The Experts, YouTube’s first weekly game show, kicked off its the second season about three weeks ago. For those of you who are not familiar with the online series, The Experts has three contestants competing against each other to see who is the most knowledgeable in their subject of expertise for cash prizes. Last week, I had the privilege of interviewing one of the producers and creators of the award-winning web series, director and playwright Alan Bailey. Bailey is no stranger to game shows as he was an undefeated, five-time Jeopardy champion in 2001 and even had the courage to match wits with Watson, the IBM supercomputer…and won! Check out my interview with Alan Bailey, as he discusses his past game show experiences and more about The Experts. Enjoy!
Dexter Johnson: Tell me about yourself.
Alan Bailey: I am a playwright and a director, and I’m one of the writers of one of the most produced plays across the country. My experience and background is in creating new shows. My partner, Marty Butterick, is booked in sports management and he’s also a former professional poker player. So, his background is in game logistics. My third partner, Michael Shure, is a political television personality; so, his background is in television. So, between the three of us, we bring real different takes on the creation of a game show. So, we’re all sort of bringing in our different fields of knowledge in creating the show and we began several years ago working on various game shows. We realized that we were all big, classic game show fans and we began the process of creating shows and we have about a half a dozen shows that we’ve created and pitched around town and having development with different production companies or network and The Experts is one of our several shows.
DJ: Very interesting, very interesting. Speaking of game shows, what is your favorite game show and who was your favorite game show host growing up?
AB: You know, of course, I have to say my favorite game show is Jeopardy. Jeopardy has been very good to me and being on Jeopardy is something that I’ve hoped for all my life, from the old series and the current series. My favorite game show host would be Alex Trebek, but also Gene Rayburn and Dick Clark. You know, [Rayburn and Clark] made the shows that they were on and I like to watch them at work.
DJ: I think you may have answered this question in answering who your favorite game show host was, but looking at your past game show appearances including being an undefeated 5-time Jeopardychampion and helping your team win more than $600,000 on Million Dollar Mind Game, you have a very impressive game show résumé. What was your favorite game show moment?
AB: (Laughs) I will tell you the thing that really mattered the most, of course, every part of doing this of being on game shows is a huge, huge thrill. But, I’ve lived in New York in the 80s and at one point when Jeopardy started to get really big, I flew myself from New York to L.A. and stayed with a friend so I could take the Jeopardy test. I loved Jeopardy and was rampant about it and it was really getting big, and I got out here and I failed the test. It was so embarrassing to go home. I loved it so much and it was sure felt good playing along. Everybody assumed that did well and I did as well, and it was terrible to fail that test; I didn’t try again until 2000. I was living in L.A. by then; so, I just went down to Culver City to their studios (obviously, there was no online test then; so, you went there for your test) and I passed the test. […] Thirteen years later when I passed the test, when I had left the studio and left the audition that day and got home, I was so excited about that! It meant so much to me. I mean, it turned around something that I’ve been living with for all those years. But, I have to say that one of the biggest moments for me was also one of the quietest moments that wasn’t as flashy and on TV. It was just that I had finally passed the Jeopardy! test.
DJ: Now, continuing the discussion about your past history with Jeopardy, I heard that you did a scrimmage match with Watson, the supercomputer, in 2010. Tell me, what was that like going toe-to-toe with the IBM supercomputer.
AB: First of all, it was so much fun! They brought in former Jeopardy Tournament of Champions veterans in groups of four, and the three other people besides me, I already knew two of them. One was in my tournament of champions and we’ve played one of our tournament games together. The other was a man that lives in New York that I stay with whenever I visit New York and these were people that I knew pretty well, and here I got to spend the day with them. It was kind of like playing “Celebrity Jeopardy”. You know, when you really play Jeopardy, everybody’s very serious, very concentrated, and you don’t really know the people you’re playing against. You know, the celebrities, they take timeouts and say funny things, and that’s how those matches are. The people were having fun because we all knew each other and it wasn’t on TV.
But, everybody was very serious and very competitive. You will never find a Jeopardy player who isn’t serious about the game. We all were trying as hard as we could, but it was still kind of fun and light-hearted at the same time. But, to be more specific about Watson, Watson was really formidable. If you ever got in on the buzzer at Watson, you felt like you had accomplished this new thing because it was practically unbeatable on the buzzer, and of course he knew practically everything. […] So, we played several matches and in my last one (and it was the last one of the day), I did manage to pull of a win against Watson that is still a record for the biggest win of anybody against Watson. I beat him $61,000 to zero. I got a late Daily Double and basically bet everything so I could get my total way up there. Then, I bet everything in Final Jeopardy and so did he, so we were neck and neck going into Final Jeopardy. I bet everything in Final Jeopardy and so did he, and I got it right and he got it wrong. […] I was trying to stay up with Watson as hard as I could and I was swinging for the fences. So, I posted that huge total because it was him and I knew I had to go really big and I got lucky that I wound up with something that I knew and he didn’t.
DJ: Well, congratulations! Did you manage to keep any of that money?
AB: It was a preset amount (it was like a stipend) that IBM paid everybody who participated. So, we knew what we were going to get before we went in there. They did incentivize it that each time you won, you got a little bump; or even if you came in second, you got a little bump; and then if you came in first, you got even more of one. They certainly didn’t need to incentivize it just for us to want to win, but it was nice that they did; and, basically, my wife and I got a really nice all-expenses weekend in New York, courtesy of IBM and Jeopardy. So, that was a great thing to happen out of the blue.
DJ: That’s very good to hear. Now, let’s move on to what this interview is really about: your show, The Experts. What inspired you to create this game show?
AB: Well, like I said, my partners and I are fans of classic game shows, and, obviously, we’re in the spirit of trivia-based game shows. The best shows are shows where the rules are simple; it’s just basically ask questions [and] answer them, but create a format that uses just a new or slightly different spin on that question-and-answer [format]. With Jeopardy, the rules are so simple; the format is so simple. The Pyramid, Match Game, Password: it’s all so simple what they do and that’s part of what makes them lasts so long. For us at The Experts, the idea of getting people to know everything about completely different things, that is format enough and we spent all our time when we were developing the show, trying to make it simpler and simpler.
We started out, and in fact for the first year or so when we working on it, there were four contestants and we realized that it would be better and faster if there were three and we had somewhat more complicated spins on things. We just kept realizing that “no; it can be just that simple”. But, one thing that people have responded very positively about is that each of our rounds follows a slightly different format. So, it engages the players and it engages the viewers in a different way as the show keeps going on. So, we did find that keeping those formats, but keeping them really simple is a key to the success to our show.
DJ: Well, as I was watching some of your episodes, I did notice that your show has great variety. Your format is multi-dimensional; in terms of it tests the contestants’ knowledge, strategy and intuition, even.
AB: Well, we tell our players that it is usually not the person who knows the most about their field that wins. It’s the person who can read the other players better.
DJ: As great of a show as this is, would consider creating the game for a television format?
AB: Yes, we had been talking to TV people before we launched it on YouTube. And, now that it is successful on YouTube, we’re continuing to talk to TV people about the show. So yes, we’re mindful that online content is the way that information is moving. So, everybody is aware of that there’s real success to be had online. But, it’s always been heard there’s real success to be had on television, and even some combination of online content and a television presence. So yes, we’re absolutely still talking to people about a variety of options, both traditional and new media.