Blades of glory

Recently, the TV channel Spike TV changed its name to The Paramount Channel. Back before it was Spike TV, it was The National Network, and then before that, it was The Nashville Network. The network’s programming has, of course, been completely revamped several times over the years, such that there’s really no connection between The Paramount Channel and The Nashville Network.

Anyway, back when The Nashville Network existed, they had a game show called “Top Card.” I was a contestant on this show on two different occasions, two or three years apart. Each time, I won my first game, failed to win the big prize in the bonus round, and then lost my second game.

I did win smaller prizes. I have a wall clock, which hasn’t worked in 20 years, which I keep meaning to get repaired. I won a long-since-gone camera. I won a high-end fishing reel, which a local dealer sold for me on commission.

But the best prize I won, by far, was a set of Cutco knives. It was the 1989 version of this set, pretty much identical except for a minor difference in the design of the block:

That’s a chef’s knife, a long, narrow bread knife, two serrated carving knives (one longer than the other), a paring knife, a frosting spreader with a serrated edge, a carving fork, and six steak knives. (Over the years, one of the steak knives has disappeared.) I use something from this set almost every day. And I’d never have been able to afford to buy this set with my own money.

As Alton Brown explained on a great episode of “Good Eats,” there is a difference between honing and sharpening your kitchen knives. Honing is basically maintenance on the existing edge of the knife. It doesn’t so much sharpen the edge as bring it back into a straight and true alignment. True sharpening involves grinding. There are various kitchen gadgets intended to sharpen knives, and I have to admit I’ve used them over the years, but Alton says that actual sharpening is best done by a professional. And there’s no practical way to sharpen serrated knives at home, so obviously those must be done by a professional.

Fortunately, one of the best things about Cutco knives is that the company offers free sharpening for life. You pack the knives well, ship them off to New York, and pay a small shipping fee, and they ship them back to you factory-sharp.

I was slicing something with my chef’s knife this week and decided it was time for a resharpening. It’s actually dull knives, not sharp ones, that cause most kitchen accidents, because they are more likely to slip or go where you didn’t intend them to go.

So tonight, I boxed up my chef’s knife, my long carving knife, and my paring knife. I will take them to the post office tomorrow. I should probably have sent more than that (1 to 10 items can be sharpened for the same $9 shipping fee), but I didn’t want to be without most of the set for that period of time. The chef’s knife is the most in need of resharpening, and the paring knife (as the only other straight-edge knife in the set) probably needs it too.

In a weird coincidence, I am sending out another package tomorrow — three old VHS tapes, which my brother in North Carolina is going to digitize for me. I don’t have a VCR anymore, and haven’t seen any of the three tapes in ages. One of those tapes contains one of my “Top Card” appearances — not sure if it’s the first one or the second one — and I’ll be able to share some of it with you once I have it digitized. Another was an appearance I made on Nashville TV back in the early days of our United Way program in Bedford County. And the third is a “Star Trek” parody we made in a TV production class when I was a college student. (I played Bones.)

The first time I was on “Top Card,” it was hosted by Jim Caldwell and had a broad format of entertainment trivia. After two or three years, I forget which, I got a post card from the show pointing out that I was now eligible to try out as a contestant again. The fact that they were sending out cards like this seemed to be an indication that they needed contestants and my chances were good to get back on the show. This turned out to be the case. This time around, the host was Dan Miller (not the long-time Nashville newscaster, but another TNN personality). The scuttlebutt I heard was that Caldwell had been very difficult to work with and the atmosphere was much more relaxed with Miller as host. The format of the questions had been narrowed to just music trivia, and so I didn’t think I’d be as successful. But I won my first game, just as I had during my first appearance.

The taping process was fun. There was a contestant pool. The pool was smaller than for some LA-based game shows, but there were still more people in the pool than they would need for that day’s taping, so you weren’t guaranteed a slot just by being in the pool. As with most daily game shows, they taped five shows — a week’s worth — in one day. You were supposed to bring a change of clothes so that if you won your game and came back “the next day” as returning champion, you would be wearing something different.

The creator and producer of the show, Allen Reid, came out and gave us a big orientation speech and pep talk. I remember two things about this. He made us all stand up and, as a group, yell the phrase “WHAT HAPPENS HERE TODAY DON’T MEAN S**T.” By this, he meant that this was a game, and we shouldn’t take it hard if things didn’t go our way. We should be happy if we won, and happy for other contestants, but it was all found money.

The second thing I remember was that we were sitting in the audience bleachers and Reid was standing on stage. He pointed to an imaginary line between the bleachers and the set and dubbed it “The Line Of Stupidity.” Once we crossed that line — once we were a contestant on the show, under the lights and in front of the cameras, feeling the pressure — we would, almost as a given, do or say something stupid. This was not because we were stupid, but simply because we had crossed The Line of Stupidity.

Anyway, it was a fun experience. The attitude in the green room among the members of the contestant pool was relaxed and collegial — we really were happy for each other.

I’m anxious to see my appearance (whichever one it happens to be) again, and relive some of those memories. Here, from YouTube, is a recording of the show from someone else who did the same thing. This video is from somewhere between my two appearances — after the change to an all-music format, but before the change in hosts:

I’m also looking forward to getting my knives back.

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