At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man (“back in my day…”) let me just say that back in my day TV quiz shows were better. Visiting family means I watch a lot of TV, especially TV I do not normally watch. One example is the modern day quiz show. At home I will watch “Cash Cab” and “Jeopardy!” but not the others for a couple of reasons. This essay is about why I no longer watch those quiz shows and why I find them so infuriating.
My first problem is related to a larger trend of TV programming: it is becoming democratized, which is to say it features ordinary people and not extraordinary people. Quiz shows (remember Quiz Show, those were extraordinary people) used to be about watching people smarter than the average Joe answering difficult questions. TV used to be about the super-humans and not about real people. I want to learn when I watch quiz shows. I want to watch someone smarter than myself do things I cannot do. I want to be amazed. I do not want to wonder why this person is on TV and I am not. I do not want to wonder why the contestant is having such a hard time answering a question I remember (I actually do remember, instead of being told that I did) learning in 5th grade.
My second criticism is related to, possibly a product of, the above trend in TV, melodrama. I guess it makes sense that if the contestant is an average Joe then there should be some drama to make the contest more viewable. This justification is, however, a side effect. Just as talk radio is done s-l-o-w-l-y drawing out the air time, lessening the burden on content creators, so to do the quiz show producers. If “1 vs. 100” were to fire through questions at the rate “Jeopardy!” does then the average Joe contestants would not last very long. This revolving door show would then be giving away much more money, increasing costs and decreasing profits, and would also highlight the average-ness of the contestants.
While watching these shows I do not feel tested intellectually but I do feel my tolerance threshold being tested. Maybe next year I will buy my mother a new TV that way I can guiltlessly put my shoe through her current one, which is what I really want for this holiday season.