MY LATEST CRACKPOT IDEA: I don't know about you, but I love watching competitions like the National Geographic Bee and the Spelling Bee, both of which had their finals airing on television over the past week.
I find the competition to be absolutely gripping and, especially in the case of the Geography Bee, I love playing along at home. That competition, which sadly did not begin until 1989, when I was too old to compete, requires in-depth knowledge of world geography, geopolitics and culture -- actually useful stuff. Take a look at these questions from the finals to get a flavor for what's at stake.
(Side note: In contrast, I'm fairly anti-spelling bees as a general principle. I don't quite see the value in kids spending hours memorizing thousands of words that neither they nor anyone else will ever use. I'd rather they knew what words meant than how they were spelled, and prefer more useful bodies of knowledge like geography, math or science for these competitions. That said . . .)
And don't even get me started on WLVT's Scholastic Scrimmage, a regional high school academic competition I've been watching for years. Great television. (Finals: this Thursday, up against The Amazing Race. Damn.)
So anyway, why not have a cable network devoted to scholastic competitions? Basically, think Game Show Network meets Nickelodeon, or take the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? former trend and add youthful energy.
For programming, you could broadcast local, state and national-level spelling, math, geography, science and general knowledge competitons. In so, the network would bring new recognition and self esteem to our nation's insecure geek population.
Look: I was a former mathlete, and I'm no longer ashamed to admit it. Why? Because on Thursday at noon, ESPN is broadcasting the national championships of MathCounts, a competition for middle school students in which I competed at the city and state levels as an eighth grader. I'm psyched.
Given the success of Spellbound, the new documentary about the 1999 National Spelling Bee, and given how much attention is given to kids who sing well (American Juniors, Star Search) or look attractive (Free Swan Brooner!), why not publicize good kids who happen to be really, really bright? And don't just do it because it's the right thing to do, to treat these kids as being as important as star high school athletes -- do it because it makes for good, exciting television.
C'mon: tell me you wouldn't want to see the 1990 Pennsylvania Citizen Bee finals, where I choked and finished in sixth because I had no fucking clue who Winslow Homer or the "ashcan school" was. Now take that moment of pressure and embarrasment, and multiply it across a 24/7/365 television schedule. Tell me you wouldn't watch.
Or maybe, I'm just nuts.