Monday, November 24, 2008

The Oprah Winfrey Show

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

New Monday, new television special. We're stepping away from game shows this week, and going to focus on talk shows (probably for two weeks, seeing the past pattern, LoL). Today's feature: none other than The Oprah Winfrey Show. She's less than a year older than my mom, but her abilities are astounding. I love how she can talk about anything to such an intelligent degree. Not only is her show the longest-running daytime talk =show, it is also the most highly-rated talk show. (And, it actually might have an ending. Oprah has mentioned that she will not be renewing her contract come 2011.) Ironically, in another comparison to my family, the show premiered the day after my brother was born.

Other accolades for the show include Time magazine's shortlist of the Best TV Shows of the 20th Century (1998) and TV Guide's 2002 list of the Greatest Television Shows of All Time. The show has 6 Daytime Emmy Awards, with Oprah as host holding another 7.

While I have never personally been a fan of Oprah (Jenny Jones is my favorite), the show has had many giveaways and dream-come-true moments. (Let's all take a second to recall the 2004 episode where EVERYONE IN THE AUDIENCE was given a Pontiac G6.) Throughout the history of the show, Oprah has revealed personal information about herself when it relates to a guest... like talking about being sexually abused, skipping a grade, being made fun of for her poverty, and having a child at fourteen. (Sidenote, Oprah's never been married nor had another child. While she's been engaged since 1992, no wedding has ever taken place.)

Guests of The Oprah Winfrey Show span all walks of life, and include Michael Jackson, Liberace, Barack Obama (twice before he even announced his candidacy for the 2008 Presidential Election), innumerable entertainment stars, blue-ribbon-at-the-county-fair winners, and authors (hence her book club's crazy following).

Actually, I'm now bored of talking about Oprah, so if you care, you'll have to read up more about her show yourself.

Monday, November 17, 2008

This! Is! Jeopardy!

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

As you might have been able to predict, this week's featured television show is
Another masterpiece by Merv Griffin, the syndicated version premiered in 1984, and is still running 24 years later. Before that, it did run 1964-1975, with a revival 1978-1979. It has 11 Emmys for Best Game Show (and 28 Emmys in all), and has been ranked among the highest of game shows by audiences for years. While the US associates Alex Trebek with Jeopardy!, there are many international adaptations.

Jeopardy! was actually masterminded by Griffin's wife, who pitched the idea to him that it might be interesting to have an answer and make contestants come up with the question. She came up with this technique to prevent the cheating that had been a prevalent scandal in the late 1950s. NBC actually bought the show without even seeing a pilot!

The format of the game has remained unchanged: a Jeopardy round, then Double Jeopardy (prize values are doubled), then Final Jeopardy. There's almost always a defending champion at the stage right podium. You must phrase your response in the form of a question (although Alex seems to be a little lax in the first round). You win the prize value if you answer correctly, and your score is deducted if you answer wrong or don't say anything before the 5-second time limit is up. (Hence how there's nearly always someone going into the negatives at some point in the game.) There are Daily Double spaces on the board where a contestant can wager between $5 and the top prize value for that round, choosing his or her fate. True-blue Jeopardy! players say "True Daily Double" and go all-or-nothing (the way, in my opinion, it should be done).

There are six categories in each of the first two rounds, usually on blue screens. But, for a period in the 1980s and 1990s, Double Jeopardy would have a red background. If you have less than $1 at the end of the second round, you get eliminated and don't get to play Final Jeopardy (unless it's the Celebrity edition). In Final Jeopardy, like Daily Doubles, you choose your wager... only it can be anything, including $0. Alex reads the question, and you get a fun light pen to scribble down your answer (and you can't cheat and write after the timer, because the pen turns off!), and then you immediately get to find out who got it right or wrong.

Now, here's the part about Jeopardy! that you probably didn't know... only the champion gets to keep his earnings! Second place gets $2,000 and third place gets $1,000! Champions are awarded a flight allowance for subsequent appearances (like Tournaments of the Champions) but otherwise no travel or lodging accommodations are given to players. (And the methodology of the Tournaments is rather intense, so I'm just going to skip over that...)

Other fun facts:
- Merv Griffin composed the theme music.
- During the production season, Jeopardy! tapes 5 shows per day
- Ken Jennings (remember him?) has the record for most money won in a single day: $75,000.
- In the show's history (since 1984), there have been 3 separate occasions where nobody had any winnings at the end of Final Jeopardy.
- If there's a tie for first place, those contestants are considered co-champions, each gets to keep his winnings, and each will appear again. Unless it's the tournament of champions, in which case there's a tiebreaker question and the first to respond correctly wins.
- There has been 1 contestant to win with just $1.
- From 1997 until 2003, contestants could play a maximum of five games (not including tournament games), then they would retire AND WIN A CAR. In 2003, the maximum number of appearances was lifted.
- With the 5-show-limit gone, several contestants played for weeks at a time. In 2004, Ken Jennings had 75 appearances, with winnings totaling $3,022,700. (He's not actually the all-time highest though! Google around and read up on Brad Rutter for that info.)
- For those who grew up watching the game, then missed a few years and came back to it, it was in 2001 that the point values jumped.
- In 2006, the set was upgraded from individual video monitors to a projection video wall (yeah, for HD. go figure).

