While some Chicagoans aren’t quite ready to head to their favorite watering hole’s trivia night, a couple of new shows aim to pick up where the bars left off by finding inventive ways to quiz locals on Chicago history.
“The Great Chicago Quiz Show,” scheduled to debut at 8 p.m. Friday on WTTW-Channel 11, is hosted by Geoffrey Baer, well-known to WTTW viewers for leading video tours of city neighborhoods and getting to the bottom of Chicago’s historical mysteries.
He relishes participating in another form of educating the masses.
“I do a lot of public speaking; I get asked to do a lot of talks. Randomly, years ago, at the end of one of my talks, I just started throwing out quiz questions to the audience,” said Baer, who also has writer and executive producer credits on the show. “It killed; people loved it.”
Questions will cover topics in history, politics, architecture, geography, arts, culture, business and sports. Folks watching from home are invited to participate interactively via the show’s companion website.
Writer-producer Eddie Griffin (not the comedian of the same name) says “Chicago Quiz Show” leans into the city’s trivia and bar culture. “What better way to teach a history of Chicago than letting the viewers at home participate by showing off their smarts and show what they know about the city?” said Griffin, an Emmy Award-winning producer.
Quiz show contestants appear remotely and include Chicagoans from all walks of life including 670 The Score host Laurence Holmes, hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco, “Cheers” actor George Wendt, sociologist and poet Eve Ewing, White Sox play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti, and Sun-Times editorial board member Lee Bey.
Fiasco, a West Side native, says the show highlights how there’s more to the city than many Chicagoans are aware of.
“Anytime there’s something to promote in the city and speak to another audience that is not just rap and hip-hop, it feels cool,” said Fiasco, an avid viewer of WTTW programming. “... When you go around the city, you see these nondescript buildings and you’re like: ‘What’s in there?’ And it might be a whole T-shirt factory there.”
Wendt, a Beverly native whom many Chicagoans know from the “Superfans” sketches on “Saturday Night Live” mocking local accents and Bears and Bulls fandom, says he learned a lot from his “Quiz Show” appearance.
“I learned that I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew,” said Wendt. “I moved out 40 years ago, so there was some recent history I didn’t know, but I still have family in Chicago, and I go back as much as I can.”
Contestants who viewers may get to know include Auburn Gresham resident and budding historian Shermann Thomas, who’s known for creating Chicago history videos via TikTok, and a former teacher, East Side native Rita Alvarez.
“Anything about Chicago, I’m for it,” said Alvarez. “A couple of the questions stumped me, but I surprised myself by knowing more than I thought I would know. … I think that show is a great way to introduce Chicago history.”
Thomas, whose TikTok account has about 35,000 followers, says he wanted to stand out when sending his audition video.
“I figure they wanted true Chicago people, so I tried to point out all the things that were Chicago-specific about me,” said Thomas, a ComEd worker who has posted videos on the history of the Moo & Oink Meat Company, and the city’s violent taxicab wars of the 1920s. “... There’s history in plain sight everywhere we look. It doesn’t have to be boring.”
Another local quiz show, “Da Chicago Game Show,” a Monday night, a production of the upstart studio Chicago4Real on the Twitch platform, already has joined in the fun. The show is hosted by longtime local radio host Justin Kaufmann.
Baer says the WTTW show is in lockstep with the station’s public service mission while keeping viewers entertained.
“What’s the trick good teachers always use to get students to lean in and pay attention? Actively engage their minds in thinking rather than passively letting the information wash over them — maybe they remember it; maybe they don’t,” said Baer. “We wanted to make [the show] really fun and entertaining.”