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Home: The Toast

Previously by Abbey Fenbert: The Pitch Meeting for Wishbone

Jeopardy

EXEC: It’s a quiz show.

QUIZMASTER: What is Jeopardy!

EXEC: Um. Danger. Peril. Risk of harm or failure. Did you think I didn’t know what it meant?

[…]

EXEC: I know what words mean. I went to college. I’m a junior vice president at NBC.

QUIZMASTER: Who is Brian!

EXEC: I am.

[…]

EXEC: I’m Brian.

[the silence is long, and it is painful, though the Quizmaster feels no pain]  

EXEC: Let’s just…focus on the show, shall we.

[as the Executive scours his notes, the Assistant points him to a relevant clause]

EXEC: Ah. Right. I see what — aha. So it’s a quiz show, the clues have cash value, winner-take-all, but the hitch is the answers are all questions.

QUIZMASTER: What is a brilliant paradox the likes of which have never been witnessed in the televerse!

EXEC: Ha. I get it, I get it.

QUIZMASTER: What is an epiphany!

EXEC: Right, nice demo, let’s keep going. Onward.

QUIZMASTER: Where is the infinite horizon?

EXEC: We’re just going in circles.

QUIZMASTER: What is an idiom! What is the repetitive monotony of existence!

EXEC: Please stop.

[it never stops, Brian]

ASSISTANT: I think what we’re experiencing right now is the central conceit of the show, in all its precarious mischief…which is to say, jeopardy.

[the tease of a smile on the Quizmaster’s face]

EXEC: Okay.

ASSISTANT: See, on a straightforward “quiz show,” the host would ask questions and the contestants would answer, but here, the players must navigate more treacherous waters — not losing sight of the beacon that shines in the careful wording of each answer, staying afloat by phrasing each response in the form of a question.

QUIZMASTER: [a whisper] What is…poetry.

EXEC: Well, that’s a new angle I guess. And the questions?

[two steel gazes fix him]

EXEC: Sorry. The “answers.” They’re divided into these categories…and the content is…

QUIZMASTER: What is limitless. What is a pantheon of all knowledge. What is music, art, history, potent potables.

EXEC: You say it’s a question but your voice doesn’t actually go up at the end. Like a question should.

[…]

QUIZMASTER: Is this better?

EXEC: And I think it will sound less like people are providing questions to match the answers and more like they’re asking if the answer they’re giving is correct.

ASSISTANT: You know, I think what we’re realizing is that in this, every so-called answer contains its own question.

QUIZMASTER: [rueful shake of the head] What is life itself.

EXEC: I definitely wasn’t realizing that.

[a moment passes, in which Brian realizes nothing about life]

EXEC: We’ll find a comedian to play the host, of course.

QUIZMASTER: What is a grave misstep.

ASSISTANT: I don’t think we want to lose sight of the intellectual gravitas of the show. Its gimmick will be the lack of gimmicks. Everyone will feel smarter watching it.

EXEC: Hm.

ASSISTANT: The lower-value clues will be easier.

EXEC: Well…

ASSISTANT: We’ll have tournaments with celebrities sometimes.

EXEC: Ah! That’s great. Way better gimmick than the “no gimmicks” gimmick.

[nonverbal utterance from the Quizmaster]

EXEC: I’m sorry, was that in the form of a question?

[general seething]

ASSISTANT: Who’d like some water?

[the sound of swallowed resentments]

EXEC: Okay. So explain the Daily Double. I mean, I get it from the name — there’s one a day and it doubles the score —

QUIZMASTER: What is a willful misreading.

EXEC: That is what the words mean!

ASSISTANT: [gently] There’s three per day. And the value of the clue doesn’t double automatically; instead the contestant is invited to make a wager of his or her choice.

EXEC: What if they wager a million dollars? What if they get it right? What are we supposed to do then? Where do we find a million dollars?

ASSISTANT: Well —

EXEC: I know, I know! What are… [points to line in notes] …wager limits!

[Quizmaster beams radiantly]

ASSISTANT: Correct! Though, it should be noted, rounds of Jeopardy! are never open book.

EXEC: Let me have this, Stacy. All right, now, what does the winner get?

[…]

EXEC: Sorry… “This is what the winner receives.”

QUIZMASTER: What is another chance!

EXEC: They just keep playing until they lose?

[nodding]

EXEC: That’s kind of depressing.

QUIZMASTER: What is the human condition.

ASSISTANT: Like in life, the thrill of success and ever-present threat of loss heightens the drama.

EXEC: They win money though, right.

ASSISTANT: Yeah, lots of money.

EXEC: I’m wondering if “Final Jeopardy” could be jazzed up a bit. “Double Jeopardy” has the neato callback to constitutional law, which I’m all for, but I think we can do a little better than just one final question and they write the answer on an electric slate. Research strongly discourages an excess of writing in gameshows.

ASSISTANT: The song is extremely tense.

EXEC: We could have some girls dance and sing the song…?

ASSISTANT: Sadly no.

EXEC: Just the slate then.

ASSISTANT: It’s more than that. Final Jeopardy is…

EXEC: Unnecessary math?

ASSISTANT: A wager. A risk. The threshold of ecstasy — at least for another moment, another day — or the endless hollow of all that is lost, could have been, will never be.

[Quizmaster weeps]

QUIZMASTER: What is love. What is — love.

[Assistant and Quizmaster embrace. The Executive pretends to read the rest of the notes. The network picks up the show. Stacy surpasses Brian in a few short promotions. Her reign over NBC is long, as is her reign over the Quizmaster’s heart. But nothing is eternal; only Jeopardy! endures.]

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Abbey Fenbert is a nomadic playwright from Detroit, MI. She has an MFA from Boston University and a cursory knowledge of classic lit from PBS Kids.

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