The Pittsburgh Press from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on May 3, 1986 · Page 25
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The Pittsburgh Press from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania · Page 25

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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Saturday, May 3, 1986
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Page 25
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fe)JL K JUJ&7 Saturday, May 3, 1986 The Pittsburgh Press C5 7 jag b-V Ambridge's Ralph Dahma, left, beats Thomas Romano of Wheeling, W.Va., to bell, but . . . SOPARDY A TV critic tests skills, humility in local audition for game show By Robert Bianco The Pittsburgh Press fTAHE SIX WORDS that rhyme with 'moon' I in the song 'By the Light of the Silvery Moon.'" It's 1 0 a.m. and 50 otherwise sensible Pittsburghers, me included, are studying cryptic statements like that as if they held the clue to the lost treasure of the Incas. We're taking part in KDKA's auditions for "Jeopardy," the show that's turned pursuing trivia into an art form. The original "Jeopardy," with host Art Fleming, ran on NBC from 1964 until 1975. It was revived on NBC in 1978, but it couldn't compete with the simpler, flashier game shows popular at the time, and it didn't last the year. Then came the "Trivial Pursuit" craze, and suddenly general knowledge tests were a hot property. Merv Griffin Productions, creator of "Wheel of Fortune," knows a good bandwagon when it sees one, and "Jeopardy," with new host Alex Trebek, was reborn. The gimmick on "Jeopardy" is that contestants must give their answers in the form of a question. Like "What are 'spoon,' 'croon,' 'tune,' 'honeymoon,' 'June' and 'soon?' " the question to the first answer above. To find contestants, "Jeopardy" sent Ingrid Woodson and Greg Muntean, talent co-ordinators, to Pittsburgh as part of a 16-city tour. They've had no dearth of applicants; in Cleveland, the local sponsor station received 44,000 post cards from eager game show fans. KDKA, in what can be considered a blow to the postal system, took the first 250 phone callers to fill the available spots. Of those 250, an average of 17 will pass the audition. And about 75 percent of those people will get called to Los Angeles for filming. Fame does not come cheap; contestants pay their way to Los Angeles. The first step is a written test, 50 questions to be completed in 13 minutes. The questions are written by the six "Jeopardy" staff writers. There's something about being handed a test ("Please don't turn the test book over until we tell you to start," Ms. Woodson instructs) that immediately puts you back in high school. Someone asks, in a hopeful voice, whether the test will be graded on a curve - nope, you must get 75 percent right to pass. The correct answer to trivia questions is almost invariably "Who cares?" But that won't score you a lot of points, or get you to Los Angeles. Anyway, who wants to be a spoil sport? I guessed right on the three presidents whose first name was "William" (Taft, McKinley, Harrison); wrong on the location of Montevideo (Uruguay). I had no idea what four-letter word follows "paper" and precedes "joint," ("clip") and neither did the "Jeopardy" testers - they had to look it up. As Muntean collects the test, it becomes apparent that we are in the midst of the true believers. He asks what time KDKA shows "Jeopardy," and the crowd shouts "5:30" without hesitation. I can't even give my phone number without thinking about it. He then introduces the host of "Jeopardy," Alex Trebek, who fields questions from the crowd, many of whom seem to know the show as well as he does. Trebek imitates a recent contestant who had a rather dramatic method of pushing the buzzer (a "Physical Buzzer-Inner" in game-show talk) and people yell "It's Cliff." Bill Ryan, a Pittsburgh salesman, asks Trebek if "Jeopardy" keeps its old audition records. Ryan auditioned last year and made it past the final cut, but he was never called to be on the show. So he's on hand to give it another shot. Trebek spends about 15 minutes answering questions, until he is given the test results. Before he reads them, he gives one last piece of advice to those who didn't make it "Don't look at it as a big failure; keep it in perspective." About 11 people pass, including Ryan and a Pittsburgh housewife, Chris Humphrey. Steve Weid-man, another salesman, passes, but his wife, Nancy, does not. Weidman is young, blond, good-looking he looks like perfect game show material. I passed, too. I wouldn't tell you that, but my mother "- Melissa FarlowTne Pittsburgh Press ... then draws a blank and finally answers incorrectly would never let me forget it if I didn't. The remaining contestants, me excluded, now have to play a mock game of "Jeopardy." They line up in front of a desk in groups of threes, little bells in