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The Game Show Convention Center
January 19, 2000


The Camera Doesn't Lie...Or Does It?

        Not that it really matters----but Dan Blonsky will be a far more popular millionaire, in all likelihood, than John Carpenter. Candidly, Carpenter may be getting a bum rap. However, such is the nature of television where, as John has said in the past week, confidence is often confused with arrogance.
       True, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, which more and more is appearing to be one of the most compelling and magnetic games in television history, is an easy challenge if you happen to know the material tossed your way in a 15-question packet.
       However, because of the nature of the quiz, I genuinely had hoped the first millionaire would have the struggle and tension which Blonsky experienced Tuesday night. Not taking anything away from Carpenter's victory----but, aside from his question about architect I.M. Pei, the degree of difficulty of Carpenter's 15 was substantially lower than Blonsky's.
       In my opinion, at least six of Blonsky's questions were not among things which would be widely known among all demographics. Some of these college students who have made the show would have fizzled on the questions about Betty Ford using "First Mama" as her CB handle or what the "Hollywood" sign originally said when built in 1923. People 40 or older who don't go to Brad Pitt, Hugh Grant or Rob Lowe movies would not have had a clue about what Grant did for a living in "Notting Hill." Even Blonsky did not appear 100 per cent certain Switzerland was the nation which granted women the right to vote in national elections in 1971.
       One of the best educational lessons WWTBAM is teaching is the need to revive geography in the schools. Note how many geographical questions are used as Fastest Finger rounds. Blonsky's long deliberation over Colombia as the country which Panama borders to connect Central and South America is indicative again of how most of us struggle to identify locations and regions of the world.
       When Dan had to use his Phone-a-Friend, he readily admitted he had no clue as to who was on the cover of the first People magazine. Truthfully, I was yelling for him to quit at $250,000 because I had no confidence in the intensity of his law partner's answer. Blonsky knew Jeff Crockett better than any of us. That, again, was high drama.
       For the third time, I knew the $1 million answer right off the bat. My credit goes to Ethel DuBose, my third grade teacher, who emphasized the solar system heavily in 1961-62 when we were moving heavily into space. That little pocket book called "Stars" boldly stated the sun and Earth were 93 million miles apart. I was screaming louder than I do on one of my heart-thumping basketball telecasts for Dan to answer it.
       The best thing Dan Blonsky had going for him, other than more telegenic humor than John Carpenter was having his mother in the audience. Her facial expressions were priceless. Bringing her to New York, rather than a college friend or Crockett, was endearing.
       The sad part of all of this (though no one is shedding tears for millionaire Carpenter) is, from all accounts, John Carpenter is a first-rate guy. Yet, from his appearance with Regis Philbin on David Letterman's show last week, one could tell Carpenter has received an abundance of negative feedback about his appearance.
       People who are not accustomed to television can often deceive the camera. After 30 years in local broadcasting, I had no doubt Carpenter was going to be regarded as cocky after his run in November. On my own I've Heard That Song! show in 1998, our Tournament of Champions winner was a genuinely nice woman but her personality, which leaned on overacting, began to grate on the audience and I could sense with each passing answer the crowd (and the home viewers) rooting against her. I was right.
       Same thing happened in the 1950s with Herb Stempel. The ex-GI, who allowed himself to become part of the fraud of the original Twenty-One and later blew the whistle on it, became distressed at why he was never accepted by the audience. Stempel was a guy from New York who simply wanted to play a game and win some money. Yet, his on-air persona was a virtual creation of Dan Enright's to create a bad guy-good guy setup for Charles Van Doren.
       Even Dan Blonsky was not the epitome of a bubbly contestant. However, his self-deprecating humor about why he brought his mother to the show and his ongoing story about wanting to meet Elle MacPherson gave him a hook for the audience. He will be a far more popular millionaire than John Carpenter, which isn't altogether fair. As Carpenter said last week, "I'm just not an excitable guy." Even for a million dollars.

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