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It's Academic is a televised academic quiz competition for high school students, airing on two NBC affiliates in Washington, D.C. (WRC-TV) and Central Virginia (WVIR) (occasionally) and one CBS affiliate Baltimore, Maryland (WJZ-TV). The show has been on the air since October 7, 1961, making it the longest continuously-running television quiz show ever. The program was created for WRC by Sophie Altman, who continued as executive producer until her death on May 24, 2008. Mac McGarry hosted the Washington shows from the beginning until June 25, 2011. Hillary Howard, a news anchor for the radio station WTOP-FM, took over as host subsequent to McGarry's official retirement in November 2011. The Baltimore show is hosted by David Zahren. The show features three local high school teams of three players each. Over the years, chief sponsor Giant Food has given more than $2,000,000 in scholarship funds to participating schools.
The single-elimination tournament features 81 schools in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region, 81 schools in the Baltimore metropolitan region (including Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore), and 9 schools in the Central Virginia region. The winners in each region go on to battle each other in the Super Bowl. The record-high score of 935 is held by Centennial High School in Ellicott City, Maryland, achieved in 2000.
Under the name Academic Challenge, the quiz has also been produced on WEWS in Cleveland since the 1960s. Pittsburgh-area schools compete on KDKA-TV, where the series is called Hometown High-Q. KDKA morning anchor Rick Dayton became host in 2011, succeeding original host Ken Rice.
It's Academic is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running quiz program in TV history. This title was first entered in the 50th anniversary edition of the Guinness Book.
Each contest is composed of five rounds. Round 1 is a category round with eight questions, all centered around a theme (e.g., "the letter B" or "famous paintings"). Questions do not appear on the players' monitors but do appear for the viewing audience. Teams receive 10 points for each correct answer and lose 10 for each incorrect answer. (Each team is given 100 points before this round.)
In Round 2, each team is individually asked five questions worth 20 points each.
Round 3 is a toss-up visual round. The monitor displays an image and the host provides a question accompanying the image. Teams receive 10 points for each correct answer and lose 10 for each incorrect answer. Eight questions are used. The fourth question is always a math question.
In Round 4, the captain of each team introduces the sponsors and administrators. There are three question packets from which to choose. The team to the immediate left of the team that is supposed to answer chooses which packet the answering team will use. Eight questions are given to each team, with 20 points for a correct answer and no penalties. A 25 point bonus is given if a team correctly answers all eight questions, for a total of 185 points in this round. The fourth question is always a science question and the seventh question is always a math question.
Round 5 features toss-up questions, each worth +/-20 points. Visual questions are worth +/-30 points. The number of questions varies depending on the time left in the game. The game ends when the buzzer sounds. If a team has buzzed in prior the buzzer sounding, the team is required to answer the question before the game is considered over.
Prior to the adoption of the current format, there were several other formats of play.
The "very fast" category round consisted of questions pertaining to the same category. In some cases, the question was the same throughout the round: teams were given different items, and had to answer the common question on the basis of each item (e.g., given a state, name either senator from that state). In other cases, all the answers in the category round shared an announced characteristic in common (e.g., geographical locations whose names begin and end with "A"). Teams used their buzzers in this round, earning 10 points for a correct answer, but losing 10 points (later 20 points) for wrong answers.
In all forms, a team individually answers questions from a packet within a time limit. In one form, at the beginning of the game, teams get one minute to answer questions for 20 points each. In this form, teams are not penalized for wrong answers, in order to help the teams in "building score". In another form, teams have one and a half minutes to answer questions for 20 points each. However, 20 points are deducted for a wrong answer. Teams may pass a question, losing 10 points; however, the other two teams may buzz-in to answer the passed questions (with a few exceptions) for plus or minus 20 points after the time runs out for the team's turn. Every question that is fully read must be answered or passed within a reasonable time. However, if a question is not finished when time expires, the team may reject it without penalty or answer the question at their own risk. In this form, getting all 10 questions (later 8) correct originally earned the team a 50-point bonus, later reduced to 25.
After the host has announced the teams' final scores, he invites the studio audience down from the stands to join the contestants on camera during the closing credit sequence. The song heard under the credit roll in Washington is "T.L.C. (Tender Loving Care)" by the band MFSB.