Monday, November 10, 2008

Wheel of Fortune

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

Continuing with the Mondays= Featuring Long-Running Television Shows, today we move away from children's shows and onto game shows. There have been many game shows which have been on the air for quite a long time (think Concentration, which ran for twenty years before they re-made it, then it ran another four), but today's special will be Wheel of Fortune.

This show has been near and dear to my heart for many years, for a number of reasons. First, Merv Griffin (the man behind Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, among other things) is a good friend of my mother's family. By that, I mean that my grandfather's brother lived next door to him in Califon, NJ for many years. My mom and her cousins and siblings knew Merv and his wife and son, rode his horses, and watched tv at his house. As my family (immediate and extended) is very competitive in nature, beating one another in both the travel game and the television show is a regular event, and has been throughout my life. In fact, when the show used to run simultaneously on two local television channels (airtime was off by 15 seconds or so), my cousins would scribble down the answer upstairs, then lower the poster out of the window so my aunt could beat my uncle to solving the puzzles! I also have a good friend who tried out for the show, and made it to the "final four potential contestants" in Orlando. Sadly, he ended up not receiving notification that he'd appear on television, but there's still hope!

Anyway, Wheel of Fortune was originally a daytime show in 1975, but switched to primetime in 1983, where it has been ever since. It's actually been the most-watched syndicated television show since 1984. Pat Sajak and Vanna White have been the co-hosts from the beginning of the primetime era, and Vanna's evening gowns have become a fun topic of conversation for many.

The format of the game has been altered over the years, and the 24 spaces on the wheel have been "upgraded" to allow for the economy's inflation. Similarly, contestants used to be able to choose what they'd play for in the bonus round, but because the $25,000 prize was often requested more often than the cars or trips available, in 1989 the format morphed into choosing an envelope held by one of the letters W, H, E, E, L. Then, in 2001, the format switched to the current situation: a 24-space wheel that is spun, and the contestant plays for whatever envelope he/she spins. The fast-moving Toss-up Puzzles were added (sometime in the past ten years...), and using the SPIN ID system (started in 2004), home audience members (also known as the Wheel Watchers Club) can win the same prize as studio winners. Sometimes there are three pairs of contestants instead of three individual players, and sometimes celebrity contestants play for various charities.

In addition to the travel version of the game, my brother and I used to be quite fond of the NES version. It had some quirks, but was fun. Although there was a popular 4-player option for NES, this 3-person game forced Player 3 to share a controller with Player 1. The numerical values on the wheel never changed, and there were always 2 regular rounds, then a Speed Round. The R, S, T, L, N, E usually given in the Bonus Round were not there, players could choose any 5 consonants and a vowel.

Other fun facts: Prior to 1997, the game board was rolled off after each puzzle so that the new set-up could be manually loaded out of sight of the contestants. With 1997 came computerized screens, and in 2007 flat-screen panels replaced the previous monitors. Eggcrate displays showed the players' scores until 2002 (and I really miss the look of them). The Wheel actually weighs 4,000 pounds!

No video clip this week, as I don't really have a favorite.

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

Another Monday, another long-running television show. I decided to go with another PBS show,
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Like last week's Sesame Street, this show also is geared toward children, has puppet sequences as well as live sequences, and often shows clips from factories and galleries to help viewers understand how things are made. A main difference: no new episodes are being made; the final episode aired in 2001.

There is never a plot, and storylines only half continue from episode to episode. The Mr. Rogers segments do not continue, but the Neighborhood of Make-Believe sections can carry for days. Mr. Rogers often breaks the fourth wall by recapping the puppet sections for the audience, and discussing what went on. Fred Rogers himself was one of the show's puppeteers, and with him viewers imagined themselves on the trolley to and from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

Characters: King Friday, Queen Sara Saturday, and Prince Tuesday; Lady Elaine Fairchild; X the Owl and Henrietta Pussycat; Daniel Tiger (who lived in the clock); Corny the inventor; Grandpere the tiger (who lived at the Eiffel Tower); the Platypus family (little Ana was so cute!); and Harriet Elizabeth Cow (the schoolteacher). Oh, and of course Mr. McFeely, Mayor Maggie, Chuck Aber, and Lady Aberlin.

Fred Rogers wrote over 200 songs for the series, and sadly, I doubt that the new generations will be privy to learn them all. While there is a campaign to make Mister Rogers a part of daytime PBS scheduling once again, it is currently only airing once a week or so in most parts of the country. There were some great episodes, and I learned about a lot of different things, including how toothpaste is made, LoL. "Jospehine, the Short-Necked Giraffe" was my favorite sequence, but it seems that I cannot find a good video clip. It was a three- or four-day sequence, and extra time was allotted to the musical play than the usual middle segments. Josephine was a giraffe, and she had a friend, Hazel, who was an elephant. Hazel played the trombone, and there was another giraffe who played the "hoof organ," which was similar to the floor keyboard in Big. And a snake who learned to hiss. The main theme (I believe) was to accept and love your differences.

The clip below gives a good view of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, introduces several characters, and begins with Mr. Rogers in the sandbox, one of my favorite live-action settings.