Yesterday was National Game Show Day, a fact I couldn’t avoid on my social media feeds, as way too many people I’ve known and loved did numerous heartfelt posts, putting their own special imprenteur on Throwback Thursday. I figured they deserved the entire spotlight and didn’t want to post my own story; besides, plenty of you already know it and the majority couldn’t care less.
But it did strike me as ironic that on the same day when the digital network that superservices this niche, BUZZR, broke out all the stops to begin a weekend of special episodes and launch two new FAST channels, one featuring the first-ever regularly scheduled reruns of Drew Carey hosting THE PRICE IS RIGHT, the one competition that based upon the recently loosened qualifications that the ABC prime time documentary put on the genre, turned out to be a celebration and a salute to the first-ever televised game show anywhere in the world, at least according to the Guinness Book of World Records’ website:
Spelling Bee was first transmitted on BBC television at 10pm on 31 May 1938. Beamed live from Alexandra Palace, the 15-minute show involved the host Freddie Grisewood asking contestants to spell various words, and was based on a successful radio format adapted by the BBC from the US schools’ Spelling Bee competitions. The show ran monthly for just five episodes.
So based upon my knowledge of Greenwich time, it was apropos that 85 years to the day following this historic “transmission” the ION network debuted its coverage to its newly defined corporate cousin, the Scripps National Spelling Bee. And as Ben Nuckols of the SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE reported this morning, it was a wonderful example of why we love competitions with rewards for deserving competitors so much there was a day dedicated to it, and for so many a lifetime of passion as well:
Fifteen months ago, Dev Shah spent a miserable five hours spelling outdoors in chilly, windy, damp conditions at a supersize regional competition in Orlando, Florida, only to fall short of his dream of returning to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
“Despondent is the right word,” Dev said. “I just didn’t know if I wanted to keep continuing.”
Dev, a 14-year-old from Largo, Florida, in the Tampa Bay area, first competed at the national bee in 2019, then had his spelling career interrupted. The 2020 bee was canceled because of COVID-19, and in the mostly virtual 2021 bee, he didn’t make it to the in-person finals, held in his home state on ESPN’s campus at Walt Disney World.
Then came the disaster of last year, when he was forced to compete in the Orlando region because his previous regional sponsor didn’t come back after the pandemic.
“It took me four months to get him back on track because he was quite a bit disturbed and he didn’t want to do it,” said Dev’s mother, Nilam Shah.
Well, last night, on live broadcast nationwide television just like it was back in the golden era of TV both here and around the world, Shah performed like a champion, as Nuckols’ narration continued:
Dev’s winning word was “psammophile,” a layup for a speller of his caliber.
“Psammo meaning sand, Greek?” he asked. “Phile, meaning love, Greek?”
Dev soaked up the moment by asking for the word to be used in a sentence, something he described a day earlier as a stalling tactic. Then he put his hands over his face as he was declared the winner.
And with that, Shah became the latest brilliant youngster to gain fame and, yes, fortune. $50,000 in cash and prizes, to be specific.
Sure, ESPN and ABC covered this competition for years, treating it as much like a sport than a game show. Purists might content this didn’t qualify in the manner of a traditional game show such as THE PRICE IS RIGHT. And when its producers attempted to produce a spelling-based game show, the all-but-forgotten but well-intentioned 1978 NBC pilot SPELLBINDERS, it didn’t sell. Shows that did attempt to incorporate spelling into its rules, such as the 80s hit SCRABBLE, quickly dropped that element from the show because, so it seems, people have forgotten how to spell. Just ask anyone in charge of news graphics these days, and you’re likeky to get crickets.
But, sorry, I personally was more excited for this winner than I was for seeing someone win a Kia on a decades-old show where I’ve long forgotten the actual retail price. And a word that existed in 1938 is almost always spelled the same way today. I watched, I played along, and I was excited for this young man.
And isn’t that what game show viewers ultimately love the most? It’s certainly what hooked me as a kid. Enough so that I had my own few minutes of fame. Just on the off chance you haven’t seen it, here’s that long-lost clip. My God, I miss my hair.
What, you thought I’d miss the chance to get my own experience out there again? Even if it dates me? Nah. I need a few kind words, or any acknowledgement, more than ever. I could certainly use that money today, too.
So maybe the National Spelling Bee isn’t THE PRICE IS RIGHT, or PRESS YOUR LUCK, or GREED, or even SPELLBINDERS. It’s great TV at a reasonable cost, efficient enough so ION could afford it. And at this rate, it may be all the newly produced television we’re gonna have for a spell.
Happy National Game Show Day Plus One to all who celebrate.
Until next time…