What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
Turner Classic Movies is celebrating it’s 25th anniversary. The Turner Classic Movies Film Festival is going on right now in Los Angeles, and several people I know from the classic film blogger community are there, such as @classicfilmgeek, @Ginnie_SP, @CitizenScreen, @IrishJayhawk66, and @thedameupstairs. I’m sure there’s more, please don’t feel slighted if you weren’t mentioned. I’m an old man, and I’m not terribly sophisticated when it comes to the Tweeter Machine.
Tonight, TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz will appear on “Jeopardy!” as part of commemorating TCM’s quarter-century of cable-bound, classic cinema wonderment. All that combined with “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek’s recent announcement of his illness, this seemed like the ideal time for another installment of “Story Time With Uncle J-Dub.”
If you are a regular reader of Dubsism, you may have caught on to the fact I make a lot of “Dennis Miller”-type obscure references. A major reason for that is my brain has always been a warehouse of useless information. It all started from the fact that I could read when I was three years old, and I did a lot of it. This meant I sucked up information like a mental vacuum cleaner, but when you’re a kid, there is nowhere for that knowledge to go. This is probably why I was the only five-year old in America who came home from kindergarten and was glued to the original incarnation of “Jeopardy!” hosted by Art Fleming on NBC from 1964 to 1975.
Despite some superficial issues due to the times, the show was pretty much the same one you see today. Three contestants phrased answers in the form of questions to clues arranged categorically and ranked by dollar value in accordance of their difficulty. If you remember the Weird” Al Yankovic video “I Lost On Jeopardy,” this is the version of the show it depicts.
The main difference between the versions of “Jeopardy!” lay in the hosts. Art Fleming was the definition of “presence.” He was a bear of a man; nearly six-and-half feet tall and well over two hundred pounds. He had a deep, resonating voice, and his background as a naval aviation officer during World War II gave him a dignified, yet commanding demeanor. nI other words, in many ways Fleming was the exact opposite of Alex Trebek. To be fair, Trebek has moderated his most annoying characteristic to a tremendous degree, but for the rest of this story to make sense, you must remember that twenty-some-odd years ago, the current host of “Jeopardy!” was far more of a smarmy, annoying, know-it-all asshat.
Now that we’ve set the stage, it’s time to continue my tale of trivial nerdiness. This continued all through my school days in the 1980s. Of course, that means I did more than my fair share of that 80’s phenomena known as “Trivial Pursuit;’oddly for a guy who now does a lot of writing about classic film, the “Entertainment” category was by far my weakest. I was in high school when the Trebek reboot of “Jeopardy!” hit the small screen in 1984.
From that day forward, the the American trivia craze got turbo-charged.
Not only did “Jeopardy!” begin a 35+ year run toward becoming an American icon in syndication, it started bars across America hosting “Trivia” nights, which led to me getting invited to be on just about everybody’s office “bar trivia” team. In other words, the Trebek-led reboot of “Jeopardy!” started a chain reaction which culminated in what seemed like eleventy bajillion people exhorting me to go on the show.
After about of decade of this kind of constant pain-in-the-assery, there came a point in the early to mid-90’s when the show was holding open tryouts in the city I lived in at the time. This is when I finally gave in to the “peer pressure” and sign up. I get through the testing and all the other “dog and pony show” shit they put you through, and to make a long story short, I’m invited to appear on the show.
I’m going to “cut to the chase” here so as not to bore you with all the preliminary crap one must endure in order to get to the 18 minutes you actually see. We get to a point where one of the categories is about baseball, and being the sports geek I am, I figure I’m about to clean up in a major way. I get a question which is all about “the first African-American to play in the major leagues.” I hit my buzzer and say “Who is Moses Fleetwood Walker?”
I get the unmistakable “wrong answer” signal, and the person next to me…some philosophy professor or some other quasi-useless type…rings in ans says “Who is Jackie Robinson?” Trebek acknowledges this is the answer they are looking for, at which point I interject that is not the correct answer. Now, don’t forget, this is the mid-90’s, so there’s no such thing as Google yet; shit, the web doesn’t even really exist yet as we know it today. In other words, my answer is not in the research material readily available at the moment, so the judges uphold the ruling that my answer was incorrect.
Now, I’m starting to get pissed. I renew my objection. This is a subject in which I am well-versed and have written about several times, the most recent example can be found here. As I’m explaining why Robinson is not the correct answer, I see a guy in a headset storm out of the shadows screaming “STOP TAPE!” He makes the finger-beckoning motion toward some unseen guys off-stage and says “This guy is going to screw up our taping schedule. Get him the hell out of here and let’s start over.”
In other words, I’m getting kicked off the show because I’m right and I won’t back down. In another “cut to the chase” moment, there’s a bit of “back-and-forth” which culminates in my being asked to leave escalating to “You need to leave right now!” What I’m learning at this point is there are varying levels of security in a television studio. This is reflected in the varying levels of how one is asked to leave. At one end, there’s a rather polite guy in a blue blazer who asks you nicely. Then, after you tell him to go fuck himself, two sides of beef wearing pistol belts and armored vests show up…and they are distinctly less polite.
I know I’m right, but I’m also not willing to get tear-gassed over it. On my way out I look right at Trebek and offered a parting gift of my own.
“You couldn’t carry Art Fleming’s jock strap, you low-rent Canadian cocksucker!” I emphasized with a point.
The funny thing is while I was hyper-pissed at the moment, by the time I got back to my hotel, I honestly couldn’t have cared less. My surprisingly high level of “whatever” toward this whole situation lasted about a month, until I got a package in the mail. Upon opening it, I was presented with a letter form the “Jeopardy!” people explaining that upon further review, my answer was in fact correct and they extended an invitation to return. To sweeten the deal, they threw in a hat.
I never responded, but I kept the hat.
It’s not Turd Ferguson’s over-sized novelty hat, but it’s my reminder for the time I just might have been the inspiration for “Celebrity Jeopardy!” I probably wasn’t, but it’s my story, so I can tell it any goddamn way I want.
The weird thing: Alex Trebek told us he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which is what killed his predecessor Art Fleming.
You can see all the episodes of “Story Time” here.
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