Three games shows have been around for a majority of my life: The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy. As a fan, I think most viewers fall in one of the three camps. I am definitely in the Jeopardy camp.
The Back Story of Jeopardy
The original Jeopardy was created by Merv Griffin in 1964. On the site, mervgriffinabc.blogspot, a story is included where Merv explains how Jeopoardy was created: “My wife Julann just came up with the idea one day . . . She noted that there had not been a successful “question and answer” game on the air since the quiz show scandals. Why not do a switch and give the answers to the contestants and let them come up with the question? . . . I loved the idea, went straight to NBC with the idea, and they bought it without even looking at a pilot show.”
It was hosted by Art Fleming and ran until 1975. While Jeopardy’s format of giving contestants the answers and requiring them to provide the answer is unique, it was not the first tv game show to do that. Television Quiz, airing in 1941-1942, also used this structure.
A nighttime syndicated show was on in the evenings from 1974-1975. Don Pardo was the announcer for both the original and the nighttime show. John Harlan was hired as the announcer for a show titled The All-New Jeopardy which aired in October 1978 and ended in March 1979.
In September of 1984, the current version hosted by Alex Trebek (whose real name is George), began and continues today. Johnny Gilbert has partnered with Alex as announcer during the show’s run. The current version has produced more than 7000 episodes, just in case you wanted to watch them before you audition. Five shows are taped a day for 46 days. That would be a fun job to have with lots of time to recharge every year.
When I was in college in the mid-1980s, I remember listening to a radio show on Sunday nights from St. Louis that Art Fleming hosted and, as I remember it, it was very similar to Jeopardy.
Jeopardy has won a record-setting 34 Emmys. It also won the Peabody Award in 2011 for “decades of consistently encouraging, celebrating and rewarding knowledge of this, that and the other.” It has won several other awards including the Writers Guild of America Award in 2014.
The Rules of the Game
While there have been a few changes to the Jeopardy format over the years, the game has remained basically the same. Three contestants answer questions. Whoever buzzes in first is allowed to answer. Until 1985 contestants could answer as soon as the clue was revealed. In September of 1985, it was required that the contestant not hit the buzzer until the clue is read. The Jeopardy round has a clue where the contestant can bet an amount of their money, or up to $1000 if they have less than that amount. In the Double Jeopardy round, there are two clues available and players can bet up to $2000 or the amount of money they have.
A contestant chooses from categories of clues. Each of the clues vertically increases in monetary value. The second round, Double Jeopardy, features six new categories of clues. Clue values are doubled from the Jeopardy round.
The Final Jeopardy round features a single clue. Contestants write their wagers using a light pen to write on an electronic display on their lectern. The contestants have 30 seconds to write their responses, while the show’s iconic “Think!” music plays in the background. In the event that either the display or the pen malfunctions, contestants can use an index card and a marker to manually write their response and wager.
The contestant with the highest score at the end of the round is that day’s winner. If all three contestants finish with $0, no one returns as champion for the next show. The second and third place winners receive a small amount of money. The top scorer(s) in each game retains the value of the winnings in cash and return to play in the next day’s show. If there is a tie, both players can come back the next day.
Seven times a show has ended with no winner. Three new contestants then show up the next day.
The Clue Crew
In 2001, the Clue Crew was formed. They travel around the world to tape clues. More than 5000 people applied for the three positions. The current crew is comprised of Sarah Whitcomb, Joe Cannon, and Kelly Miyahara. The team has been to more than 280 cities, including all 50 states and 44 other countries.
Nine writers and five researchers create the categories and clues for Jeopardy.
You’ve Probably Hummed the Theme Even if You Don’t Watch the Show
Since the debut of Jeopardy in 1964, several different songs and arrangements have served as the theme music for the show, most of which were composed by Griffin. The main theme for the original Jeopardy series was “Take Ten” composed by Griffin’s wife Julann. The best-known theme song on Jeopardy is “Think!” originally composed by Griffin under the title “A Time for Tony”, as a lullaby for his son. “Think!” has always been used for the 30-second period in Final Jeopardy when the contestants write down their responses, and since the syndicated version debuted in 1984, a rendition of that tune has been used as the main theme song.
Even Game Shows Have Spin-offs
In addition to the daily show, three other versions of Jeopardy have been created: Rock & Roll Jeopardy which was on VH1, Jep! which was on the Game Show Network, and Sports Jeopardy! hosted by Dan Patrick.
More Than Fifteen Minutes of Fame
Ken Jennings holds the record for the longest appearance on Jeopardy, June 2 – November 30, 2004. He won $2,520,700. Many people have studied Jennings’ streak and determined that due to filming fatigue, no one is likely to break his record.
The highest earner is Brad Rutter who won $4,355,102 between his first appearances and his tournaments. Roger Craig has the all-time record for a single day of winning. In 2010, he won $77,000.
Julia Collins who was on in 2014 holds the record for female both for number of games and total winnings. She won $429,100.
Another famous contestant is buzz kill Arthur Chu. He was the first contestant to consistently skip around the board trying to find the daily doubles. Since Chu’s appearance, many contestants have jumped around the board instead of trying to run the categories from top to bottom. Often the categories can be understood better if contestants pick them in order. Personally, I admit that I did hold a grudge against Chu for many years for “ruining” Jeopardy.
