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May 10, 2006


Did anyone else let out a cheer when they read this article?...

Top spellers to vie on prime-time TV
National Spelling Bee final to air June 1 on ABC

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Move over American Idol. For the first time in its 79-year history, the National Spelling Bee — the original "reality TV" — will go prime time for next month's drama-filled finals.

After 12 years of showings by the sports cable network ESPN, the final rounds of the two-day Scripps National Spelling Bee will be shown live at 7 p.m. June 1 on ABC.

"I think we're ready for prime time, and I think America is ready for spelling bees in prime time, too," said Paige Kimble, the bee's director and its 1981 national champion. "We like to think of ourselves as the original reality television programming."

ESPN spokesman Mac Nwulu said the bee really is a sport, though without the physical contact. The pint-size spellers endure rigorous practices and training; some even have coaches.

"It's captivating, just sitting down there and watching these kids spelling words you've never heard before," he said.

About 275 spellers, ranging in ages from 9 to 15 and about evenly split between boys and girls, will compete for the national title and more than $30,000 in cash, bonds and scholarships.

Longtime readers of this blog may remember that I’m completely fascinated by the National Spelling Bee. I circle the day of the Bee on the calendar like regular people mark upcoming weddings or birthdays.

And you know what – this TV thing was partially my idea! For as long as I can remember, I’ve been telling anyone who would listen (read: my wife) that I couldn’t understand why the Bee wasn’t featured more prominently on the television landscape. I'm actually on record recommending that the Bee has its own dedicated weekend, just like the Super Bowl or Boston Marathon.

The best part of this prime time deal is that the earlier rounds will still be televised earlier in the day on ESPN, so those of us who dream of watching six consecutive hours of competition are still satisfied. By the time the final round is broadcast that night, I'll probably be having leg cramps and difficulty staying focused - it will be like the last miles of an ultra, but in the comfort of my own home.

I know I’m a bit, um, unorthodox in my interests, but I can’t be the only one out there who is hooked on watching hundreds of pre-teen wonder kids sweat it out under the national spotlight. And I’m convinced that there is a vast untapped market of spelling fans out there. Yes, I typed that sentence with a straight face.

I mean, look at what’s happened to poker in the past few years. These Bee kids are at least as compelling as those slobs. Why couldn’t ESPN package the Bee as a series, like they do with the World Series of Poker? At the very least, the ratings would certainly outdraw professional hockey.

If you doubt my passion, I've submitted a couple of links for you to review as Exhibits A and B. Before I was a blogger, I wrote articles about each of the last two National Spelling Bees, for no other reason than it seemed like a perfectly fun thing to do. When I first started Running and Rambling, I wasn’t sure how this whole blog thing worked or where it might lead me, and I posted one of my spelling bee articles just to see how it looked in the blog format.

Since I only had about three readers back then, chances are that post went unnoticed by a lot of people reading now. (On a related note, to Jeff, Karen, and Danny: you can click off this page right here, and not miss anything you haven’t seen before.) So I’m linking to that early blog post here, and linking to another article from the previous year here.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to instruct my TiVo to clear out its schedule for June 1st.


backofpack 5/10/06, 9:28 AM  

All righty then. Who knew? Who knew there were spelling bee fans - besides the parents of those kids?

Did they do spelling bees in school when you were a kid? I remember them all through grade school. Friday afternoon meant two things - square dancing (our principal was a caller) and spelling bees. Even though I was a good speller, spelling bees and dodgeball are probably the reason that competition stresses me out to this day!

Spelling errors and lack of capitalization bug me too. Or the typing shortcuts kids use in emails and IMs - like u r 2 fun!

Robb 5/10/06, 10:50 AM  

Hi Donald,

Thanks for your kind words on my blog. Visit again, okay?

I too remember Spelling Bees. Way back in the non-politically correct days, we would line up as 'the boys against the girls'. Imagine that today?

Brings back fun memories for me.

Take care.

robtherunner 5/10/06, 4:51 PM  

I hope they are going to have emotional pieces on the favorites like they do in any great event. Maybe feature the life of 9 year old Natty who had to get braces just a week before the regional finals. Gripping stuff I say.

jeff 5/10/06, 7:36 PM  

i love your fascination with the bee and really enjoy reading everything you write about it. i can't wait to hear your take on this year's!

i may even try to watch it...your enthusiasm is contagious.

matt 5/10/06, 8:04 PM  

i say you handicap the field for us, donald.

Darrell 5/10/06, 11:07 PM  

I had heard about this spelling bee fondness (thanks, jeff) and now I've read it for myself. Fascinating. I'm still haunted by the day in 5th grade when I was eliminated for misspelling TRULY, with E's every possible place they didn't belong. I knew it was wrong the minute it left the tip of my tongue, but alas no do-overs in the spelling bee world. I look forward to your play-by-play.

craig 5/10/06, 11:46 PM  

I had a teacher early in my educational career who taught me to spell by sounding out the words. Ruined me for life. The guy who invented spell check is my hero. Enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by the blog and for the comment you left. This isn't my first time here and won't be my last.

Karen 5/11/06, 8:02 AM  

Thanks for the link, and YES this is very cool! I think a spelling bee would be much more compelling to watch than Jeopardy, and they've been on the air for years. I'm not into the Poker shows, and am ALL FOR idolizing good spellers as much as good musicians.

Good spelling in a bee takes training, concentration, and often involves the courage to make a quick, risky decision on a hunch. Not a bad set of life skills to be learned, there...

I won't be taking the day off to watch the earlier rounds, but thanks for the heads up on the Final.

spellerwhoknew,  5/16/06, 7:07 PM  

I'll be(e) competing there at the national finals as number 19. I realllly hope I can make it to ABC or ESPN atleast.

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