Donoho says his favorite questions have answers that are "ironic, or have twists of fate." For example: "The first college football All-America team was named back in 1899. Who was the quarterback: Ernest Hemingway, Damon Runyon, Henry Thoreau or Edgar Allan Poe?" Answer: " Edgar Allan Poe. He was a grandnephew of the famous writer and played at Princeton."
Offbeat questions feed the sports fans' appetite for more, but it is the commissioner's self-parodying wackiness that makes TOFT different. Donoho, in his blazer, tie and mid- America haircut, looks like a car salesman. His running spiel on sports and life, along with the obviously canned laughter and stadium applause, livens up the flat, minimal set.
Donoho, 32, first hit the airwaves as a teenager, doing color commentary of high school basketball games on WJOB radio in Hammond, Ind. As a broadcast journalism major at the University of Missouri, he held the weekend sports slot on the university-owned NBC-TV affiliate, KOMU. After college he got a job as a sportscaster at both WOTV television in Grand Rapids, Mich., and WLWT-TV in Cincinnati, where he picked up three regional Emmys. He moved to the Sports Time cable-TV network in 1984, and when that went under in 1985, Donoho joined SCORE. He anchors a number of programs in addition to Time Out For Trivia. It is on TOFT that Donoho really shines, even though he says, "I never thought I would be a game-show host."
The commissioner never feels just good, he feels "tremendous." TOFT, says Donoho, is not just a show, it is " America's most technologically advanced game show." It is also " America's most patriotic game show" and "the program that has brought American families together."
When Donoho praises a caller for answering a question correctly he might say, "You are a sports stud" or "You are of slightly-above-average intelligence." But Donoho brings out the needle when a caller answers incorrectly: "Bonehead" callers are likely to be invited to "take a hike." Callers who hem and haw while trying to come up with answers are told to "Be bold. Be brave. Be brash. Because you're an American," and are asked to heed the official timer, which consists of Donoho's fingers counting off five seconds before he goes on to the next caller.
Donoho: "There is only one player to win the Heisman Trophy who was not on a winning team. Who's that player?"
Caller: " Paul Hornung."
Donoho: "1956...played for Notre Dame. Do you know what the record was? Two and eight."
Rosenthal says Donoho gets as many as 1,000 letters a week, almost all of them positive. "For the most part, people enjoy his shtick," says Rosenthal. "It's all part of a game they play together." George Glenn, a Chicago stockbroker who has won several TOFT prizes, says, "Donoho is refreshing. He's totally honest with his emotions. Often when he says 'take a hike' or 'bonehead,' he mirrors my feelings."
Donoho: "Who is the only player in NBA history to accumulate over 200 steals and 100 blocked shots in a season? I'll give you a hint. It happened last season. Who's playing Time Out For Trivia?"