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Shirlington-based WETA will now broadcast teen quiz show ‘It’s Academic’

The logo for ‘It’s Academic’ (via YouTube)

After 61 years with D.C.’s local NBC station, the teen quiz show “It’s Academic” has a new broadcast home: WETA-TV in Arlington.

And the inaugural episode on the public TV station will feature a team of three Arlington students from Washington-Liberty High School, who will face teams from Herndon High School and W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax County.

As early as fall 2024, the show could be produced at the local PBS station’s headquarters in Shirlington, at 3939 Campbell Ave, which are currently being renovated. But for now — due to the pandemic — students are participating via Zoom.

For Senior Vice President and General Manager Miguel Monteverde, Jr., bringing the show to WETA was an obvious decision.

“It was a no-brainer,” he tells ARLnow. “There’s no show more local than one that features… 240 of frankly some of our brightest kids, our future leaders, in an education themed quiz show.”

The last few years have been rocky for the independently produced show, which has aired on WRC-TV (NBC 4) since it started in 1961 and holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for the longest-running TV quiz show.

“It’s Academic” was previously filmed in WRC-TV’s historic Studio A in upper Northwest D.C., near the American University campus, until renovations started on that building. The show then bounced around filming locations while still airing on NBC 4.

Then, the show lost its longtime sponsor Giant, which decided to focus on food-related philanthropy. Finally, the pandemic hit, and filming pivoted to Zoom.

Major funding for the show is now provided by McLean-based MITRE. And now, having a new broadcaster — and eventually a new filming location — provides “It’s Academic” with even more security, Monteverde says.

“I’m glad that all the stars were aligned and that we could work out a deal and keep that show going and bring it to the WETA audience,” he said.

For now, kids will still use Zoom to appear on the show, but as early as the spring, the show could be in-person at a yet-undetermined location.

“The kids are just as smart on Zoom as they are in the studio, but they’re eager for the show to be in the studio,” Monteverde said. “You’ve got the parents and family members in the seats, the team mascot. Schools will bring cheer squads. It’s a more visually interesting, festive experience.”

Washington-Liberty High School students on an episode of “It’s Academic” that premiered April 30, 2022 (via YouTube)

Although renovations to the WETA building could be finished next year, the studio won’t be ready for filming “It’s Academic” until the 2024-25 school year, he said.

“When we’re able to finally get the show in the new WETA studios in a couple of years, it will start to look a little different,” he said. “It’ll still be the quiz show format, but it’ll be in a new studio, so we have an opportunity to give it a fresh look.”

Monteverde approached the producers of “It’s Academic” about switching homes to add to the station’s stock of local shows. He says WETA is investing in local programming to distinguish itself from streaming services and cable television.

Public TV has faced stiff competition, he said. First, it was from cable, which created entire channels dedicated to cooking and nature, based on the successes of Julia Child‘s cooking show and the nature show NOVA.

Then, streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu gave viewers even more choices than cable, forcing cable networks to start streaming platforms to keep up.

Cue WETA’s decision to invest in local programming, which Monteverde was hired on to oversee.

“We know that this is the path forward and we’re already seeing great results on the local shows, particularly on streaming,” he said. “It helps people who live here live richer lives.”

WETA has two other local shows: “If You Lived Here,” a house-hunting show that features a different D.C. neighborhood each episode, and “Signature Dish,” which highlights the best dishes from area restaurants.

“I think people understand and are starting to appreciate that their local public TV station is investing in local programming, and featuring local kids about our local area,” he said.

Viewers can tune into “It’s Academic” every Saturday at 10 a.m. or 7 p.m. beginning Oct. 29. They can also view it on-demand on the free PBS Video App.

“It’s going to be a lot easier to watch,” he said.

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