Monday, August 13, 2007

Merv Griffin

The Hill notes the passing of Merv Griffin, talk show host/lounge singer/entrepreneur of sorts, who died Sunday at 82.

Frankly, Griffin's natural talents never impressed me much. He started out as a big band singer, and even had a major hit in 1950 with "I've Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts", but his voice was at best passable. His talk show, which ran in one form or another for 24 years, was mostly a staid, conservative sort of entertainment that grew more dated as the years passed. To his credit, though, Griffin was a decent interviewer who would often host guests that the other shows of the day wouldn't touch, such as Muhammad Ali and transsexual Christine Jorgensen.

Griffin made a fortune as the creator of two game shows, Jeopardy! and Wheel Of Fortune, that to this day are staples of syndicated programming. That, to me, was the remarkable aspect of Merv Griffin's career. Who among us could have figured that giving the people answers and having them come up with the questions was an idea that could make you rich? Or, when we were bored sitting around playing Hangman, how many of us thought that you could put it on TV and it would make millions? Was Griffin always in the right place at the right time? How many of us have been in a similar place, yet we were not astute enough to realize it? Was it just a matter of Griffin's being well-connected? Merv Griffin was no more innately talented than you or I, yet he died a billionaire while we're still drawing hangmen on sheets of notebook paper, wondering if we're going to have any money left after paying the bills. Those are the questions I find most intriguing as I ponder the life of Merv Griffin this morning.

UPDATE: David Bender has written an excellent tribute to Griffin at Huffington Post. I've got to give ol' Merv a bit more respect now:

It was during the run of his CBS show (1969-1972) that opposition to the Vietnam War reached its highest point. Merv continued to book controversial guests like Jane Fonda and Muhammad Ali, despite the network's constant pressure on him to remain "balanced." He received a memo that said, "In the past six weeks, thirty-four antiwar statements have been made on your show and only one pro-war statement, by John Wayne." Merv fired back immediately, "Find me someone as famous as John Wayne who supports the war and I'll book him."