Beginning in 2008, telecasts on the WRC-TV version have included "guest questions" from notable persons in government, business, sports, and the arts. Among those seen in pre-recorded videos are:
- Stephen Breyer, US Supreme Court Justice
- Lynda Carter, Actress
- Elaine Chao, US Secretary of Labor
- G. Wayne Clough, director of the Smithsonian Institution
- Gen. Jack Dailey, director of the National Air and Space Museum
- Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- David Gregory, host of Meet the Press
- Miguel Insulza, Secretary-General of Organization of American States
- Tim Kaine, governor of Virginia
- Ted Leonsis, owner, Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards
- Carl Levin, U.S. Senator from Michigan
- Chris Matthews, NBC News
- Barbara Mikulski, U.S. Senator from Maryland
- Rusty Powell, director of the National Gallery of Art
- Cal Ripken, Jr., member of Baseball Hall of Fame
- Tim Russert, television journalist and moderator on Meet the Press
- Leonard Slatkin, music director of Washington and Detroit orchestras
- Margaret Spellings, US Secretary of Education
- John Sweeney, president of AFL-CIO
- Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice
- Jim Webb, U.S. Senator from Virginia
- Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health
Many teams participating in It's Academic are also active in the Washington region's quiz bowl circuit.
An Australian version of the show aired on Network Ten and the Seven Network from 1968–1975, and was revived by Seven's Perth affiliate in 2001. Seven took the show national in 2005. (http://au.tv.yahoo.com/b/its-academic/)
KCBS-TV in Los Angeles aired a similarly-formatted quiz show KidQuiz during the 1980s and 1990s.
A version of It's Academic aired on WBEN-TV in Buffalo from the 1960s through 1986, hosted by sportscaster Van Miller. It was later revived for a few months in 2008 by WGRZ-TV, with Kevin O'Neill as host. The show will be returning to the area starting January 12th, 2013 for a full season hosted by O'Neill and produced by Full Circle Studios for broadcast on WGRZ-TV (Channel 2, NBC affiliate). Plans are for a Fall 2013 series and subsequent series if it proves to be popular once again.
A show using the It's Academic name aired in Richmond, Virginia on the NBC affliliate, WWBT Channel 12, in the 1970s, which was also hosted by Mac McGarry and sponsored by Giant. That was replaced by Battle of the Brains. Battle of the Brains has also replaced a version of It's Academic that aired in Hampton Roads.
The World Affairs Council, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State, hosted an'It's Academic International event in 2002, also hosted by Mac McGarry.
In 2007, the game Brainstorm was introduced to Arizona. It featured 21 teams for its inaugural season.
KPRC-TV, the NBC affiliate in Houston, Texas, had their own version of It's Academic called the Texaco Star Academic Challenge. The show left KPRC-TV and would eventually be retitled The Challenge, airing on one of Houston's Public-access television cable TV channels and KTBU Channel 55.
KRGV-TV in Weslaco, Texas has aired their own version of It's Academic for many years, entitled Masterminds.
KRCR-TV in Redding, California had their version of It's Academic called Academic Challenge which ran until 2005 before Station Manager Robert Wise moved to KOBI in Medford, Oregon where he brought Academic Challenge with him and still airs to this day on KOBI/KOTI.
Hometown High-Q airs on KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is sponsored by Westfield Insurance (and previously by Giant Eagle) and was hosted by KDKA news anchor Ken Rice from its inception in 2000 until the end of the 2010-11 season. It is now hosted by KDKA morning anchor Rick Dayton.
Dan Braddock is the show's producer.
The winning team receives $11,000, second- and third-place finalists win $5,500, and non-winning semifinalists win $2,000. In earlier seasons, winning teams received points their schools could use toward the purchase of computers and equipment.
An alternate version of Hometown High-Q, which began in summer 2005 is the Steelers Trivia Challenge, a nighttime series hosted by KDKA sports anchor Bob Pompeani featuring adult contestants answering trivia related to the Steelers.
From 2003-2007, the show aired twice on Saturday: a new episode aired at 11:00 a.m., and the last week's episode reran at 11:30 a.m.
Academic Challenge (Ohio)
Academic Challenge (Ohio) — not to be confused with the college-level competition — is a high school version of quizbowl that was aired on WEWS in Cleveland, Ohio, USA from 1964 to 1999 and has been aired again from 2003 to the present, formerly produced by Phyllis Sossi and Steve Kurrent, now with Berry Pinney as executive producer and Steve Kurrent as producer/director.
The show is hosted by WEWS meteorologist Jason Nicholas, who took over in 2007 following anchor Danita Harris and former anchor Adam Shapiro, who went to New York City's WNBC. Jason Nicholas is a native of Medina, Ohio, and graduated from Medina High School. The Cleveland version was hosted by Don Cameron from 1964–75, by former WEWS weatherman Don Webster from 1975–86, then again from 1994–99, by Steve Wolford from 1986–88, and by Lou Maglio from 1988–1994, before he went to WJW. The Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company or CEI (now FirstEnergy) sponsored the show in Cleveland, joined by Ohio Edison Company in 1972. The Ohio Lottery sponsored the show from 1996-99. Today, Academic Challenge (Ohio) is sponsored by Medina County-based Westfield Insurance, which also sponsors Pittsburgh's Hometown High-Q and other such programs.
