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]
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.
ASSISTANT: The lower-value clues will be easier.
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?
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?
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: 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.]