October 4, 2009

The ethics of quiz writing, as it relates to postapocalyptic serial drama

Through the magic of Netflix, I recently added a title to my list of TV series of which I've seen every episode: Jericho. Another program that I never saw when it was airing new episodes—wasn't even aware of its existence—but I became intrigued by the concept later, and caught up on thanks to modern technology. (I didn't even get the DVDs of this one; the 'Flix lets you stream every episode on your computer.)

The elevator pitch of Jericho: Nuclear war comes to the U.S. of A., and the residents of a small, all-American Kansas town spared the worst of it must deal with the new reality. Skeet Ulrich (the villain from Scream, the poor man's Johnny Depp) is the wayward son who becomes a reluctant leader. The supporting cast included very few actors I had seen before: Major Dad plays Skeet's father and the town's mayor, Arnold's partner from Kindergarten Cop is Skeet's mom, the sexy divorcée on Mad Men is his sister-in-law, the deaf girl from Weeds plays a different deaf girl here.

I liked the show a lot, though it's not TV for the ages. It's fairly hokey, and pretty unrealistic (seriously? you can see an explosion in Denver all the way from Kansas? aren't there a whole bunch of mountains there?), but it keeps you on your toes, and you genuinely care about the supporting cast (I was overjoyed when Stanley and Mimi got together). Plus, it generated a lot of popular support; the show was canceled at the end of its first season, but a fan campaign brought it back for an abbreviated (and much weaker) second cycle.

Like pretty much anything I become briefly infatuated with, I aimed to reference it in a question at the Big Quiz Thing. So I wrote this question, and included it in the preliminary lineup of last week's show:

Q: What TV drama, debuting in 2006, was described as "The Day After: The Series"?Seems about right, yes? A few days later, in my routine fact-checking of the episode's questions, I discovered that I had no source whatsoever for this little factoid. Scouring my brain, I realized that I had independently coined this phrase; I used it in describing the series to a friend. The question would have to die.

Or would it? I mean, it was accurate; someone had described Jericho as "The Day After: The Series," even if that someone was me, in a private conversation. It was certainly figureoutable. Why not? Who gets hurt?

But no: This was a violation of quizmastering ethics, or at least supremely lame. I mean, yes, technically it was accurate, but that doesn't mean it isn't a rotten question. While I'm at it, why don't I ask, "What TV drama, debuting in 2006, featured set design by Harry E. Otto?" I have a higher standard, my friends.

The question was killed, replaced with "The late-‘80s sitcom Just the Ten of Us was a spin-off of what other sitcom?" Oh, I did come up with an alternate Jericho question, which will show up in a future quiz; be warned. But I was again reminded that this silly little job of mine is really, in its own bizarre way, an art.

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