When I was a junior in high school, my pal Marc and I tried out for our school's It's Academic team. We finished fourth and fifth—though it remains a subject of some dispute as to just which of us was fourth and which was fifth. But the implications were clear: We were good enough to be on the team, but not among the top three who would get to be on TV. And there were no seniors among the TV trio. Marc pulled me aside to say, essentially, that there was no point being on the nerd squad for the next two years if we couldn't go head-to-head with Mac McGarry on WRC-TV.
For 50 years, kids in the D.C. area have watched their smarter classmates answer questions about history, geography, and math—there are equations and stuff on that show!—while affable McGarry played Alex Trebek. In the land of McGarry, cheerleaders were on hand to salute their schools' brainiacs, jocks in letter jackets sat in the stands to razz the opponents and support their schools, and not-nerdy-enough nerds like me abandoned ship the minute it looked like we'd never get a chance for a Mac close-up.
Which means today is a sad day: DCrtv.com is reporting that McGarry is retiring from the show for health-related reasons. After five deades, he's being replaced by WTOP's afternoon news anchor, Hillary Howard.
Back in 2001, Washington City Paper's Sean Daly entered the upside-down world of "It's Ac" to profile McGarry. An excerpt:
On this particular Saturday morning in early November, in the cozy confines of Studio A in WRC-TV's Northwest Washington compound, an Outsiders-looking band of teens in the bleachers, here under the dangling lights to support the team from Landon—not to mention get a little air time to brag about to their buddies—has successfully re-created the nasty realities of the schoolyard. These Landon roughnecks may not know the square root of 322, but they sure as hell know how to mess with the minds of the pocket-protector set. The boneheads, it seems, have crashed the party.
So it is much to Edmund's big-sigh relief when the guffawing, snorting Landonites—many of whom are shirtless, with school-spirit paint smeared across their bony chests—eventually decide that the sweater-vested Suitland captain has been sufficiently razzed. This, however, does not bode well for Bishop Ireton's Christian, who, in his sausage-casing maroon jacket and Reagan-era regimental tie, just knew this crap was gonna come his way sooner or later.
"Chris-tian! CHRIS-tian! CHRIS-TIAN!"
Then: Just when the Landon guys are getting into a nice rhythm, just when Christian's beet-red head is about to pop straight off of his shoulders, a hero appears. That this shuffle-strolling hero looks like a grandfatherly blend of Jimmy Stewart, Bob Barker, John McLaughlin—and maybe even a little Montgomery Burns thrown in for good measure—matters to Christian not at all. Because when the Landon guys spot the program's venerable host, they forget about Christian, drop to the scuffed black studio floor, and bow we're-not-worthy-style at the well-aged announcer's gleaming black shoes. One bare-backed youth in ripped Levi's and holey shoes even sticks out his tongue and starts hopping around on his hands like a Jim Rose Circus freak.
The Landon guys now fire up a chant of a different sort, a chant that catches on with cheerleaders and tuba players and mascots and all those friends and family members huddled close in the standing-room-only studio audience. If Edmund and Christian weren't so busy wiping flop sweat from their foreheads, they'd probably join in the Jerry Springer-esque salute, too.
"MAC! MAC! MAC!"
That's right: Mac McGarry—cackling, waving, strutting—is in the house.
"MAC! MAC! MAC!"
Read the whole thing here.
In the meantime, courtesy of my Rockville-bred colleague Mike Madden—who claims he "occasionally practiced" with the team at Richard Montgomery High, but never was a member—here's a classic clip of an episode, back when the show was sponsored by a store called The Pants Corral and preceded by an ad for Joe Theismann's Redskins Report. Enjoy.
Photo courtesy It's Academic