hand the kind they use in hotels to call the bellhop. Contestants are judged on the basis of energy, quick reactions, game-playing ability, general knowledge and personality. The talent-coordinators don't have any formal score-keeping system; they can tell who's doing well without one.. 1 Naturally, the people sitting in the audience waiting for their turn are convinced that the first groups are using up all the best categories. And it does seem that by the time the last group gets its turn, all that's left are questions about vegetables. The mock game eliminates half the contestants. Weidman is eliminated shows what I know about game shows. Before the next round, "Double Jeopardy," the remaining five players, including Ryan and Ms. Humphrey, must give a little impromptu speech about themselves. It's kind of a cross between "A Chorus Line" and those wonderful "Miss America" interviews. ("My career goal is to either be a brain surgeon . or a professional majorette.") The power of the press is not lost on these people I am spared the interview. But "Double Jeopardy" comes, and it's now my turn to risk personal humiliation. So there I stand, bell in my hand, a goofy expression on my face, overwhelmed by the sinking feeling that years of education have not prepared me for questions about lucky charms. Sure, it's not up there with the great physical challenges of our time, but it's hard to co-ordinate thinking, ringing and speaking. I keep ringing the bell before the question is finished, a "Jeopardy" sin of the first magnitude. The "Jeopardy" people insist that I did well what , are they going to say when I'm writing a story about them - "You sucked eggs?" The truth is that I wilted under the fires of competition. There, are you happy? I knew this personal journalism stuff was going to get me in trouble. Ryan and Ms. Humphrey, however, are both whizzes. She had considered boning up beforehand by reading Trivial Pursuit cards, but decided against it, and it clearly would have been unnecessary effort. The earliest anyone will be notified is June, and contestants could be waiting to hear into January. And even if they are picked to fly to Los Angeles, there's no guarantee that they'll make it on the air. Still, the contestants seem glad they tried out. "It was fun," Ryan says, "and you're proud you got this far. If I don't make it, I'll try again. ' Weidman is a little disappointed, but he's glad he tried out. As for me, I now know even more useless things than I did before Hirohito is the oldest head of state, Gen. Custer was called the boy general at the age of 23. If I practice with a bell over the winter, maybe someday I'll be ready for the big time. (Robert Bianco is The Pittsburgh Press TV-radio editor.) . ( . ; ; -. ' j -..;s:;..v.. -:v..-m, i i, , i ,,,11 -o.... - - A- Alex Trebek doubles as producer and host By Robert Bianco Melissa FarlowThe Pittsburgh Press Alex Trebek only using questions he likes The Pittsburgh Press ALEX TREBEK, a native of northern Ontario, got into the game show business by accident. His first major game show assignment, "Wizard of Odds," was a way into the United States after working in Canadian television for 15 years. "If they had needed a weatherman," Trebek says, "I would have been a weatherman." But Trebek quickly established himself as an American game show favorite. Shows like "High Rollers," "Double Dare" and "Battle-stars" followed. When "Battlestars," one of his personal favorites, folded, he was approached by Merv Griffin Productions to host the new "Jeopardy." He agreed, but only on the condition that he be allowed to produce as well. His shift to production was not merely a desire to have more control over the show; it was a career move. "I wanted the experience of a producer. Believe it or not, I don't want to be a 50- or 60-year-old game show host. "There are no other hosts who are also producers; it's tiring. I think back to the days when I worked two days and rested five." Though Trebek never watched the old "Jeopardy" (it wasn't shown in his part of Canada), he thinks it's a good sign that it's back. "We hope 'Jeopardy' reinforces the learning effort in this country ... I don't know if it has to do with the so-called yuppie generation, but they seem to be interested in knowing more, or at least finding out what they know." Trebek, with 25 years in the business, thinks one of the reasons behind "Jeopardy's" popularity is it gives bright people their only chance to show off and be recognized. Recognition, of course, has its drawbacks "there's a direct correlation between how well you do and how many relatives come out of the woodwork." "Jeopardy" is certainly an information factory in two years, it's used more than 22,000 questions in more than 100 categories. Trebek is sometimes stumped by the questions, but he gets about 75 percent of them right. His reflexes are slower than they used to be though. That's