picked up even more game-show terminology. When the Newlywed Game comes on, he exclaims &uot;Game! Game!&uot; When Hollywood Showdown started the other afternoon, he distinctly uttered both syllables of &uot;Showdown.&uot;

Yes, game shows rule in our house, where you might hear someone shouting &uot;Istanbul!&uot; or &uot;Who is Joe Dimaggio!&uot; at the TV.; where it’s common for spouses to guess each other’s responses during the Newlywed Game; where Alex Trebek and Richard Dawson are seen as members of the family.

I’ve always been a game-show fan, ever since I spent summer days watching Tic Tac Dough and the Price is Right as a youth. But things kicked into serious quiz-show gear a month ago when the Game Show Network suddenly appeared on our TV, an unsolicited gift from Charter Communications. It’s 24 hours a day of Password, Three’s a Crowd, Wheel of Fortune and, of course, the Feud.

Game shows have been hot in the mainstream lately, with big-money, big-ratings bonanzas like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and The Weakest Link. Their million-dollar purses dwarf the $100 questions on reruns of The Joker’s Wild or even the once-mighty $25,000 Pyramid, but those older shows have an appeal I can’t quite explain.

Jeopardy has to be the king of all game shows. It’s challenging, fast-paced and engaging. The &uot;answers&uot; can be about anything. One minute, you’re guessing who starred in some 1950s TV show, and the next you’re trying to figure out the molecular structure of chlorophyl.

About a third of the answers are easy, another third can be figured out from clues they drop you, and the rest are pretty much out of my league.

Family Feud is a close second on my list. I was starting to get used to seeing Louie Anderson as a host in the current version when our sudden access to GSN exposed me to hundreds of Dawson-era episodes. This show is popcorn compared to the intelectual vitmin that is Jeopardy, but trying to guess the most popular answers is a hoot. Even more fun is listening to the clueless guesses from these families. My favorite was when a contestent was asked for a football term – any football term. His response: &uot;Fast break.&uot; Needless to say, it was not the number-one answer.

GSN offers a heavy dose of married bliss (or lack thereof), with several episodes of the Newlywed Game every day. You get a good mix of old ones (fuzzy-headed newlyweds with thick glasses and tacky blue suits fighting over &uot;whoopee&uot;) and new ones (modern-looking newlyweds with the latest fashions fighting over &uot;whoopee&uot;). This one is fun because I’m married,and it’s easy to play along. Turns out my wife and I are skilled at guessing what the other’s favorite number is or what body part we’d trade if we could.

All these game shows are starting to reach critical mass, however. Jimmy’s ability to recognize the shows is one sign. Another is that my wife is starting to yearn for a little more TV variety. The other night, I suggested we watch &uot;The Weakest Link.&uot; I don’t remember her exact words, but I was informed that the TV did not have to be tuned to a game show every single moment it was on.

I can see the benefit, however. I’m turning myself into a sharply-honed game show machine. I’ve got the nuances of Jeopardy clues down to a science, and I’m already sure about my Final Jeopardy wagering strategy.

This will surely come in handy when I eventually appear on one of these shows myself. All this game-show watching is really an investment toward big cash prizes and fabulous vacations. Or at least lovely parting gifts.

In the meantime, everyone will just have to get used to me speaking in the form of a question.

Dylan Belden is the Tribune’s managing editor. His column appears Sundays. E-mail him at