An Ode to Merv Griffin

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With the passing of Merv Griffin over the weekend, we lost another entertainment icon. Singer, talk-show host, media and real estate owner (big time!), and creator of two monster hit TV game shows. I remember his talk show very well. He had a wide variety of well known guests from all walks of life. His dry British curmudgeon sidekick, Arthur Treacher, took Merv’s barbs in stride. An example: Merv once commented that Treacher starred in Fiddler on the Roof until he fell off. Arthur just smiled back at Merv and shrugged his shoulders. Though not as big as Johnny Carson, he commanded a sizable audience. One of the ways to tell if you hit it big is if you are being parodied. The defunct late-night comedy show SCTV certainly did that.

His most famous legacy, however, will always be as the creator of the TV game shows, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Remarkable in their simplicity, viewers got hooked quickly and have stayed with the shows for many years. Jeopardy had a couple of different runs, first hosted by the gentlemanly Art Fleming, and then by current host Alex Trebek. Wheel of Fortune has always been hosted by Pat Sajack, with Vanna White turning the letters. Nice gig for her, huh?

What a genius Griffin was! Jeopardy is just a reversal of standard Q&A trivia games, and Wheel is a reworked version of Hangman. When I was a kid, I watched Jeopardy every non-school day with my grandmother, Josephine Mannino. I couldn’t answer 90% of the questions, but she encouraged me to watch so I’d learn some new facts.

Griffin once said that anyone could learn how to play each game in five minutes. Evidently, that’s one of the secrets to make sure that a game show lives for many years.

Wednesday, August 15: Headaches in the Classroom, Volume 1

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