It's Academic is the name for a number of televised academic quiz competitions for high school students through the United States and internationally. It's Academic programs have notably aired on NBC-owned WRC-TV in Washington, DC, NBC affiliate WVIR in Charlottesville, Virginia, and CBS-owned WJZ-TV in Baltimore, Maryland.
The Washington DC version of the show has been on the air since October 7, 1961, and is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running quiz program in TV history. The program was created for WRC by Sophie Altman, who continued as executive producer until her death on May 24, 2008. Mac McGarry hosted the Washington shows from the beginning until June 25, 2011. Hillary Howard, a news anchor for Washington radio station WTOP-FM, took over as host subsequent to McGarry's official retirement in November 2011. The Baltimore show is hosted by David Zahren. The show features three local high school teams of three players each. Over the years, chief sponsor Giant Food has given more than $2,000,000 in scholarship funds to participating schools. In 2014, James Hubert Blake High School became the first ever school to win three consecutive super bowls in the Washington edition of It's Academic.
The single-elimination tournament features 81 schools in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, 81 schools in the Baltimore metropolitan area (including Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore), and 9 schools in the Central Virginia region. The winners in each region go on to battle each other in the Super Bowl.
Each contest is composed of five rounds. Round 1 is a category round with eight themed questions (e.g. "the letter B" or "famous paintings"). Questions do not appear on the players' monitors but do appear for the home viewers. Each team is given 100 points before this round and teams receive 10 points for each correct answer and lose 10 for each incorrect answer.
In Round 2, each team is individually asked five questions and receive 20 points each for a correct answer, but do not lose points for an incorrect answer.
Round 3 is a toss-up visual round. The monitor displays an image and the host provides a question accompanying the image. Teams receive 20 points for each correct answer and lose 20 for each incorrect answer (10 until April 19, 2014 in Washington, Baltimore, and starting with the 2014 season in Charlottesville; other cities' visual rounds are still 10 points up or down). Eight questions are used. The fourth question is always a math question.
Before Round 4 the captain of each team introduces the sponsors and school administrators and coaches. Team then select from three question packets. The team to the immediate left of the team that is supposed to answer chooses which packet the answering team will use. Eight questions are given to each team, with 20 points for a correct answer and no penalties. A 25-point bonus is given if a team correctly answers all eight questions, for a total of 185 points in this round. The fourth question is always a science question and the seventh question is always a math question.
Round 5 features quick-fire toss-up questions, each worth +/-20 points. Visual questions are worth +/-30 points. The number of questions varies depending on the time left in the game. The game ends when the buzzer sounds, home viewers may realise that the game will come to a close while the countdown clock appears on the television screen. If a team has buzzed in prior the buzzer sounding, the team is required to answer the question before the game is considered over. If there is a tie in the knockout round (eg. the final), the presenter may ask one last tie-breaker question to determine the winner.
After the host has announced the teams' final scores, the studio audience is invited down from the stands to join the contestants on camera during the closing credit sequence. In the Washington version, the song heard under the credit roll (if there are no musicians from any of the competing schools) is "T.L.C. (Tender Loving Care)" by the band MFSB.
Prior to the adoption of the current format, there were several other formats of play.
The "very fast" category round consisted of questions pertaining to the same category. In some cases, the question was the same throughout the round: teams were given different items, and had to answer the common question on the basis of each item (e.g., given a state, name either senator from that state). In other cases, all the answers in the category round shared an announced characteristic in common (e.g., geographical locations whose names begin and end with "A"). Teams used their buzzers in this round, earning 10 points for a correct answer, but losing 10 points (later 20 points) for wrong answers.
