Game shows no trivial pursuit for Tennessee professor

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The Associated Press

June 2, 2003, Monday, BC cycle

Game shows no trivial pursuit for Tennessee professor

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: Entertainment News

LENGTH: 676 words

DATELINE: JACKSON, Tenn.

As a little boy, Steve Beverly would put on a white suit, use a stick as a microphone and imitate Jack Narz, who hosted the short-lived quiz show “Dotto” in 1958.

“I remember that the only show I was allowed to sit up late at night to watch was ‘The $64,000 Question,’ which had the whole country mesmerized at that point,” said Beverly, now a broadcasting professor at Southern Baptist-affiliated Union University.

The 48-year-old Beverly remains a game-show aficionado, serving up daily news and tidbits as Webmaster of the “Game Show Convention Center” at tvgameshows.net.

Boxed versions of classic game shows are stacked high in his cluttered office. A Chuck Woolery bobblehead dances on a filing cabinet beside a black-and-white photo of Lucille Ball and her daughter, Lucie Arnaz, playing “Password” in the 1960s.

On a recent day, Beverly’s Web site featured a lead story on The WB’s new fall quiz show “Play for a Billion” and updates on the “Jeopardy” Tournament of Champions, “Star Search” and “American Idol.”

Beverly said he’s a huge “American Idol” fan, in part because of a personal connection to last year’s runner-up, Justin Guarini.

Justin’s mother, Kathy Guarini, was Beverly’s co-anchor when he worked at WTVM-TV, the ABC affiliate in Columbus, Ga., in the 1970s.

“I rocked that kid to sleep when he was 12 days old,” Beverly said.

He likens “American’s Idol” today to “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” a few years ago.

Each format spawned copycats.

Some blamed overexposure for the demise of “Millionaire,” but Beverly doesn’t think four nights a week in prime time was the problem. Rather, he said, the show failed when it started focusing on celebrity contestants.

“You didn’t have Joe and Mabel sitting in their living rooms and Joe says, ‘Hey, come in here, Drew Carey’s about to win a half-million dollars for the public library in Cleveland, Ohio!”‘

One pop culture craze that Beverly has avoided is the fascination with reality shows. The son of a United Methodist minister, he said “Survivor” sends a message that lying, cheating and backstabbing lead to riches.

And he suggests relationship shows such as “Joe Millionaire” and “The Bachelorette” are structured to show somebody getting hurt.

At their best, game shows and TV talent contests offer simple, wholesome formats, he said. They allow people at home to play along and pick their favorites.

“People are fond of saying that game shows are a fount of useless information,” Beverly said. “That’s not true. … Good question-and-answer shows such as ‘Jeopardy’ today can really challenge you on things that, frankly, you ought to know in life.”

While Beverly doesn’t teach Game Show 101, his classes liberally intertwine lessons from game shows.

Mass media students learn about the quiz-show scandals of the 1950s. Broadcasting majors enjoy conference calls with hosts such as Monty Hall of “Let’s Make A Deal.”

“It’s really interesting because he has so many connections and he’s more knowledgeable about it than anybody I’ve ever met,” said sophomore Ashley Mitchell, 19, who co-hosts “Head2Head,” a quiz show produced by Beverly and broadcast on a local cable access channel.

For his part, Beverly always thought he could have won big on “Name That Tune.” He never got the chance.

A few years ago, a producer did offer him a role on the revived “To Tell The Truth,” but the show fizzled before his appearance.

His only winnings – a set of encyclopedias, a $600 watch and a recliner – came in the mid-1990s from “Decades,” an interactive phone game on the Game Show Network.

With the Web site going well, Beverly’s next goal is to finish a book, titled “They Played The Game.” He has interviewed more than 250 winners of game shows so far.

“You find out that most of the people … on these shows are awfully nice people because they are from average walks of life,” he said. “They get their cliche 15 minutes of fame and then life goes on.”

On the Net:

Game Show Convention Center: www.tvgameshows.net

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