The NCAA is in deep jeopardy at my house

March Madness has made me furious.

The local CBS affiliate airs Jeopardy on weeknights at 7:30p.m. When I tuned in last Thursday and Friday, CBS had taken leave of their senses. Instead of the familiar Jeopardy theme song, the screen was filled with the thump, thump, squeak, squeak of basketball. W-H-A-A-A-T?

“You idiots.” I yelled. “You pre-empted Jeopardy for basketball? You gotta be kiddin’ me!!!!” You may guess that I am not a basketball fan. I was very unhappy. I could not Fuggedaboudit.

The only time I was recruited into any sort of basketball fandom was through a friend who was a Duke alum. She and her husband, the Duke team physician, lived just off campus. Their large, finished, high-ceilinged basement was the team’s gathering spot. It looked more like a Duke basketball museum, everything sporting their Blue Devil motif. Anything legal that young men could want in a game room lined the walls, while comfortable sofas, chairs invited relaxation. The juke box, pinball machines, stereo, and televisions competed with darts, ping-pong, air hockey, and varsity level refrigerator raiding.

Duke was a winning team then, easy for me to support after seeing their human side up close and personal. When Doc retired, my few years as a hoopster fan ended with fond memories of their Durham, North Carolina basement. But my Jeopardy devotion has never faded.

It all began in the early 60s. Art Fleming hosted daytime Jeopardy with $10 and $20 questions. I caught the quiz show between flights in airport crew lounges around the country. Eventually, I tuned in on my days off.

The show was filmed in New York City. Back then, freebie tickets to all the game shows were passed out on the sidewalks near the studios. One day, I was handed tickets to Password, another popular game show. The ticket guy asked if I would like a chance to be a contestant. The winning prize was $500 – well over a month’s salary. My enthusiastic answer was “When?” I was lucky. I got on, won the big bucks, and quickly planned a Hawaiian vacation. So, when I heard about applying for Jeopardy, I was definitely intrigued.

It began with a timed test of 100 questions. The exam monitor said, “If you score over a 93, you’ll hear from us.” I doubted I’d get a call. When I finally did hear back a few months later, I’d married and moved to California. I used one of my airline passes to fly to New York for the filming.

Longtime readers may recall my writing about this experience many years ago.

I was playing against a professor and a 5-language linguist. We were all answering pretty evenly when I knew the $10 question about MOUNTAINS. Always a student of geography, I wasn’t surprised that I knew the next three questions. All set to “sweep” the category, the last answer was a daily double. I don’t remember how much money I had – maybe $120. Cockily, I bet it all.

Art Fleming read, “It’s the highest peak in the Adirondacks.” I didn’t know it. I had never known it. And then the ultimate embarrassment. When time ran out, Art smiled at me and said, “It’s Mount Marcy” OMG. I’m sure he noticed as I blushed deep red.

Back at $0, I tried to rebuild. Scores were worth one-tenth what they are today, so winning Jeopardy was worthwhile, but not a road to riches. I bet what I had on the Final Jeopardy category: WORLD CAPITALS. After placing our bets, there was a few minutes for commercials. I remember standing there asking myself where is Karachi? Katmandu? Montevideo? I was in way over my head.

Then the answer was revealed, “Karl Marx is buried here.” Desperate, I wrote the second most obvious city: “What is St. Petersburg?” It was London. I hadn’t the foggiest idea. And I had just honeymooned there. Karl’s tomb wasn’t on our romantic tour.

Eventually, Jeopardy became a night show, with Alex Trebek steering the ship. I was hooked. It’s been an evening ritual since the 80s in our home. Richard and I usually eat dinner with the show. And all that dedication has spawned two more generations of watchers. When my teenage grandchildren visit, they throw out answers with all of us.

Boston and New York City air the syndicated show on ABC. None of my family or NYC friends have this CBS/NCAA conflict. Hey, Erie, at least offer it at 2:00a.m. for recording. DO SOMETHING!

Don’t you know how large your Jeopardy fan base is? You can’t subject us to more of your basketball-obsessed indifference. Next year, I’m thinking picket signs outside your studios.

This Madness has to stop!!

Marcy O’Brien can be reached at money.32@hotmail.com


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