By Paula Hendrickson
By now, you’ve seen the ads with WTVO Eyewitness News anchor Nick Toma announcing the premiere of a brand-new, locally produced game show called the “Stateline Quiz Bowl Presented by Bergstrom.” Teams of top students from 22 high schools throughout the viewing area — including towns as far away as Fulton and Paw Paw — will vie to win $40,000 in scholarships from Northern Illinois University.
It’s hard to escape the promos, since they’ve been airing frequently during many of ABC and FOX’s biggest shows and some NFL games.
It will be almost as hard to miss new episodes of the series, which debuts Saturday, Jan. 17, immediately following WTVO’s 6 p.m. newscast — a timeslot previously reserved for paid programming. Each week’s episode will repeat the next day at 8:30 a.m. on MyNetworkTV and again at 9:30 p.m. that evening on WQFR-FOX 39.
“The main goal was to create a fun local experience for people at home to watch, and I think we’ve achieved that,” said Shawn Anderson, the creative services director at WTVO/WQRF and an executive producer of the 21-episode series. “We’re currently in the midst of a station-wide initiative called Excellence in Education, and this ties into that. With Bergstrom on board, it also tied into the community-wide efforts of Transform Rockford.”
It turns out Bergstrom, Inc., is more than the title sponsor. They’re one of the reasons the show came to be.
A few years back, Kelly Lattimer had the idea for a quiz show, but the economy was terrible. Unable to find sponsors or a venue, she shelved it. Now vice president and general manager of WTVO/WQRF, MyNetworkTV and Bounce, Lattimer’s focus on community enrichment, education and the economy has led to the Stateline Volunteers and Excellence in Education initiatives.
When she met with a Bergstrom executive to discuss Stateline Volunteers last October, the topic of quiz shows came up — as did the global company’s struggle to build a pipeline of qualified employees. Once the executive asked if the station could do a quiz show, everything clicked into place.
“With Bergstrom on board, I approached Northern Illinois University. They immediately stepped up and wanted to provide the venue and be involved. It snowballed from there,” Lattimer said. Additional sponsors soon joined in.
Anderson consulted with the IHSA about what was needed to differentiate the TV show from state-sanctioned scholastic bowls. The game show format and smaller teams are obvious differences, but the questions will be just as challenging since they come from the same source. Anderson also had to review the legalities involved in NIU donating scholarships to the winning team.
Developing a show in three months wasn’t easy. Sets had to be built, a buzzer system, microphones and monitors had to be acquired, schools needed to be invited, and a schedule had to be prepared. Luckily, they had a willing host in Eyewitness News anchor Nick Toma. Episodes are taped at NIU’s Rockford facility, but the season finale will air live — in primetime — on WTVO sometime during the first week of June.
Not only do Lattimer and Anderson hope local viewers will enjoy the show, they hope people will realize the potential it may have for the community.
“As good as this show is, it’s something you’d normally see in a bigger market,” Lattimer said. “Rockford doesn’t know how big this is for the area yet. But think about it. What a calling card. What recruitment tool for the community.”
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Jan. 14-20, 2015, issue