Aisle Of Wit

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Who, What, Where And Why

Life has gotten so disparate and desperate that the mere idea of having lunch with friends has become worrisome and complicated.  With the recent onslaught of longtime friends departing this world before I got the chance to see them in person again, I felt particularly eager to keep a standing date my BFF and I have had with a dear friend and a producer of the past that we have kept for a good deal of the 47 years since what we’ve lovingly called “the blizzard incident”.

Ron Greenberg may not be as famous a name in game show history as Monty Hall, but he was once Monty’s producing partner.  He may not be as rich as Merv Griffin was, but for several years his most enduring production, THE WHO, WHAT OR WHERE GAME ,successfully ran back-to-back with Merv’s best idea, JEOPARDY!.  And he is definitely a more honest man than was his one-time boss, Jack Barry, who was the mastermind behind the scandals in the Robert Redford-produced movie QUIZ SHOW.  But he’s our friend,  Despite the blizzard incident.

So what’s the blizzard incident?  Well, BFF, myself, and several other bargain-seeking teens were frequent studio audience members at TV game shows taped in New York during the 1970s.   It was exciting to be around a TV studio, tickets were free, and the respective venues for the three networks were within a couple of subway stops of each other.  Unlike the more modern facilities in LA at the time, many of the productions that took place in converted live stage theatres whose audiences were dimly lit and typically not suitable to be shown on color television.  The Elysee Theatre, where ABC taped many of its game shows in the 60s and 70s, was one such place.

Us kiddies were obsessed with letting people know we were at a taping, so if our faces couldn’t get on camera we sure as heck wanted our voices to miss out.  So when we had the chance to go to a taping of Ronnie’s new show THE BIG SHOWDOWN on a school holiday we jumped at the chance.  Besides, this was a special one.  Our high school English teacher was the returning champion, so we had a legitimate rooting interest.

THE BIG SHOWDOWN was a short-lived question-and-answer game with a unique end game that involved rolling oversized dice against the clock, essentially trying to roll “boxcars” to win the grand prize.  You could win a few hundred dollars for answering questions correctly up front, much like JEOPARDY! and WHO, WHAT OR WHERE did, but to win thousands you needed luck.

On this fateful Lincoln’s Birthday New York City was hit with a huge snowstorm.  The midtown streets were barren.  The subway trains were running sporadically,  The normally packed studio was virtually empty.  But we showed up.  Ron saw a group of enthusiastic, invested youths and realized he needed some amplification to make it seem like he had a full house, so he encouraged us to sit on the lower level, right under the microphones that captured audience reaction.

Fateful decision.

We aimed our not-waif-like voices directly at the mikes, roaring for when our teacher would win–wait for it–$75!!!– for answering a series of questions correctly, or when a spinning dial would land on the front game’s top payoff value–$500!!!!.  By the halfway point of the day’s first taping that featured our teacher, the audio engineer was quickly going deaf.

Ron politely came out to the audience and sheepishly asked us “Hey guys, we love the enthusiasm, but please, could you hold it just a little.  Maybe cheer only on the payoff points (the occasions in the game when players woiuld win money)?” 

We told him yes.  We lied.

Our teacher emerged trimuphant, and so he strode to the dice table to frenetically try to roll them bones.  The sixes that would make up the boxcars roll were replaced by the words “Show” and “Down”, so the audience was encouraged to scream “Come On, Showdown!!”.  In a typical casino, noise levels rarely reach the levels we lunactics reached.  Sure enough, teach did indeed roll Showdown, and won the life-changing sum of $5000!!!!!   Frankly, his squeals of delight (and our teacher was a tall, burly bear of a man) were even louder and higher-pitched than ours.

We apparently blew out the audio in the process.

The urban myth was that Ron exploded in anger and ordered us out back into the blizzard.  That’s not true.  We had seen what we had come to see and since this was in a day where post-production was minimal, we knew our yelling was going to be heard by millions when it aired a couple of days later.  Our work was done.  We left voluntarily, wolfed down a quick bite at Burger King, and raced for the subway as the storm intensified so we could get back home.

Ron went on to produce many more shows, including THE CHALLENGERS, an ambitious current events-steeped reboot of WHO, WHAT OR WHERE that was Dick Clark’s first game show hosting gig since the PYRAMIDs and was aggressively sold into a game show-obsessed syndication marketplace, being rewarded with many top time periods.  Unfortunately, in this incarnation Ron’s show frequently ran against, not following, JEOPARDY!, and sadly was crushed in the ratings.  It limped through one season and faded into obscurity.

Ron’s had some challenges of his own lately.  His beloved wife Nancy developed dementia, they moved into an assisted-living facility and Ron lovingly sheparded her care in a COVID-compromised environment where they slept separately until she passed away last year.  But thankfully Ron is very much alive and healthy, saddened but vibrant, eager for a golf game and certainly a lunch.  I suggested that before the world panics again and locks us all down completely we get a jump on our anniversary lunch.  Yesterday we had it.

It was by far one of the best days I’ve had in quite a long time.

I’ve been particularly obsessed lately with reconnecting and doing whatever one can to safely hug someone,  When your friend is in his 90s, that urgency becomes reinforced.  Ron and I indeed hugged when we parted (couldn’t walk him to his room, after all, ya know, that virus thing!).  I skipped like a pixie to my car.  Fortunately the streets were empty.  No one saw my pixie sprint.  Be thankful I didn’t video it.

Thanks for playing, Ronnie.  And let’s do this again soon.

Until next time…