Hello and welcome back. When we left our chat last week, Yogesh and I were discussing the format of The Chase, which positions its quiz champions (The ‘Chasers’) as extremely competitive Alpha-type winners…
YR: Right. And I have a master’s degree in Film and Television studies as well as one in Business Administration and sometimes people who have none of these things feel they need to explain to me how the TV industry works. I think I have a good handle on it. I think many people have a misconception that the broadcast TV industry is about selling programming to viewers. It’s not. I mean, now there are more and more subscriber services that do have that as a model. But the broadcast TV model has always been not about selling programming to viewers but about selling viewers to advertisers.
YR: And these network TV shows like The Chase or some first-run syndication shows like Jeopardy are all optimised according to that model. Their goal is to drive in eyeballs that can be sold to advertisers. They have never been designed to reward who the best quizzers are. They have never been designed to provide a pleasurable playing experience for the contestants. None of these things are what they are meant to do. So it’s not really all that surprising that none of these things are what they’re particularly good at. No one ever tried to make them good at those things. The perception that they are is just a combination of a little bit of marketing and a lot of people not being rational. These shows, their goal is to be entertainment for people who are not particularly invested in the world of quizzing or quizzing as an activity.
YR: And if they are seen only as that – as entertaining sideshows in the way that something like Holey Moley – I don’t know what shows you have, but in America there’s something called Holey Moley, which is –
SH: We had a version of that as well.
YR: Yeah, right. It’s a fun thing to watch.
SH: Yes, it’s silly, but yeah.
YR: It’s a sideshow compared to professional golf. No one in a million years would think that the champions of those shows are the best golfers in the world.
SH: No, no, they wouldn’t.
YR: Right? And so as long as people keep perspective on television shows and say, “Oh, these are just game shows designed to be silly, fun entertainment,” it’s not that much of a problem, even if they do promote these negative images. Because they’re like reality TV; they create images out of people, they create narratives that they want their audience to get invested in. And everyone should have a sense of ironic distance about it. They should say, “Oh, this is an edited TV show designed to rile me (the person on the couch at home) up.”
SH: Yeah. Manufactured heroes and villains.
YR: Right. The problem, of course, is that people who watch things like Jeopardy, don’t think of it as a reality show that should be approached with ironic distance. And what’s even worse, of course, is that objectively, Jeopardy is the thing that determines who gets listened to. And that is the most aggravating thing about it. My actual comments, this was the main thing they were aimed at, though people decided to make their own narrative out of them. But looking at my comments about Jeopardy, everything I had to say about them was based on 1) my academic expertise as a social scientist, 2) my personal experience as a quizzer, who’s done the hobby for decades, and 3) my lived experience as a person of colour in a majority white society. After I went on Jeopardy, none of those things changed – none of my qualifications for speaking or for being listened to changed. But suddenly people paid attention to my message, or paid attention in a way that they hadn’t before, when dozens and dozens of times, I’d said the exact same thing. Because no one cares when you’re just speaking as an academically trained expert, as one of the best quizzers in the world, as a person of colour who has both experienced and academically studied racism. No one cares. But when you speak as that-guy-who-was-on-a-TV-show, suddenly people care. But they care less when you “only” won $100,000 on that TV show. Because someone who isn’t a trained academic and isn’t a person of colour, if they won more than $100,000, then they’re more worth being listened to than you are.Tweet