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November 20, 2000

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Network News Crews Will Wear You Out


       Whew! That's not to borrow a title from a Tom Kennedy game show. The word expresses my stamina after a quick whirlwind trip to New York and being trailed for my classes at Union University by ABC News 20/20.
       The decision to fly four of the best-known game show contestants of the last few years and me to the Big Apple for an upcoming piece on what makes players tick was a fast one. Within days after the recent story in The New York Times Magazine, producer Maura Riley from 20/20 contacted us about appearing for a similar broadcast story. Two other newsmagazines called but were a little late on the draw.
       The genuine joy for me was the opportunity to meet four people who had become friends through computer and telephone but, until last week, not face-to-face.
       I'll tell you the candid truth, they all look like they have on television---only Phyllis Harris looks even better than she did on the tube when she captained a team to the biggest one-night jackpot in television history (and her husband Gary, who was with us, will certainly agree).
       They're all exceedingly friendly folks, as well. Phyllis, Gary (who has been on Press Your Luck, himself), Dan Avila and I were joined for supper last Sunday evening by Melissa Skirboll (who can turn a few heads, too), who came away $410,000 richer than Dan from their dramatic Greed appearance just over a year ago. My student Brent Green, whose hypnosis over the female Jeopardy! college contestants in the last week has been well-documented, is now extremely envious. I told Melissa Brent had developed a monster crush on her last year.
       Dan is one of the most affable people you'll meet and is still philosophical about missing that legendary $2.2 million question. Doak Fairey can pack it away at a breakfast buffet and I was compelled to join him. I don't know which of us ate more of those huge New York sausages.
       However, I came away with the distinct perception of Leszek Pawlowicz, a former Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions winner, as the smartest man I've ever met. I've known PhDs who are learned in their fields. I've met attorneys and politicians who are master tacticians. Yet, I've never seen anyone with whom the variety of knowledge and the ability to draw on it quickly is any greater than with Leszek. Plus, he's anything but the "nerd" type. Leszek is articulate, friendly and has a fine sense of humor.
       Truly, I can't tell you of a more congenial group. Sure, we had plenty of game show talk. That was why we were in New York. However, these people have much more to their lives as professionals in their various endeavors of life.
       However, let me tell you last Monday was anything but a vacation. We initially thought our calls would be for 11 a.m. Dan's was a bit earlier, as they shot him doing a professional photo shoot with Melissa as his model. After some uncertainty on lining up a location shot for Phyllis, we all headed for a small, off-Broadway studio at the noon hour.
       Eventually, after being seated in a two-tier arrangement to set up lights for nearly an hour, our interview with correspondent Chris Cuomo (he of former Gov. Mario Cuomo's lineage) went on for four and a quarter hours. You did not misread that figure. Now, folks, I've been in TV since 1971 and as glib as the five of us are, we all wonder just how much variety we could have had in our conversation in more than four hours. Four hours-plus which will be edited back into probably a third to half of a 10-to-12 minute newsmagazine piece.
       For me, Wednesday meant another six hours with a different crew, along with segment producer Joe Tobin, as they tailed me in my daily exploits at Union and spent time with me as I updated the website. My Mass Media class was shot in full. May I reveal this was the best-attended and most articulate class I have had in my eight years of college teaching. In fact, I had students who aren't even in the class attend. Even one alum showed.
       None of us have a genuine clue which way Tobin and Cuomo will focus this piece. We just know they have tons of tape on four of us as competitors and one of us as an educational analyst of the genre. Supposedly, they are going to try to nab Regis to offer a comment or two. He and Cuomo have the same agent.
       Nonetheless, this was one of the memorable experiences for me, regardless of how this all appears on a future Friday night. Network newsmagazines don't turn their attention to game shows often. To have a small part in it was indeed an honor. Even more of an honor was the chance to spend time with four exceedingly nice people----the kind you'll never catch dead on Survivor.

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