Quiz show king: 'It's cool to hang around smart kids'
Bill Schiffman gets asked the question all the time -- and he has a ready answer.
No, high school students of today aren't any more or less intelligent than high school students from three decades ago, he says.
"The best and the brightest are always going to be the best and the brightest," Schiffman said last week in an interview at the Worthington offices of Schiffman/Grow and Co., the accounting firm he co-founded.
The Clintonville resident is in a unique position to address that proposition; he's entering his 30th year as host of the In the Know quiz show on WOSU-TV.
During the show, the host asks questions of eight students, four on each team, with judge Manuel M. Wilson officiating and tabulating the scores, according to WOSU-TV's website. The questions are based on general high school subjects ranging from science to visual arts.
Created by the late Carl Papai of Upper Arlington as a live program for WBNS-TV (Channel 10) in 1966, the knowledge contest has as many as 64 teams representing high schools from throughout central and southern Ohio competing for scholarship money from Westfield Insurance, which also underwrites the production costs and entry fees.
High schools that participated last school year are: Westerville North, Worthington Kilbourne, Whetstone, Grove City, Central Crossing, Centennial, Thomas Worthington, Bishop Watterson, Dublin Scioto, Upper Arlington, Brookhaven, Dublin Jerome, Bexley, Reynoldsburg, St. Charles Preparatory School, Columbus Academy and Delaware Hayes.
What has changed since Schiffman took over as host, when In the Know moved to the public television station in 1982, is what the students want to do after high school. Back then, Schiffman said, they wanted to be liberal arts majors in college and go on to careers as lawyers and teachers. Most of the top students from the past three years, asked the same question prior to taping as the host endeavors to put them at ease, say they want to become engineers of one kind or another.
"They're really focused, and I think it's wonderful that they are," said Schiffman, who grew up in Eastmoor and Bexley. "Everybody decries every new generation as the laziest there is. These kids, at any rate, are good kids, and they know where they're going."
If there has been a change in what contestants bring to In the Know, they're better at math and science today and not as good in categories such as literature.
In the Know had a good 17-year run on WBNS-TV, Schiffman said.
"It became less and less commercially successful for them," he said.
The decision was made to help move the quiz program to WOSU, and Schiffman, who had done some on-air fundraising for the station, was invited to audition for the role of host.
"I think I won because the crew all liked me," he said.
There was, and is, more to it than that, said George Levert, director of In the Know since 1999.
"He's always been able to change with the kids," Levert said. "He's been able to relate to them. I just think he's good for the show. He's a natural fit, if you will."
"It's cool to hang around smart kids," Schiffman said. "It intrigued me tremendously -- not necessarily to be on television; it's not my primary job."
What intrigued the certified public accountant -- who never took an accounting course -- was the chance to provide a platform where students would be recognized for excelling academically, "like their football brethren."
"These kids are not just playing for self-esteem and the pride of their schools," Schiffman said.
More than $40,000 in scholarship money is on the line for successful teams on In the Know, broadcast at 5:30 p.m. Thursdays. The new season premieres Oct. 11.
"I love it now more than I did 30 years ago because I appreciate it more," Schiffman said, noting that at the start he was just 27 -- not even a decade older than many of the contestants.
"People have asked me when am I going to retire, and I'm like, why would I want to retire?" he said. "I'll quit when it doesn't make me laugh anymore ... but I can't see that happening.
"It's truly a labor of love."
Schiffman did admit he has one problem with one of the changes that has occurred since he began the hosting gig.
"I'm too old to be on HD," he said.