In all forms, a team individually answers questions from a packet within a time limit. In one form, at the beginning of the game, teams get one minute to answer questions for 20 points each. In this form, teams are not penalized for wrong answers, in order to help the teams in "building score". In another form, teams have one and a half minutes to answer questions for 20 points each. However, 20 points are deducted for a wrong answer. Teams may pass a question, losing 10 points; however, the other two teams may buzz-in to answer the passed questions (with a few exceptions) for plus or minus 20 points after the time runs out for the team's turn. Every question that is fully read must be answered or passed within a reasonable time. However, if a question is not finished when time expires, the team may reject it without penalty or answer the question at their own risk. In this form, getting all 10 questions (later 8) correct originally earned the team a 50-point bonus, later reduced to 25.
A "scrimmage round" was once used during the 1977–78 Buffalo season championship. Teams were instructed to "use [their] lights and buzzers" for a "one-minute scrimmage round."
Beginning in 2008, telecasts on the WRC-TV version have included "guest questions" from notable persons in government, business, sports, and the arts. Among those seen in pre-recorded videos are:
An Australian version of the show aired on Network Ten and the Seven Network from 1968–1975, and was revived by Seven's Perth affiliate in 2001. Seven took the show national in 2005.
A New Zealand version was also screened by TVNZ in the 1980s, with Lockwood Smith as the host.
WNBC-TV in New York aired a local edition of It's Academic from approximately 1963 through at least 1972, hosted most of the time by Art James, with Lee Leonard filling in for a year.
WMAQ-TV in Chicago had a version in the 1960s and 1970s under the It's Academic name, hosted by Ed Grennan.
WLWT and WCET in Cincinnati aired a local It's Academic from 1964 into the 1980s.
A version of It's Academic aired on WBEN-TV in Buffalo from January 27, 1968 through 1986, hosted by sportscaster Van Miller. It was later revived for a few months in 2008 by WGRZ-TV, with Kevin O'Neill as host. The show returned to the area starting January 12, 2013 and is hosted by O'Neill and produced by Full Circle Studios for broadcast on NBC affiliate WGRZ-TV.
A show using the It's Academic name aired in Richmond, Virginia on the NBC affiliate, WWBT Channel 12, in the 1970s, which was also hosted by Mac McGarry and sponsored by Giant. That was replaced by Battle of the Brains. Battle of the Brains has also replaced a version of It's Academic that aired in Hampton Roads.
The World Affairs Council, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State, hosted an It's Academic International event in 2002, also hosted by Mac McGarry.
KFVE in Honolulu currently airs a local version titled It's Academic Hawaii which is hosted by Billy V. It was previously hosted by Rick Hamada and Keahi Tucker.
WEWS has had a version of the series since 1964. It was originally titled It's Academic and hosted by Don Cameron. In 1975, the series changed its name to Academic Challenge with host Don Webster. After a 35 consecutive year run and a brief hiatus, Academic Challenge returned to the WEWS airwaves in 2003 with host Adam Shapiro. Danita Harris hosted the 2006 season, and in 2007, Jason Nicholas became the host.
Notable people who have competed on It's Academic include:Michael Chabon, Pulitzer Prize-winning author
Bruce Cohen, Oscar-winning producer of American Beauty
David Ignatius, journalist and novelist
Joshua Foer, writer
Donald E. Graham, chairman and chief executive officer of The Washington Post Company
Angus King, U.S. Senator from Maine
Laura Lippman, author
Daniel M. Maggin, sculptor
Peter Salovey, President of Yale University
Charles Schumer, U.S. Senator from New York
George Stephanopoulos, political commentator
Jeff Ellis, sports journalist
Mike D'Orso, journalist/author
Other notable participants:Sandra Bullock appeared on the show as a cheerleader.
Hillary Rodham was an alternate for Maine South High School in 1965 on WMAQ-TV (Chicago).
In 1979, a charity special was held between a team of three Democratic senators (Patrick Moynihan, Lloyd Bentsen, and Alan Cranston), three Republican senators (Lowell Weicker, John Danforth, and H. J. Heinz III), and three members of the press (Jessica Savitch, Art Buchwald, and David Broder).
(Note: bold denotes Washington/Baltimore/Central Virginia (from 1987) Super Bowl Champions.)