Mac McGarry, host emeritus of WRC-TV's long-running high school quiz show, It's Academic, has died at age 87. According to WRC-TV, McGarry was watching the station when he died, which would indeed be fitting.
McGarry had been a staff announcer at NBC in New York before moving to NBC's WRC-TV Washington as an announcer, hosting dozens of shows and becoming a fixture on local Washington TV for half a century as the host of It’s Academic, which pits teams of high school students against each other competing for prize money for their schools by answering questions on a host of classroom subjects.
It's Academic is the longest-running quiz show on TV--it started in 1961--according to the Guiness Book of world Records, which apparently took a break from counting how many Twinkies someone can stuff in their mouth at one time to record something worth celebrating. Hillary Rodham Clinton was an alternate for her Illinois high school team (the show was eventually franchised) and Sandra Bullock was a cheerleader for her team at a WRC taping, says the show.
McGarry had an owl-like look that perfectly fit his studious quizmaster role, and the kind of voice that was made to listen to, and enjoy. His enthusiasm was infectious and his mastery of a quiz format tailored to nervous teens complete. Take the avuncular exhuberance of a John McLaughlin, mix in some of the studiousness of Alex Trebek, plus a dash of cupped-hand-to-his ear Gary Owens and you have a close approximation, but there was only one Mac McGarry.
McGarry retired from the show in 2012 after 50 years. I have not thought of him in a while. But I feel the loss. Local TV has alway been a very personal medium.
These days, the National Association of Broadcasters emphasizes weather reports and emergency information and news to frame the localism that has always been the medium's hallmark. But for my generation--yeah, I'm talkin' bout my generation--it was even more personal.
TV was filled with local personalities who felt like friends: Bill Gormley, Bob McAllister on Metromedia in New York--but carried on WTTG here--McGarry or goofy uncles (Willard Scott), or just plain goofy. (Where is Dick Dyszel these days? I hope he has lived long and won lots of prizes). But I digress.
In the interests of full disclosure, I, like the former Secretary of State, was an alternate on our It's Academic team, and my nephew actually made it on air.
In the interests of even fuller disclosure. My high school biology teacher was an It's Academic fan and let us set up our own teams (the shop class rigged up doorbells on pieces of trim for buzzers), the prize being getting an automatic A on the end-of-chapter quizzes. We went undefeated (I was there to entertain the three other future valedictorians on the team).
So, thanks, Mac, for getting me through biology 101. And if you're waiting at the Gates, I know just what St. Peter is going to say: "Now, come on up here!"
To check out a WRC-TV tribute to McGarry, go here.