The major difference in the championship format is that It's Academic uses a playoff method, while Academic Challenge (Ohio) simply invites the three highest-scoring schools for a championship game, though the Cleveland show experimented with playoffs during the late 1990s.
Schools rotate every two years. Example is St. Peter Chanel High School, St. Peter Chanel appeared in the 2010-11 School year, but will appear again in the 2012-13 school year. Garfield Heights High School did not appear in the 2010-11 school year, but they will appear in the 2011-12 school year.
It has won several awards, including the Emmy for "best regularly scheduled children/youth program" by the Cleveland Regional Emmy chapter.
- 2004 - Solon High School
- 2005 - Solon High School
- 2006 - Copley High School
- 2007 - Gilmour Academy
- 2008 - Hawken School
- 2009 - Archbishop Hoban High School
- 2010 - Copley High School
- 2011 - St. Edward High School
- 2012 - Firestone High School
- 2013 - Twinsburg High School
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Notable figures who have competed on It's Academic include:
- Michael Chabon, author and Pulitzer Prize winner
- Bruce Cohen, Oscar-winning producer of "American Beauty"
- David Ignatius, journalist and novelist
- Joshua Foer, writer
- Donald E. Graham, chairman and chief executive officer of The Washington Post Company
- Angus King, U.S. senator from Maine
- Laura Lippman, author
- Peter Salovey, Provost of Yale University
- Charles Schumer, U.S. senator from New York 
- George Stephanopoulos, political commentator
Other notable participants:
- Sandra Bullock appeared on the show as a cheerleader.
- Hillary Rodham was an alternate for Maine South High School in 1965 on WMAQ-TV (Chicago). A picture of her with her quiz team is on display at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.
In 1979, a charity special was held between a team of three Democratic senators (Patrick Moynihan, Lloyd Bentsen, and Alan Cranston), three Republican senators (Lowell Weicker, John Danforth, and H. J. Heinz III), and three members of the press (Jessica Savitch, Art Buchwald, and David Broder).
(Note: bold denotes Washington-Baltimore-Central Virginia Super Bowl Champions.)
- WIVB-TV (Buffalo) in association with Altman Productions. 1977–78 championship. It's Academic Presented by Van Miller. Featuring Nichols, Lancaster, and Williamsville East. Original airdate 1978.
- WRC-TV (Washington) in association with Altman Productions. 23rd season premiere. It's Academic. Presented by Mac McGarry. Featuring Churchill, Mount Vernon and Northwestern. Original airdate 1983-09-25.
- WIVB-TV (Buffalo) in association with Altman Productions. 1978–79 championship. It's Academic Presented by Van Miller. Featuring Grand Island, Iroquois, and Jamestown. Original airdate 1979.
- WIVB-TV (Buffalo) in association with Altman Productions. It's Academic Presented by Van Miller. Featuring Williamsville East, Bishop Timon, and Salamanca Central. Original airdate 1981.
- Altman Productions. It's Academic Presented by Mac McGarry. Featuring Albemarle, St. Anne's-Belfield, and Madison County. Original airdate 1988.
- Rob Owen (March 14, 2000). "KDKA-TV goes to school in quiz show for students". Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2007-07-05.
- Seate, Mike (January 25, 2007), "Academics shouldn't be black and white", Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, retrieved 2007-07-05
- "Hometown High Q Game Show Participation Rules". Retrieved 2008-03-29.
- Picture of "Chuck" from May 21, 2010 article. Accessed January 6, 2011 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/20/AR2010052000759.html
- Campbell, Gail A. (1989-12-14). "Quick! Hit the Buzzer! Who Is Mac McGarry?". Washington Times. "Both Mrs. Altman and Mr. McGarry point to a special charity version of It's Academic they did 10 years ago...That show pitted three Republican senators and three Democratic senators against the press. Republicans Lowell Weicker of Connecticut, John Danforth of Missouri and H.J. Heinz III of Pennsylvania got more points than Democrats Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, Lloyd Bentsen of Texas and Alan Cranston of California, but the press still won. The late Jessica Savitch, Art Buchwald and Washington Post political columnist David Broder handily whipped the pols..."
- Official It's Academic web site
- Washington DC area It's Academic
- Baltimore area It's Academic
- Cleveland area Academic Challenge
- It's Academic Hawaii
- In September 2011, the VOA Special English service of the Voice of America broadcast a story about "It's Academic" on its weekly Education Report. A transcript and MP3 of the program, intended for English learners, can be found at A TV Quiz Show for Teens Turns 50