The game is the same: two teams from area high schools compete to answer questions about history, science, math, sports and more, with a $1,000 prize for the year's champion. But there are some new twists, says Julian Porter, the former history teacher who created the show.
Michelle Gary, a former anchor on WWBT-12, has signed on as the new host. She was chosen because "she's not shy and she's very perky," Porter says. Gary will talk much more with the contestants on the air this season, he says. And to discourage some of the smart-aleck answers heard in the past, such replies will receive a penalty. "We're going to try to do a good mix of stuffiness and slapstick," Porter concludes.
There was slapstick aplenty in the old show. Porter recalls when the scoreboard toppled onto the contestants and the time the floor manager fainted in front of the cameras. But those moments ended in January. "The powers that be" at WCVE told Porter that low ratings and insufficient money meant the end of the show, then called "Challenge 23." Porter was resigned. "I said, 'OK, it's had its run.'"
In the next three months, however, local parents and high school students barraged Porter with phone calls. "Do not let this die," they implored. Porter went to work.
Ukrop's offered to partially fund the show. And Porter found a home for the new "Battle" on RICH-TV (AT&T Broadband Channel 7 and Comcast Cable Channel 8). It will air Wednesdays at 9 and 9:30 p.m.
Volunteers from Henrico County schools built the set, which features a logo of a mortarboard-crowned owl in front of an outline of Virginia. Porter's son Pat composed the theme song. And the judges and scorekeeper are "working for nothing, almost," Porter says.
"The people in Central Virginia need to know that there are kids out there doing stuff like this," Porter says. "Because we see so much of the bad," adds Judy Renaldi, the new scorekeeper, who's also clubhouse general manager at Meadowbrook Country Club.
"It's not going to knock NFL football off," Porter says. But cerebral TV-watchers will finally get their fix.
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