Trivia buffs in the Big Apple might be familiar with the popular live quiz show called the Big Quiz Thing, but what they may not know is that the trivia contest has been adapted into a summertime television program that debuts this Sunday, July 14, at 9 pm on channel NYCLife. It's the first of seven weeks of new episodes that will feature some of the most competitive and knowledgeable teams squaring off against one another.
Though the game show has been around for more than a decade, it's the first time it's coming to television. Noah Tarnow will host alongside his trusty sidekick EdP, with house band Nipsey, guest appearances by the New York Neo-Futurists, some celebrity question segments and other surprises. The whole series was filmed at the Element Nightclub on the Lower East Side. Mr. Tarnow took some time out to speak with me over email about what went into producing this unique opportunity:
Q: Walk me through how you landed this gig. Who approached you? How long did it take to prepare, rehearse, and shoot?
Tarnow: About a year ago, Diane Petzke, who at the time was the head of NYC Media (she recently left for NBC) read about the show in Time Out and cold-emailed me to invite me to lunch. She talked up her idea of a New York-themed quiz show for the NYCLife network and asked if we were interested. I was skeptical at first -- lots of people randomly get in touch with me all the time with their wacky/ambitious ideas, most never go anywhere -- but I liked Diane and her team, they seemed dedicated, and EdP and I decided it was a chance worth taking. We began preproduction in October, I think (maybe November), and we filmed in February. It was hard work, but a whole lot of fun, and it was great that EdP and I remained in the driver's seat creatively from start to finish. A few years earlier we'd pitched the show to Comedy Central, and while they weren't interested, we know that if they had picked it up, there's no way it would've stayed my baby.
Q: What was it like to have to come up with New York City-specific categories and clues rather than your typical hodgepodge of questions?
Tarnow: Making the content NYC-centric wasn't difficult at all, and in fact was a real pleasure -- I've lived here for 16 years, I love this city, so there really isn't any place I know better, and that's what I like to write about, what I know and am interested in. (There's a reason I keep my sports content to a minimum: I'm not a sports fan.) Besides, I'd written reams of New York-themed material in the past, so I was able ransack and adapt my decade-plus of quiz question/game archives.
Q: Is there something more that the TV audience will walk away with as a result of watching your show? Does this go beyond just typical "trivia"?
Tarnow: I think the show goes beyond trivia in the way the Big Quiz Thing in general goes beyond "trivia." I've always worked to make my show's content more interesting -- and ultimately more fun -- than simple obscure factoids. Whether it's heavily incorporating video and audio elements or crafting the verbal questions so that they're more engaging and "figureoutable," it's important to me that people have fun playing (or watching) the game, even if they don't know most (or any) of the answers. It's a game, not a test. I also think that we did a good job of covering a broad swath of NYC culture and history, so anyone who loves the city will enjoy the show as a celebration of it.
Q: On TV can you do multiple takes to get things right. Did you find it easier than doing a live format? Was it more difficult in any ways?
Tarnow: The multiple takes were nice in that I could hide my mistakes, sure. But in general, I found TV harder than doing it live, simply because I have so much more live experience. Playing to a camera was a relatively new concept for me (thankfully there was a live audience at the tapings), and while I grew a lot more comfortable as the process went on, it was definitely a change. Also, I HATE waiting around, which there is inevitably a lot of in TV, but I forced myself to get used to it (mostly).
Q: Why's New York the right city to use as the backdrop for this kind of trivia experiment?
Tarnow: Well, New York is the greatest city in the world, so duh. But seriously, no American city has the breadth of history, character, and culture that New York does (and I'm not one of these New Yorkers who hates all other cities -- I even love Boston and L.A.). Besides, it's my home, and that counts for a lot.