There’s something to be said for being completely jobless–of suddenly having minimal responsibility or accountability to anyone anymore. It’s really quite liberating to be at a stage in life where you’re able to just hop on a plane at any time and travel to anywhere you decide to go on a whim. That kind of explains why I’m sitting here in Sony Studios watching a taping of the long running TV game show Jeopardy. After years of watching host Alex Trebek and his smarmy smile read off the questions to all those impossible answers, I decided I wanted to try and meet with the man in person. While here in TV Land, I thought it might be fun to drop in on Dr. Phil as well. Boy, was I wrong on that one.
I didn’t just come to see Alex or Phil. As many of you know, my daughter Katie lives in Los Angeles so I’m here meddling in her life for a couple of leisurely midweek days between hectic UK football weekends. Frontier Airlines offers a non-stop flight from Cincinnati for the ridiculously low price of $78/one way. I’m taking full advantage of the offer by traveling ultra light. I’ve got no checked baggage and no carryon. I strut through security with my toothbrush and underwear stuffed into my computer case, my running shoes laced around my neck, and a bag of Chex mix for my mid-flight snack. It’s hard to believe that just over a year ago I was still a rather productive member of society.
Enough about that. All of you aren’t here to read about me—I know you’re here for the good doctor himself. What is it about human nature that draws us all to shows about dysfunctional families, weight loss solutions, and mothers who dress too far from their age? Dr. Phil’s immensely popular program specializes in solving all these pressing life issues, and Katie and I are here as part of his live studio audience ready to watch him weave his magic. We were told in advance to dress in upscale business attire for the filming. Sorry, I only packed for “retirement chic” so I throw on a pair of dark colored socks, tuck my shirt in for good measure and get ready to smile for the camera.
Dr. Phil’s guests today include a young delusional woman claiming to be pregnant with the baby Jesus and a former pastor who left his family and ran off with his massage therapist. I realize there is a certain element of Hollywood theater involved in all these reality-based talk shows. However, sitting there live listening to the pain and dysfunction emanating from the parties on stage made me extremely uneasy. You feel much like a voyeur, peering into the private emotions, thoughts and dirty laundry of those who are truly suffering. Dr. Quack’s—er Phil’s scripted attempt at counseling and mediation only made for further mockery of such serious issues as mental illness, infidelity and suicide. At the end of the sessions, as he smugly pranced off the stage hand-in-hand with his wife, I felt like I needed to shower. After nearly 7 hours in the studio, I had my fill of Dr. Phil.
The Jeopardy production stirred up a different set of emotions. They’re taping five episodes today on a familiar looking soundstage that somehow appears much larger and more vibrant than on my TV screen back home. I’m envious of the contestants–the usual assortment of nerdy accountant types who effortlessly answer every question on the board correctly before my little pea brain is even able to process the categories. Sure, all three of them may be geniuses but two of them are guaranteed to lose while potentially humiliating themselves in front of a national TV audience. I guess the lure of winning big bucks and becoming the next Ken Jennings is a powerful elixir to those seeking to disrupt the tedious routines of their wearisome lifestyles.
Alex spends a few seconds during commercial breaks engaging in banter with the studio audience. There are so many questions I want to ask the man I’ve rendezvoused with at 7:30 pm for the past 30 years. “What’s with the mustache? What do you know about Kentucky? Hillary or Trump?” Instead, just like if I were a contestant on stage, my brain suddenly freezes, my tongue becomes completely tied and my golden opportunity for chitchat with Alex Trebek is lost forever. Just like weird Al, I lost on Jeopardy and fanboyed out. Oh well, there’s always Pat and Vanna in the studio right next door spinning that glitzy wheel. I’d like to buy a vowel please.