Was Sulu a navigator or a helmsman on the starship Enterprise? What did you have for lunch yesterday? What did Edward VII like to slip into his guests’ beds — dead birds and live lobsters, live birds and dead lobsters, or Burl Ives and Fred Rogers?
On Clash, the HA! network’s loony game show, no question is too absurd or too obscure. Every weekday at 10:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on the new cable comedy channel (subscribers: 6 million and counting), two teams of ideologically opposed contestants — vegetarians vs. butchers, historians vs. futurists, nudists vs. fashion designers — vie for prizes (stereos, hair dryers, egg containers) by playing the most twisted trivia quiz on TV.
”We basically poured every goofy idea we could come up with into this show,” explains Clash‘s host and coproducer, Billy Kimball, National Lampoon‘s 31-year-old editor-in-chief. ”We swept the world of popular culture and came up with this.”
The half-hour show’s Q&A format is essentially a skewed version of Jeopardy!, an adult’s Remote Control: Over three rounds, players answer questions revealed on a large, checkered display board. The contestant with the most points then spins a wheel and answers the final — and usually dumbest — question. (”What state is New York City in?” is about as tough as these get.)
Kimball, who also has worked as a writer for HBO’s Not Necessarily the News and the Miss Teen U.S.A. Pageant, assembled some hipster allies to plan the show. College buddy Carter Burwell, who scored the movies Blood Simple and Raising Arizona, wrote the eerie theme music, and the New York design firm M & Co., which has done album covers for Talking Heads, built the show’s sleek set.
Sitting in his sparsely furnished Lampoon office in downtown Manhattan, Kimball looks nothing like the blow-dried smoothies who usually get work as quizmasters. A Harvard grad who grew up in New York’s Greenwich Village, he has the brainy demeanor one usually associates with law professors or sociologists.
”I like to think of Clash as the flip side of reading the newspapers,” he says. ”You’ve read all the way to the bottom of the story on John Tower — about all his Senate appointments and the town he grew up in — but the only thing you remember is the name of the bar he used to get drunk in. That’s the kind of detail we like.”
After taping 46 shows, Kimball admits Clash still needs work. The odd-couple aspect of the game hasn’t been fully exploited — few questions are targeted toward the teams’ special interests.
”I’d also like to include more strange references,” he says. ”I’d love to have all-you-can-eat shrimp on the set, for instance. Or have everybody do the show in their underwear. That sort of weird element appeals to me.”