Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

PBS Reinvents the Quiz Show

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

PBS Reinvents the Quiz Show

Article excerpt

A BOMBASTIC off-camera voice introduces the show. Studio audiences shriek with inordinate delight. Part way into the half-hour, a smiling host chats with the contestants and poses perfunctory personal questions. At the end, winners leap ecstatically, hugging each other and the host.

No, you're not watching a local commercial station. This is PBS, which has discovered that ancient secret of feather-weight commercial fare: the quiz show.

The weekly venture, "Think Twice" - premiering Monday, from 8 to 8:30 p.m. (check local listings) - is a departure for PBS, its first foray into the field, other than one previous try that was aborted. PBS says it wants to vary its basic format of dramas and documentaries running an hour or more. The objective is better ratings for a public network whose current programs typically reach only about a quarter as many homes as shows on ABC, CBS, or NBC.

The advent of "Think Twice" may also have something to do with the fact that game shows cost much less per minute than most of the higher-brow programming PBS is identified with.

PBS is quite unabashed about this turn to pop culture, which curiously comes during the release of the film "Quiz Show" and while a documentary about quiz shows is still airing on some public stations - both productions dealing with that format's darkest hour. With its federal funding agency, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS spent a lot of money steeping itself in game-show lore. The "Think Twice" staff went to the West Coast, seeking quiz-show masters who could teach them how to achieve the pace, sound, and chemistry so familiar to fans of "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy."

Apparently they found them. "Think Twice" is loaded with the production cliches of the genre. The voice-over ticks off the prizes in the best booming style of the late veteran quiz-show announcer Johnny Olsen. The "Think Twice" voice-over seems to say, "Even if we are on public TV, we're going to sound like a quiz show if it kills us. …

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