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Over Easy: I’ll Take ‘Gone From the Upper Valley Airwaves’ for $200, Alex

  • Host Alex Trebek takes the stage during the Jeopardy Power Players event taped for future airing at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Doug Kapustin forThe Washington Post.



For the Valley News
Friday, August 10, 2018

Alex Trebek is dead to me. TheJeopardy! host was like a member of our family, admittedly a family member we’d never met or spoken to. Even if it was an imaginary relationship, it was somewhat close.

In case you missed the sad news, Channel 31, our own WNNE, effectively went off the air in most of the Upper Valley recently, and is available only via cable or streaming services. That means no more Jeopardy! for me, since we cut the cord at our West Lebanon bungalow some years ago and are too cheap to pay for network dreck. (I used to rail, “Who even watches Celebrity Apprentice? Who falls for this junk?” but it seems the joke was on me.)

This is a lifestyle crisis. Just as the swallows return to Capistrano and monarch butterflies flutter in summer, Dede and I have migrated regularly to our comfy chairs to watch Jeopardy! nightly at 7 on Channel 31. (Fact check: online sources say both the swallows and the monarchs have grown scarcer because of loss of habitat and other trends that are ruining everything. Only possums and their ilk are thriving, which suggests what sort of future we are in for. )

Our Jeopardy! habit wasn’t obsessive, but the show was reliable comfort viewing, especially in winter, when the Upper Valley grows cold and dark and staying up until 9 p.m. seems hard.

And now that I am 65, it is reassuring to find that I can still recall the Watergate conspirators and that the Archies sang Sugar, Sugar (1969), even if I swing and miss on George W. Bush cabinet members and everything Beyonce.

NBC went dark for us when the owners of Channel 31, Hearst Television, made about $50 million selling its broadcast frequency that beamed from Mount Ascutney. The deal paves the way for expanded broadband service. Better smartphones will no doubt serve the perceived public good as the public stares at them more and more, but dammit, we wanted to watch Jeopardy!.

When we moved to the Upper Valley in 1982, Channel 31 was a full-service, albeit tiny, TV station, with very local news, sports and weather. Over the years the owners have melded it with Channel 5 in Plattsburgh, N.Y. Upper Valley reports have declined greatly (like the swallows and monarchs, alas), while we were introduced to Dannemora, N.Y., and other upstate burgs that were previously unknown to us and remain hazy in our consciousness.

I also grew annoyed of late at the frequency of “My Pillow” commercials, which are a little creepy in that the pillow fellow seems to live in the walls of private homes and monitors the quality of people’s sleep. He even comments that they are “looking good!” post pillow purchase. But if inviting him into our home (via TV only, hopefully), was the price for seeing Jeopardy!, I was willing to pay it.

I had no such reservations about Jeopardy! itself, a TV game show that rewards people who actually know stuff. They don’t have to make fools of themselves to take part; that is actively discouraged and a rare thing on network television.

My only quibbles included occasional awkward Alex Trebek interviews with contestants, who are, in the main, quite smart, and often a tad awkward themselves. Nerdiness can be charming, but sometimes they are pushing it with their tales of first dates at history museums or “wild” times at gatherings of stamp collectors.

Careful viewers may have noticed that Jeopardy! had more Canada questions than you’d expect, no doubt since Trebek is of Canadian origin. He always looked slightly hurt when his southern neighbors botched them.

They would, of course. Most Americans think the capital of Canada is Buffalo, and that the Calgary Stampede happened when the first Tim Horton’s doughnut shop opened there.

And, I don’t like the exclamation point in the Jeopardy! show title. There is no point to it at all, because Jeopardy! is as restrained as Trebek’s steady visage. It’s as if Shakespeare decided the “Scottish Play” needed one: Macbeth!

Those minor beefs aside, I miss the nightly Jeopardy! contest. Hard-earned facts that served me well are standing by like ghostly passengers in a railway station, awaiting a Penn Central train that will never come. Who will ask about the Battle of Hastings (1066), John F. Kennedy’s secretary of state (Dean Rusk), the writer of J’Accuse (Emile Zola)? Some of my knowledge is skin deep, to be sure; everything I know about Zola begins and ends there.

But it was enough to keep me in the game when Jeopardy! was on.

I am tempted to insinuate my Jeopardy! store of facts into everyday conversations, which risks making me seem like one of those kinds of people; you know, the ones who are always bringing up the name of the second longest river in Germany, or the makeup of pig iron.

Would I be the life of the party if I exclaimed: Who wants to chat about Asian capitals? How about vice presidents? Inventors and their inventions? States and their products?

Even more worrisome is the risk that if I have seen my final Jeopardy!, hard-earned facts could slip away from me. As they might say on the show, “What is use it or lose it, Alex?” But perhaps in these times when facts are fabricated at the highest level, it might not matter much at all.

I have been watching over-the-air TV almost all my life, and it has been free to the American public since TV itself was invented, by Johannes Gutenberg in 1492. Daniel Webster and Calvin Coolidge were among the luminaries who used antennas to watch their favorite programs here. Things became even more glorious when Charles Lindbergh debuted the first color TV signal, in 1927 in St. Louis.

Four score and seven years ago, Channel 31 arrived in the Upper Valley. It seems awfully unfair — even harmful — to leave over-the-air viewers in the dark.

Dan Mackie is a retired journalist who spent much of his career at theValley News. He lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.