Griffin, Julann

By Dominick A. Miserandino,
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JG) Around 1963, I was coming back to New York on a plane with my then-husband, Merv Griffin. Merv loved game shows, and he was doodling on a piece of paper with ideas for a musical game show. I complained about how boring the shows had become. Instead of using information, they depended on personalities and what I considered to be asinine showing off. I suggested he do a question-and-answer show instead. He explained to me that was impossible, since the $64,000 scandal. He said the FCC suspects producers of giving the contestants the answers. I said, "Why don't you give them the answers, and admit it, and make them come up with the questions? " He said, "Like what?" Me: "The answer is 5,280." Him: "The question is, "How many feet in a mile?" Me: "The answer is 52 Wistful Vista." Him: The question is, "Where did Fibber McGee and Molly live?" Me: "The answer is Cathy Fiscus." Him: The question is, "What is the name of the little girl that fell in the well in 1930's?"By the time we landed in New York, we had a show. Of course, Merv worked very hard on all the production values, the scoring, and so on. But the concept has held up all these years. (I must say, this is due mainly to the excellent writing staff of Jeopardy.)

DM) Are you ever disappointed that you don't get any credit for the development of the show?

JG) I would like to say no, but I have always felt a little twinge of disappointment that it wasn't listed at the end of the show. Of course, Merv belongs to the Writers Guild, and by its rules I don't have to be listed. But it has made me conscious of giving credit to other people where credit is due.

DM) What do you think of the resurgence of game shows' popularity?

JG) I'm not surprised that game shows are back on TV. People always loved them, and they left daytime network TV, mostly because of the conscious dumbing-down of daytime programming to attract larger numbers. But now they are back...and saving the networks money...mainly because they are cheaper to do than sit-coms, and also because people love games. It always surprises me that networks are unaware of the intelligence of the viewers.

DM) But with the big prizes, how are game shows cheaper?

JG) If you notice, even though the prizes are bigger (say, one million dollars), they don't award them on every show. And it's still cheaper than paying huge salaries to actors and directors, make-up, etc. Also, you don't have rehearsal time...it's a one- shot deal, whereas sit-coms usually rehearse most days of the week. Because they are so popular now, too, the networks can charge a lot more for commercials. Not all sit-coms bring in the level of revenue that "Seinfeld" did, however.

DM) How do you feel the Internet is affecting game shows and gaming?

JG) The Internet makes it easy and swift to play games and to gamble. The good news is that you can play games and game shows any time of the day or night when you are bored or have some time to spare. And you can always find someone to play with you...at least you can on Boxerjam.com. When you win on our games, it isn't because of luck, but because you are using strategy. The bad news is that young people have access to the web, and if gambling (not game) sites are not controlled, it may be encouraging addictions.

DM) Where is the line drawn between gambling and gaming?

JG) I guess my definition of gambling is entering into a game where you put money in, hoping with luck to make more...and not lose it. Games have some degree of skill. And with our games, you play for free. There are prizes, but you don't put up any money and nothing is taken away from you.

DM) Did you ever think of trying to repeat the success of Jeopardy with another show idea?

JG) Yes, Maureen Roberts, my sister, and I formed a company called Jam Productions. We created game shows and submitted them to the networks. One of them, called "Strike a Match", was picked up by NBC, and a pilot was made of it. But it was a little difficult for the average daytime viewer, so we got it back. Now it is one of our most successful games at Boxerjam.com, with a dedicated following since 1995. "Out of Order" wasn't picked up by a network, but we had also designed it for the computer, and it's doing very well, too. And there's more where that came from!

DM) What do you think will be the next step in this endeavor?

JG) I think that the networks will combine their efforts with on-line companies and do interactive gameshows that everyone can participate in.

DM) Do you think the game show phenomenon lately is just a fad, or is it a trend?

JG) Both. I think the success of "Millionaire" is significant. But I don't know if the imitators will be able to gather and hold the audience for long. I feel that game shows with new structures will have to be introduced to keep up the viewers' attention.

 

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