The Game Is Very Simple – The Great American Telephone Trivia Game (1990)

The dawn of the cable infomercial and the pay-per-minute 1-900 telephone business opened up some pretty suspicious scam opportunities. TV psychics could tell your future, you could spend quality time with a pre-recorded Corey Feldman or a myriad other celebrities, and of course you could find some foxy company for the night – all delivered very slowly for an insane amount of money per minute.  I wasn’t aware of 1990’s The Great American Telephone Trivia Game until today, but this scam might really take the cake.

This “show” features original “Jeopardy!” host Art Fleming at the helm of what appears to be a standard trivia game show, but there’s an amazing futuristic twist. Thanks to the miracle of cable tv and telephone technology, viewers can now call in and play the trivia game as well.  If they answer 9 questions correctly, questions similar to the ones the contestants are answering, they win $100!

The scam is clear: the contestants on the screen are getting softball questions (“In what city does ‘Cheers’ take place?”) and the ones on the 1-900 number are much more difficult.  What’s more, I’m willing to bet that the questions are delivered very slowly and you don’t know whether you answered any of them correctly until all nine questions are completed.  At one-minute per question and $1.95 per minute, you’re in for at least $20 on this call – and that’s assuming there’s no lengthy intro or outro sucking more more time, which was another common 900-number tactic.  So best case scenario you’re up $80 assuming the questions are really just as easy as the ones on the screen. Which they’re not.

Fleming also rubs the prizes that the studio guests will win in the viewer’s face, amazing prizes that the viewer will never be able to win or afford. 

Spoiler: BOTH CONTESTANTS WIN. It’s beautiful in its terrible awfulness. Here it is, with some strange formatting that I can’t explain. What a find.

-ds