Jeopardy!

Last Update: September 11, 2000 – Reruns section updated.

Airing: 1:30-2 p.m., Thursday and Friday, January 2 and 3, NBC. Also weekly in first-run syndication from January 1 to September 1.

Personnel: Art Fleming, host; Don Pardo, announcer. A Merv Griffin Production. Taped in New York City.

Description: I’ll give you the answer, now you tell me what the question is.

Game Play: Three contestants competed. Fleming would show a category board composed of six rows of subjects, each containing five answers with dollar values starting at $10 and increasing in increments of $10 per answer. The returning champion chooses the first answer, which Fleming reads. The first player to ring in with the correct question won the corresponding money, or lost the same amount for an incorrect question. One Daily Double was concealed somewhere on the board, for which the dollar amount was thrown out, and the contestant who chose it could wager any or all of their earnings to that point on their ability to come up with the correct question. (Contestants were allowed to bet up to $50 if they had that amount or less.) Double Jeopardy, the second round, was played in a similar fashion, with six new categories, the dollar amounts doubled ($20 to $100) and two Daily Doubles. Both rounds were played until all answers had been revealed or time was up.

For Final Jeopardy, all three contestants secretly wagered any or all of their earnings after the subject of the Final Jeopardy answer was shown, and then wrote their questions down to the Final Jeopardy answer on cards. The player with the most money after Final Jeopardy was the winner, and returned the next day (although all contestants kept the money they had made during the game). Five-time champions retired undefeated.

End Game: None in the network version. In the syndicated version’s can’t-lose end game, Fleming invited the evening’s winner to choose one box from the 30-square board, and the contestant was awarded the prize behind it, which could be anything up to $25,000.

Background: Merv Griffin developed this game with his then-wife Julann in the early 1960s. Griffin had noted the difficulty in coming up with new quiz shows, and Julann recommended a show where contestants were given the answer and had to come up with the questions. At first Griffin (and NBC, who bought the show in 1964) expected comedy a la Steve Allen’s "The Answer Man" ("The answer is 9-W." "Tell me, Mr. Wagner, do you spell your first name with a V?" "Nein, W."), but producer Bob Rudin realized the novelty of a comedy quiz would wear off fast, so he changed it to a hard quiz format.

The Art of Hosting: Host Art Fleming was chosen after being spotted by Julann Griffin as a late-night newscaster on WNBC in New York. Fleming had a multitude of talents: he played football in college, served his country in the Navy during World War II, announced on a North Carolina radio station, acted in movies and TV series, and told us "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should." (That, by the way, was his only public error – grammatically, it should be "Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.") He even played drums in a band, Gus Arnheim and His Coconut Grove Orchestra, which also featured Fred McMurray on tenor sax. But he’ll always be remembered as the original host of Jeopardy!

Fleming brought a touch of civility to the profession; he seemed to care much more than any other host, and was the epitome of grace and charm. (And how many other game show hosts were ushers at the wedding of the offspring of two presidents, as Fleming was for Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower?) Jeopardy! was the only game Fleming would host on television (he did a one-shot College Bowl in the late ‘70s on television and continued it as a series on radio), but he’s still fondly remembered today, thanks to his self-mocking appearances as Jeopardy! host in the film Airplane II and The Twilight Zone and in Weird Al Yankovic’s video "I Lost on Jeopardy," in which he atypically gave Yankovic the raspberry at the end. Fleming wound down his career as the morning man on KMOX in St. Louis in the 1980s and hosting a syndicated radio series on radio’s golden age in the early 1990s. He died in 1995.

Jeopardy Rules: While Jeopardy! never ranked at the top of the Nielsen heap in any one season (it finished in the top three from 1969 to 1971), it was a special favorite of many, including college students who caught the show because of its noon time slot. But then…

Bolen Rules: When Lin Bolen took over as NBC’s head of daytime programming in 1973, she wanted to change the look of the network’s games, most of which had an elderly feel. After dropping the long-running Concentration and The Who, What or Where Game, Bolen’s biggest shocker was moving Jeopardy! from 12 noon (where it had been for over eight years) to 10:30 a.m. to make room for Jackpot! Her explanation was that its ratings were slipping (slightly), while producer Rudin claimed she needed the slot for her own project and that Jeopardy! challenged its viewers too much to air at that early hour. That aside, it did manage to compete with CBS’s The $10,000 Pyramid and Now You See It, until Bolen moved it again – to 1:30 p.m., against As The World Turns and Let’s Make a Deal, both very highly rated. That did it – Jeopardy’s ratings slid into the basement. The show, which had a year to go on its contract, was canceled by NBC in a deal with Merv Griffin, with Griffin placing a new game on NBC’s daytime schedule in its place. (That game, of course, was Wheel of Fortune, so Merv made out pretty good on the deal.) The last NBC episode of Jeopardy! aired January 3, 1975, with an emotional farewell from Fleming and tons of clips.