Watson, I Presume
The IBM Challenge aired February 14–16, 2011, and featured IBM’s Watson computer facing off against Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a two-game match played over three shows. Watson won both the first game and the overall match to win the grand prize of $1 million, which IBM divided between two charities (World Vision International and World Community Grid). Jennings, who won $300,000 for second place, and Rutter, who won the $200,000 third-place prize, both pledged to donate half of their winnings to charity.
During the most recent version of Jeopardy, various tournaments have been held annually. Currently, there is a Tournament of Champions featuring the top fifteen winners from the past year, The Teen Tournament, The College Championship, Celebrity Jeopardy, and the Teachers Tournament.
Portrayals and Parodies
Jeopardy has been part of several television shows and movies over the years. In 1988, a show titled “Mama on Jeopardy” featured Thelma Harper (Mama’s Family) competing on the show when Iola was rejected. She doesn’t know many answers but starts to make a comeback and is able to move into Final Jeopardy. She ends up in second place but wins a trip to Hawaii for herself and her ungrateful family.
In 1990, an episode titled “What Is . . . Cliff Clavin?” aired on Cheers. Cliff appears on Jeopardy and wins $22,000, way more money than his competitors have. However, for Final Jeopardy, Cliff bets everything. The answer is “Archibald Leach, Bernard Schwartz, and Lucille LeSueur” and the correct question is “What are the real names of Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, and Joan Crawford,” but Cliff’s answer is “Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen” and he ends up with no money.
In 1992 on the Golden Girls in “Questions and Answers,” Dorothy auditions but is rejected because they don’t think she’s likable enough for the viewers to root for her. She has a dream that night where she does appear, competing against Rose and neighbor Charlie.
Perhaps the most famous show to host Jeopardy was Saturday Night Live with their version.
Happy New Year
In honor of its 35th anniversary, Jeopardy is holding a special All-Star tournament this year. Six teams will compete in February during a two-week period. Some of our favorite contestants will be part of the celebration. Captains were chosen and they each drafted their own team. Captains include Buzzy Cohen, Colby Burnett, Julia Collins, Austin Rogers, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter. This should be a fun couple of weeks.
I admit these three were my favorite contestants during a tournament. This was a fun couple days. One of my favorite moments was during the introduction of the contestants when they portrayed See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil. (Buzzy Cohen, Alex Trebek, Alan Lin, Austin Rogers)
Will You Marry Me?
One of the contestants in 2018 was Michael Pascuzzi. When it came time for Alex to talk with the contestants after the first commercial break, he announced he had no information on his card about Pascuzzi. So, Alex told him to say whatever he wanted. He then proposed to his girlfriend, Maria Shafer, who was in the audience. She must also be a fan, because not only did she say yes, she answered “What is yes.”
To Be-ard or Not to Be-ard
Of course one of the most asked questions at the beginning of each fall season is will Alex have the mustache or not. This year, Alex took it a step further. He began the year with a full beard in addition to the mustache and let viewers decide whether it was a keeper or gotta go. Spoiler alert: You will only see the beard for a few shows.
So, You Want to Be on the Show
Auditioning for the current version of the show begins with a written exam, comprising fifty questions in total. This exam is administered online periodically, as well as being offered at regional contestant search events. If you have considered auditioning for Jeopardy, here is what you should know. I took these paragraphs directly from the Jeopardy site:
“First, you must take and pass the online test. If you pass the test and meet the minimum eligibility requirements, you will be placed into a random selection process for an invitation to an audition. Assuming you perform well at the audition, you will be placed into the contestant pool and could be invited to compete up to 18 months from your audition date. Making it to an audition is not a guarantee of being invited to compete on the show.
There is no fee to take any of the tests, but any costs you incur in connection with the test are your responsibility. Likewise, if you are invited to participate in an in-person audition, all costs (including, but not limited to, accommodations, meals, transportation and parking) must come at your own expense.
If you pass the test and do well at your audition, you will be placed in a pool of potential contestants for 18 months after your audition date. But attending an audition and being put in the pool does not guarantee that you will be invited to appear on the show. If you are selected to compete on the show, our contestant coordinators will contact you with full details. Prospective contestants are notified about a month in advance of their tape date.”
What is My Favorite Jeopardy Story?
Some of the most entertaining parts of Jeopardy are when Alex talks to the contestants. I remember one woman who was in Yellowstone and while the rest of the family was taking a class about what to do if bears show up, her mom was alone at the campsite with several bears. One lady said she and her mom learned Swedish because they loved Abba songs. One guy said he met his wife because she came over and introduced herself. Later he found out, she did that because she thought he was very smart and talking about philosophy because she heard him discussing Plato. He had to inform her they were discussing play-doh, nothing enlightening. One poor girl said her parents got pregnant late in life and could not decide on a name. Her mom asked her bridge club for suggestions. She ended up taking the first letter from each of their names and calling her daughter “Pidge.”
One of my favorite facts about Jeopardy was discovered on a Seinfeld episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, but it has also been discussed on the show. Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner get together every night for dinner to watch Jeopardy. Watching an episode with them is definitely on my bucket list.
There are a lot of shows that made me sad when they left the air, but when Jeopardy is cancelled, I will go into a major withdrawal. Like so many Jeopardy fans, it’s a multi-generational interest. my son Brice and daughter-in-law Melanie and I share many texts about watching Jeopardy shows and how we feel about categories or contestants. For my entire life I’ve counted on people dying, paying taxes, and watching Jeopardy. I can give up the first two, but the last one is gonna be a challenge!