The New Yorker -- the home game

Do you have what it takes to be us?

Published February 18, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Capitalizing on two recent trends, the resurgent popularity of TV game shows and the renewed interest in the history of the New Yorker, David Remnick, editor of the 75-year-old magazine, today announced its first venture into television. "Who Wants to Be Us?," slated to debut in the spring, will "challenge contestants' New Yorker knowledge while affording them a glimpse of the inner circle," Remnick said at a press conference today.

Instead of the large cash prizes offered by other shows, contestants will play for "the honor of being noticed by the New Yorker," Remnick revealed. "It didn't happen to Hemingway or Faulkner or Norman Mailer, but it could happen to you!" The questions, each named for a past New Yorker writer, become progressively harder as the game proceeds. Explained Remnick, "The Elizabeth Wurtzel and Mimi Kramer levels should be a snap. Things get trickier as we go on to the Janet Flanner and Edmund Wilson levels." Questions will focus on the history and traditions of the magazine. "For instance, a qualifying question might be: Place these four New Yorker literary landmarks in chronological order from first to last: A) "Silent Spring" B) "In Cold Blood" C) "Hiroshima" D) William Shawn allows Pauline Kael to use the word 'ass' in print."

Contestants may quit at any time. The penalty for a wrong answer is loss of the last level achieved and becoming the subject of a tell-all memoir by Lillian Ross. Those who answer all questions correctly will be transported to Condi Nast headquarters on Times Square for the honor of becoming "Fact Checker for a Day" and will also receive a bust of New Yorker mascot Eustace Tilley designed by architect Frank Gehry. The bust will come with a certificate of authentication and an explication of its aesthetic qualities by staff writer Adam Gopnik.

Dick Cavett, Charlie Rose and John Updike were among those considered for hosting duties, but it is Remnick himself who will step into the host's chair. "We have entered a new millennium," said the editor, "and it is incumbent upon the New Yorker to explore the media that will be influencing our lives for decades to come. Besides, we've made a deal with Bergdorf's to get me some really spiffy suits."

In a move that is both a charming throwback to '50s television and a reflection of the magazine's continuing commitment to good taste, commercials will be performed live by members of the New Yorker staff. "We've lined up some great sponsors and spokespeople," Remnick enthused, "among them Anthony Lane for Weetabix, David Denby for the Encyclopedia Britannica and Richard Avedon for Kodak." The editor would not comment on reports that he has attempted to bury the hatchet with pigtailed pundit Renata Adler by asking her to act as spokesperson for Swiss Miss Instant Cocoa. A source close to the negotiations said the sticking point is Adler's insistence that her dirndl costume be fashioned of rumpled khaki.

By Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor is a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger.

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