I am a Thought Leader of Television, and so I've been asked to ruminate on the Big News that Jeopardy!—yeah! the exclamation point! is officially part of the title!—beat Wheel of Fortune in the ratings a coupla weeks ago, the first time in over a decade, and is this perhaps an indicator that maybe America is trending smarter? Please? More Smart People watching teevee, at least? Of course not! Nobody's getting smarter! It's Television!
With these ratings, we're talking Syndicated Game Shows here, not the all-total of Television, or even just Syndicated shows, because Judge Judy
and a block of animal and nature shows packaged as a thing called Weekend Adventure (consult your local listings) consistently rack up over Jeopardy! and Wheel, and if we are talking game shows, while it's lately been running about two points below Jeopardy! and Wheel, one cannot ignore the ratings power and intellectual scarcity of the current incarnation of Family Feud,
which has occasionally beaten both shows in the Year of Our Lord 2014,
so let's not hurt ourselves in the head any further wondering about Intelligence and Syndicated Game Show Television showing some sorta direct upward correlation, OK?
Still, congratulations to the Jeop! Maybe Alex Trebek is finally more popular since he became Half-American in 1998? Or because he let the world know he sleeps in the raw and has to put on his underpants before he fights crime?
Maybe Pat Sajak's right-wing standup-comedy routine on Twitter is pissing off some viewers, and that's why he lost a tic on the Nielsen People Meter?
I don't think an IBM computer ever went on Wheel of Fortune to Buy a Vowel,
and sure, there's a matrix of so-called Quality Television versus Crap TV, but when you realize a program where college grads, Ph.Ds, and other putatively Intellectual-type people answer questions about Real Things such as State Capitals, World Geography, Literature, Business and Industry, and, uh, Potent Potables
is only a coupla dots behind (or a couple dots ahead!) in the ratings from a show where people spin a wheel and guess letters,
then we approach a Total Understanding of Television, a Unified Field Theory, or at least a Visible Spectrum, and you realize you are either a Wheel of Fortune person or you are a Jeopardy! person. Or you are a person who thinks you are supposed to be a Jeopardy! person but you enjoy Family Feud, so you are actually someone who is looking for lean-way-back Entertainment in the form of Steve Harvey shaking his head at families who don't say what the Survey says. But you can't talk about it with your so-called friends who are one step away from not owning a television box, so you talk about Jeopardy!
Personally I will reveal my bias and line up on the Jeop! side of the screen, although if I'm ever in a bar in the late stages of Day Drinking and there's a TV up on the wall showing Wheel, I will rise to the challenge of playing Hangman without a pencil and shout out random consonants in an attempt to meld the "Forrest Bounce" game strategy with my almost-perfect recall of the Alphabet. T! N! 3!
Speaking of unintellectual pursuits, I would like to take this opportunity to request that somebody inside of my television bring back Match Game,
because that's where Feud came from: Anchor panelist Richard Dawson left the '70s, Match Game, and all the clever forced double entendres behind to run his own show featuring accidental entendres and him kissing lots of strange ladies on the face.
Jeopardy! does better when someone is on a tear, stacking up cash,
and ideally, in terms of a little bump in the ratings, pissing off people with a snotty attitude, or more recently, with unconventional game strategy, which is OK unless your game strategy pays off and all of a sudden people are mad at you for not playing the game "correctly," to wit, Jeopardy! Instant-Legend Arthur Chu.
Who watches Wheel? It's too easy to say Imbeciles, but if it makes you feel better, sure, why not? Probably people who like to do Word-Search Puzzles? My grandparents? Your mom? And maybe Jeopardy! watchers are New York Times crossword puzzlers? I dunno, I hate crossword puzzles, but I love Jeopardy!, because when I am home shouting at the TV screen in the form of a question—faster than any of those so-called Smart People on the screen, though don't ask if I am answering more questions correctly than the real players, that's like asking a gambler to recall all the times they lose—it makes me feel super-smart, as opposed to when I find myself watching Wheel because I'm in some discount tire store somewhere with no way to change the channel on the waiting-room TV, and there's one letter left on the fucking puzzle and I still can't guess it, which makes me feel like an Imbecile.
So the Final Jeopardy! Answer is: Jeopardy! is challenging enough to make you feel smart when you get a few correct, and Wheel is dopey enough to make you feel smarter than everybody on the show except for Pat Sajak and Vanna White, who are fucking millionaires behind this shit, and I'm sitting here and I can't guess the puzzle, so I'm gonna watch Let's Make a Deal.
Art by Sam Woolley.