Tuesday, December 11, 2007

MIKE & MERV: Part 1

Crosswords have always been in my family. My parents were puzzle-solvers for as long as I can remember, and often argued over who’d get to do the New York Times grid. Even when they photocopied the paper, they’d still bicker over the answers or who solved it faster. So ever since I was a kid, I came to enjoy word games and eventually joined the daily task of having cross words about crosswords.

I let my subscription to the paper lapse and my skills atrophied, but when I dated Adelphia, we’d work the Sunday Times puzzle together and I started remembering all those common grid-friendly words, like EPEE, AERIE, AGOG and people like UTA HAGEN, EERO SAARNINEN, UDO KIER.

So when she suggested I audition for a Merv Griffin's new game show involving crossword puzzles, I figured what the hell. I could use the money and was willing to play a TV game that required some brains, but if it meant smarter-than-a-5th–grader schtickiness, the deal was no deal. Besides, a friend of mine had won over fifty grand on TV once. It was back during the post-Who-Wants-To-Be-a-Millionaire glut of game shows, and now that this second wave of easy money was hitting, why couldn’t I cash in?

Thing is, I had tried out for some of these games during the last craze. And I never got picked to play. I always passed the written test, a basic quiz to make sure you had some smarts, perhaps to weed out weak-minded weirdos from going wacko on the airways. It was the personal interview that I flunked. And that was what worried me about trying out again.

When I went over to the studio in Hollywood, the first thing that struck me about my fellow auditioners was how different they were than the people at my job. I work on a TV show where they’re all young, hip, stylish… and shallow and selfish. This TV show attracted people who are older, nerdy professionals… and though often socially awkward, they were among the nicest individuals I’ve met in LA. Everyone was cordial and encouraging about our difficult written exam. (I was kicking myself that I put down the wrong five-letter word for the capital of Senegal. DHAKA is the capital of Bangladesh. The right answer was DAKAR, dammit.) But I passed. Only a third of us got to stay.

The next part of the day was the worst -- sitting through everybody else’s personal interview. I was the last person to go. I hate waiting, and as friendly as these folks were, listening to a lot of 'em talk about themselves was excruciating. How they won a fortune years ago on Jeopardy and spent the money playing online fantasy games like Elfquest or Warcraft or some shit…

I had to remind myself that this impatience is probably what did me in last time. So when I finally got to meet with the producers, I did my best to seem upbeat and friendly. Be accessible without droning on or freaking anyone out (unlike the guy who went into serious detail about his recent release from a psychiatric ward and that to do the game show, he’d have to get the okay from his court-appointed therapist.). I told them a concise story about running the LA Marathon and just missing my goal time by 10 seconds, figuring it might be refreshing to have a contestant who does something physical, or at least gets out of the house once in a while.

But who am I to talk? I spent the next month doing every puzzle I could get my hands on, and checking my answers with crossword blogger Rex Parker. I had to. I was in training. The show called and set up a date for me to be on their game show. "Merv Griffin’s Crosswords" wanted me…

Stay tuned for Part 2...


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