one reason why he'd like to do a special edition of "Jeopardy" for senior citizen contestants people who have a lot of knowledge, but don't "buzz-in" fast enough to compete with the younger contestants. Both Trebek and his viewers take these questions very seriously. If people think an answer was wrong, they write in, and if they're wrong, Trebek writes back. In the past, Trebek has argued with the writers over questions he thought were too difficult, but he says this year will be different. "For the new season, I'm throwing out questions just because I don't like them; no more arguments. I think by now I have a pretty good feel for it." For Trebek, one of the most memorable recent contestants was a 22-year-old from the University of Michigan. He was a great competitor, outscoring the other contestants 2 to 1, missing only five questions in five shows, but he also stands out in Trebek's mind as a nice kid. "Maybe this is a sign I'm getting old, but I'm more positive about clean-cut, polite kids." Touring the country looking for new contestants may not sound like a lot of fun, but Trebek thinks it's good for the show. It gives him a different perspective and new questions, and it gives the local viewers a rooting interest. Besides, he says, "it personalizes the show. The viewers think 'somebody knows us and cares about us,' and that's an important message to get across." Superior acting only 'Saving Grace' in film about fictional pope By Peter B. King The Pittsburgh Press SUPERIOR ACTING, especially in scenes between Tom Conti and Patricia Mauceri, bails out "Saving Grace," an appealing but overly timid comedy-drama about a fictional pope who goes AWOL from the Vatican. The film, which opened vesterday at the Showcase North and the Manor, tells the story of Pope Leo XIV, a gentle, humorous man who tires of the politics and ceremonial duties of the Vatican and longs to return to closer contact with the flock. One day while he is working in his garden, a gust of wind blows a speech he's reviewing over the wall. He follows, and decides not to cdme back for a while. 1 He wanders unrecognized into Montepe-tra, a forsaken village in the south of Italy where the townspeople stage phony epidemics in order to con the government out of food and supplies. Since an earthquake destroyed the aqueduct that brought water to their fields, they live a defeated existence; their only other livelihood besides a scam is rag-picking. The pope wants to galvanize the village into rebuilding the aqueduct, thus restoring their confidence. He enlists a teenage hood named Giuliano (Angelo Evans) to help. Meanwhile, he grows closer to Lucia (Patricia Mauceri), the woman he boards with, and she tempts him with her advances. In order to build the aqueduct, the villagers must break the grip of Ciolino (Edward Olmos), a petty crook who wants to keep the town broken so he can corttrol it. REVIEW All this takes time to build into a compelling situation: The early scenes in the Vatican, for instance, are a little boring. The problem is a common one: Movies and plays about religious figures tend to either profane their material or tread too carefully. And "Saving Grace," although it's worth seeing, never lets us shake the feeling that the filmmakers are being so cautious and reverent that they end up squeezing the life out of their subject. ' The pope's three assistants, for instance, never once lose their temper, act stupid or in any way show their humanity. In the pope's ase, we're given a scene in which he attempts to rebuild the aqueduct single-handedly and reveals his inexperience when it collapses. A cynical shepherd (Giancarlo Giannini) who knows the pope's real identity raises his eyebrows as if to say, "Ho-ho, the pope made a boo-boo," and the mood suggests we're making naughty fun of the pope's foibles. It's tame stuff: I'm reminded of the streetwise priests in dated films whose greatest vice (and most striking human quality) was that they took a little nip now and again. But director Robert M. Young gets over that eventually, injecting real drama into his story. He starts with the meeting between Leo and Lucia. Patricia Mauceri is an extraordinary ac-tres$ who projects dignity, sensuality arjd a world-weary kindness. When she and the pope first meet, something clicks. Later, after he has rejected her advances during the night, they meet next morning. Their nervous smiles and polite words are simply perfect. In general, Conti brings an engaging bemusement to his role, his dark eyes smiling gently at the world over his hawklike nose. Edward Olmos's villain is credibly dislik-able. Angelo Evans is moving as the tough but cute urchin. Giannini turns in another good performance as the shepherd with his own big secret. An intrusive score swells needlessly at times, as if we need cueing about what we're supposed to feel. (Rated PG.)

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