The longest-running TV quiz show in the world is beginning its second half-century on the air. It’s Academic is a Washington program that lets high school students showcase their brainpower.
It’s a Saturday morning, and the high school TV quiz show It’s Academic is on the air, as it has been for the past 50 years. Students from schools across the Washington D.C. area are answering questions on history, literature, math, science, religion, politics and sports.
Producer Susan Altman says the show is a lot of fun. “It’s a great age group to work with,” said Altman. “They’re fun, they’re enthusiastic, they say funny things without even meaning to half the time.”
Altman’s mother, Sophie, a TV producer in the 1950s, started It’s Academic at the request of local school officials to showcase outstanding students.
“At that time, 1961, the United States was going through a lot of upheaval with school integration, and they wanted things to help out to make the schools look good and to show that integration could work and work well. So this is what she came up with,” recalled Sophie Altman.
Mac McGarry has hosted It’s Academic since it debuted. He’s now 84.
“Every time I look up, I see people who are just 17 years old, and somehow I think, ‘Well I must not be getting older at all.’ Their enthusiasm is contagious, no question about it. You really have to rev yourself up to keep up with them,” he said.
McGarry has challenged more than 20,000 contestants, asked more than 200,000 questions and gotten more than a few funny answers.
“We had a question one time: ‘Who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo?’ and the young fellow answered, ‘Duke Ellington.’ Another time, we had a question of ‘Who along with Frederick Engel wrote the Communist Manifesto?’ ‘Groucho Marx,’” recalled McGarry.
The correct answers, of course, are the Duke of Wellington and Karl Marx.
Kelly Reeder knows that. She captained the Rockville High School It’s Academic team last year. The suburban Washington-area school has won the show’s championship several times.
“Me and all the other people on the team. We’ve put in a lot of effort over the years and a lot of time to be where we are. It’s a really huge honor to end up on the A team,” said Reeder. She admits, it’s a little nerdy. “My friends who are on It’s Academic think it’s cool that I’m the captain of the A Team, but my friends who are not on It’s Academic think it’s kind of funny.”
Reeder and her teammates reflected the diversity now common on It’s Academic. That wasn’t the case in show’s early years.
“It’s a reflection of the great diversity of our country. When we first started, the young people from various countries were not evident so much. Now, each program presents young people from all over the world, at least descendents from people all over the world. So this is a microcosm of the way America is today,” added McGarry.
Several well-known Americans, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former astronaut Timothy Creamer, appeared on the show when they were teenagers. Perhaps one of these students from It’s Academic will also rise to prominence.