Why We Write

January 11, 2008

Why We Write – Number 15: Mark Gaberman

Number 15

Today’s piece is written by Mark Gaberman, a writer on “Jeopardy.” 


There are 61 blue boxes available to play in one game of “Jeopardy!”.  We make 230 shows a year—that’s 14,030 boxes that 8 of my friends and I have to fill.  I have learned things about Queen Victoria that I never really wanted to know.  Some information about car repair that I have since forgotten.  Morgan Freeman has spoken words in celebrity clues that I wrote for him.

He was God, you know.  At least twice.

I love to fill in those blue boxes.

I’ve had Alex Trebek rap Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice”—he had his mind on his money and his money on his mind that day.  Did a category called “Death and Texas” just because I liked the title (and finding stuff about people dying and/or getting killed in Texas turned out to be remarkably easy).  I’ve learned about Jean Sibelius, and word to the wise, if you see “blah blah blah this Finnish composer blah blah blah…”, Jean Sibelius might not be your worst guess.  Well, at least if I wrote it.  I’m just not that up on my Finnish composers.

I think for any writer, there is an indescribable thrill at having your words come to life onscreen.  For the 9 of us, those words are literally on the screen itself for everyone to see.  I’ve been with the show for a decade now—7 years as a writer, I’m one of the newbies—and I still can’t wait to see how my categories will play during that day’s shooting.  I know the others feel the same way about their material, too.  It never gets old.

Until one tanks.

Contrary to what some may believe, we aren’t out to stump the players.  Challenge ‘em to the limit, you bet, but to us, a 3-contestant deadball basically means we failed to get even one of them to where we thought they could go.  Oh, the horror that is the triple stand-and-stare.  The eternity that is the few seconds between the time Alex finishes reading a clue and the head-scratching, how the hell do they expect us to know that? reaction it gets from the contestants.  Then, DOOTDOOTDOOT!  The merciful sound that ends their suffering and then has Alex saying something like, “ooo, sorry, we were going for Slovenia.  Slovenia.  Select!”  Maybe I reached way too far and used Kurt Bevacqua in a clue instead of an easy Babe Ruth, just because I thought it was funny that Tommy Lasorda said Kurt Bevacqua couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a bleeping boat.  Or perhaps these 3 particular players weren’t quite ready for an entire category of “to Heloise and back”.  Another 3 might have been all over it.  Luck of the draw there.  Or maybe they just never knew that Fitzgerald wrote “The Great Gatsby”.

Nah, they should’ve known that.  That one would probably just make me mad.

That, however, is the beauty of our game.  I get just as floored as anyone who watches the show if that butcher from Boise knows that obscure fact I discovered about Pushkin.  Baffled if that insurance agent from Des Moines doesn’t know Lincoln was president during the Civil War.  Positively mind-boggled when that lawyer from Pensacola doesn’t put enough on a Daily Double with an opportunity to go ahead, late in the game (you’d be amazed how often betting like that happens.  Trust yourselves, folks!  No guts, no “Jeopardy!” glory!).  But the fact that I helped create all that…it’s a feeling I really miss, and one that I look forward to experiencing again soon.

I love to go to work each day.  To see my friends.  To learn something new.  To try and be creative and contribute to something a lot of people seem to enjoy.  To actually get paid to do it. 

I love to fill in those blue boxes.


WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

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