I’m so glad people read my blogs. On the one hand, it’s cotton-candy sweet just knowing the stuff I write about is stuff that happens to you or someone you know. I love that “big human family” thing where our differences begin to pale in comparison with all that we share.
On the other hand, oh what a resource you are in my life. Case in point? Jeopardy. Watching Jeopardy is like comfort food for my husband and I. It is the official signal to tune out the happenings of our day and wind down before lights out. That said, I’m a terrible Jeopardy player. Just awful. My “processor” is slow. So when I do nail an answer it’s like WOW! “Good, honey!!!” My husband coos.
I wrote about Jeopardy in a recent blog. As most of you know it’s been a tough year cleaning out my mother’s home after she passed away. It’s taken all this time for the neurons in my brain to rejoin the party of life. And of course I wrote about the whole mess of it. Finally we sold the house and as I shared in my blog Watching Paint Dry, despite what we have been through, my husband and I are so grateful for the little miracles in our life. That we can snuggle in a warm bed and watch Jeopardy.
I receive a lovely email from a woman on my elist who actually works on Jeopardy. She asks me if I would like to see a taping. “Are you kidding? Yes, yes, YES and thank you!” And it’s not like I have to drive to Hollywood or Burbank. Sony Pictures Studios (once-upon-a-time it was MGM) is right across the street from The Culver City Senior Center, the home of The CC Strummers.
So that’s how I land at Studio 10. Actually my friends and I are escorted through the bling & swag room, the pretend mock-up studio (get your camera!), past cardboard Alex Trebek who is standing by the phalanx of Emmy Awards in their glittering display case, on to our front row seats as Jeopardy Production Guests.
I’m so excited I don’t even know my fly is down. Not that anyone would notice. Or care. Being here totally jump starts what I call my “Disneyland Complex.” It’s never enough for me to just ride the ride… No, no, no. I have to know HOW they do all those tricks. And right now I’m watching a whole lot of “HOW.”
The contestants are led into position with their respective staff member. There are animated conversations between them and fist bumps. It all seems very convivial. Stationary cameras are pointing at the contestants, the Jeopardy Board and Alex Trebek’s desk. A jib swoops in and out for the wide shots. We sit behind a bank of computers, manned by the director and writers and the lady who makes sure everything is on the up and up in game show land.
Other staffers decked out in their Jeopardy tee-shirts tell us when to clap. And stop. This is old school wonderful. No flashing applause signs here. Alex Trebek is introduced and we whoop-whoop. Microphones are hanging over the audience so we are warned several times not to holler out the answers. “Like you do at home.”
When the show breaks for the commercials Alex walks over to the audience and answers questions like “what’s your favorite show besides Jeopardy?” Better Call Saul. “Do you get nervous?” Not too much but he does get angry at himself when he fluffs a line. “Will you grow your mustache again?” No!
I ask “what do you and the contestants talk about at the end of the show?” He says just about anything and rattles off a few topics like sports, where they are from, those testy categories… The show today will be broadcast in December, hence the category about holiday songs (on this blazing hot August morning).
The answers are written on a big spread sheet that covers Alex’s desk and he crosses them off, one by one. During the break he re-records lines he messed up and the contestants get an extra dab of powder on their faces and more encouraging words from the production staff.
I don’t know what to look at first because there is so much happening at the same time. It’s like a three-ring circus. The audience has a monitor to watch, then there’s the great big Jeopardy Board itself, the contestants’ monitor and the contestants themselves, the staff nearby, the guys at the bank of computers, the cameras.
Now here’s something you don’t see on T.V. The moment Alex finishes reading an answer one of the guys sitting at a computer flips a switch (or something) that turns lights on both sides of the Jeopardy Board. That’s the signal to buzz in with your answer and the race is on. Some contestants get very “energetic” with their buzzers. I admire their spunk but wish they’d knock off the theatrics. Yeah, yeah I know you know the answer but your neighbor nailed it first so stop clicking that thing.
During the first break Alex poses for a picture with each new contestant. How these smarty-pants gals and guys stay focused with all this activity whirling around them is beyond me.
And let me just say this: Alex Trebek is 77 years old and stone-ass gorgeous. His marvelous resonant voice would make any singing teacher swoon. He practices the answers and pronunciations with his staff before the shows are taped. Johnny Gilbert, the announcer is 93 years old. Did I say “old school” rocks!
Kelly and Sarah of the Clue Crew also answer audience questions, pass out raffle tickets and souvenirs. We are attending the morning taping of three consecutive shows. This afternoon, after lunch, they will tape two more shows with a whole new audience. It’s a long day. But then again we get Jeopardy 46 weeks a year. So there…
Probably most of you remember Ken Jennings. He’s the Jeopardy champion who won an astonishing 74 consecutive games in 2004. That run became a cultural phenomenon. And a personal one for me.
Picture this: I am setting up for an evening show at a nearby retirement home. There are about twenty residents hunkered down in cushy chairs and sofas. Right beside the baby grand piano sits a big-screen T.V. that has been rolled in on a cart for this special occasion. It’s tuned to Jeopardy where Ken Jennings is doing his thing. But I have to set up my gear for the gig so I tiptoe around the television as I surreptitiously test my sound system. All eyeballs are locked on Ken Jennings and the gang. You can smell the “OMG” in the room. We’re talking Double Jeopardy, life and death.
During a commercial I run my fingers across the keyboard so I can get a quick feel of the instrument. This is called a glissando and just as I reach the highest notes on the piano the television goes black.
For a moment there is stunned silence. The residents look at the television and they look at me. They look at the television and then they look daggers at me. And now they sound like angry birds. Caw…caw…caw. They THINK I did it. They KNOW this looming tragedy is my fault.
I desperately fuss with the television knobs and the power cord. Nothing. I try to reason with the residents, explaining that doing a glissando on the piano does not affect electrical currents or cable reception. They aren’t buying it. Jeopardy is gone and it doesn’t come back. And neither does the audience. I lose them before I sing a note.
Such is the power of a beloved television show to capture us and then soak into the marrow of our bones. And today at Sony I get to watch HOW it’s done!
As for that interesting episode at the retirement home, every time I play a glissando I get a little twinge. Still.