Game Show Questions Questions

There are a lot of game shows out there involving questions with factual answers. I have a few questions about this.

  1. Do all game show production companies keep people on staff to write questions? Many shows seem to have an original style of questions, but I also very rarely see duplicates across shows. That and the fact that economies of scale might apply to a degree makes me wonder if there are questions “clearinghouses” or consulting firms that create questions for all or many of the shows.

  2. Is there a testing process to determine the level of difficulty of the questions? Is it intuitive? The producers seem to be pretty good at ranking the questions in order of easy to hard.

  3. If a question duplicates, say, another program’s question or a Trivial Pursuit question or an NTN trivia question or somesuch, is this an intellectual property issue? I’d think it would be hard to get protection for such a thing.
    I’d appreciate links to earlier discussions if they exist- a search came up empty.

  1. Yes. Security of questions is very tight, ever since the fixing scandals of the Fifties. Show staffs are divided between those who have access to the questions and those who have access to the contestants. They’re often not even in the same building.

  2. No show is public about the testing and validation processes they use, but intuition gets pretty good if you’ve written a few question.

  3. Only if the wording is exactly duplicated, or can otherwise be traced. Subject matter is very often duplicated inadvertently, though, and it would be unreasonable to try not to.

Game Show Convention Center and are good places for more info.

Thanks ElvisLives. Are you in the industry? Have you written questions for a living? It would seem to be an interesting job.

Hey, is there such thing as a freelance question writer? I’ve run a couple of high-school quiz tournaments using all original questions, so I have some experience; I just haven’t done it for money. Does anyone know if shows buy questions from people? That ** would ** be a sweet gig.

One of the writers for Jeopardy! is from Richmond, VA and she manages to sneak Richmond or VA questions in from time to time. She gets mentioned in the paper here from time to time.

When I was on Jeopardy, about eight years ago, there was a table in the studio where the writers sat, with computers and reference books at the ready, in case there was an issue with the correctness of one of the questions during the taping. I remember there being a halt in the taping of one show (not one that I was on), while a question was checked to make sure it was right. We contestants could see the writers, but we had to stay away from them, and were only allowed to talk to the other contestants, the contestant coordinators, Alex Trebek, and the stage manager. We pretty much pretended everyone else didn’t exist, just to be safe.

nineiron, I don’t know about television game shows, but there are other ways to get paid to write questions, if you’re decently good at it. NAQT (who set questions for many collegiate and high school quiz competitions nationwide in the States), for example, pay $1.50 per question they use of yours; and they are especially looking for high school level questions. Check out their freelance jobs posting info.

A couple of the other writers are from Nebraska and throw in similar questions about their state.

Wow, thanks. I’ll look into it.

Is there a particular form of question they exclusively use? I tried to find samples at their website but could only find ones for sale. I assume they’re general-knowledge-type questions with a brief description looking for the name of a famous person, work, event, etc. However, one meet my team attended a couple of years ago used a format that had a rather vague clue, followed by a slightly more specific one, then a pretty easy one. Students got fewer and fewer points with each clue they needed. I am not sure if this was an “NAQT” event.

nineiron, there are a couple sample packets of questions, so you can check out the format. Here and here. I think these are meant to be collegiate level, but can’t be sure. Download the writer’s pack from the link I posted above on the Jobs page, which should tell you all you need to know about question writing.

The format is to have what’s called a “toss-up”, which includes a few clues that gradually get easier until the last clue makes it usually pretty obvious. The team getting the toss-up then gets a bonus question all to itself.