A syndicated version, which had started in September, never caught on. Although played the same way, adding a bunch of extra light bulbs around the set and putting Fleming in ugly tuxedos failed to disguise the fact that compared to some of the other games then airing, Jeopardy! looked, well, old. This version was dropped after its first year on the air.

Fleming Returns: NBC brought Jeopardy! back in 1978 (although the pilot had been shot for CBS’s benefit), again with Fleming as host, this time taping in Los Angeles. This version gradually eliminated contestants over the first two rounds, with an end game that required the champion to get five correct questions in a row horizontally, vertically, or diagonally on a 25-square board before missing three questions for a jackpot that increased daily if not won. It was murdered by The Price Is Right at 10:30 and later by The Young and the Restless at 12 noon (Y&R led, then dominated the noon time slot after Jeopardy!’s departure), and expired in five months.

Third Jeopardy’s a Charm: Following the success of the syndicated Wheel of Fortune, Merv Griffin returned Jeopardy! to TV in 1984, in five-a-week first run syndication, and using the original rules described above (except dollar vales were increased tenfold, and only the winning contestant kept their earnings). Fleming may or may not have been a serious candidate to host (depending on who you believe), but Alex Trebek got the nod, and over the years, he has become just as associated with Jeopardy! as Fleming ever was. Jeopardy! is the second-highest rated program in syndication today (right behind Wheel of Fortune, which it is paired with in most markets). Super Jeopardy!, featuring champions from the past (including the all-time money winner from the original version – at $11,000, that doesn’t seem much, does it?), aired in prime time on ABC in the summer of 1990.

Sony, unwilling to let a possible cash cow just bring in a few hundred million, has created two spin-offs: Jep!, a wilder version with kiddie contestants which aired for about a year on the Game Show Network, and Rock & Roll Jeopardy!, which airs original episodes on VH1 and reruns on GSN. The latter is hosted by Jeff Probst, now better known for Survivor.

Key Phrases:

The Home Game: If you can’t find a home game, you haven’t looked. Milton Bradley issued 13 editions (note: they're numbered 1-12 and 14 – someone at MB was superstitious) from 1964 until well after the original was cancelled. Pressman got into the act when the Trebek version started airing, issuing a couple of regular box games and Electric Jeopardy!, with a lighting (but noiseless) lockout device, and Tyco has taken over in the 1990s. GameTek, then Sony and Hasbro, have issued numerous versions on disk and CD-ROM, and there have been several handheld versions too. Keep an eye out for The Jeopardy Challenge, allegedly written by Trebek and Griffin, a book of quizzes issued by HarperPerennial in 1992 but now probably out of print. The only disappointing one is Sony’s online version of the game, which is multiple choice and thus not challenging. I’ve had the Milton Bradley, Pressman, and GameTek versions at one time or another, and they all play quite well.

Reruns: The original Fleming version is gone, except for a few episodes traded around by collectors. The 1978-79 version may still be lurking about as well. Game Show Network sprang a happy surprise on Art Fleming fans last year, rerunning the 2,000th episode from 1972; the game was shortened, but Mel Brooks was included as the 2000-Year-Old Man.

As for the more recent versions, the Trebek version reruns seven days a week on Game Show Network, and Rock & Roll Jeopardy! reruns as well on weekends. Even Jep! reruns air on the network at 4 a.m. Friday mornings (primarily for schools to tape it for their use). GSN had scheduled a Rock & Roll Jeopardy! marathon Saturday, September 30, but apparently it’s been bumped in favor of Family Feud. Perhaps VH1 wants exclusivity on those marathons.

Survival: Trebek is signed to host Jeopardy! through 2005, which means it isn’t going anywhere, thank goodness.

Curt Alliaume, Executive Producer: I wouldn’t change a thing, except to make the questions more challenging.

My Grade: A-. Downgraded for the slightly tacky feel of the 1974-75 syndicated version.

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Jeopardy! is a copyrighted title of Merv Griffin Productions and Columbia/Tri-Star Television. This page is in no way affiliated with or endorsed by Merv Griffin Productions, Columbia/Tri-Star Television, their subsidiaries, affiliates, or successor organizations. No challenge to their ownership is implied. Jeopardy! box game copyright Milton Bradley Company. Photo originally appeared on eBay.