Jeopardy – The Game Show

Quiz Show With a Twist

Year(s): 1964 – 1975, 1984 – present
Creator: Merv Griffin
Principal cast: Art Fleming (1964 – 1975), Alex Trebek (1984 – present)

Summary: Contestants are tested on their knowledge of trivia in several categories.

If you have nerves of steel, the reflexes of a wide receiver, and a brain crammed with random bits of information, you might make a good contestant on Jeopardy!.

Since I’m missing the first two, I enjoy “competing” from home. Apparently, I’m not the only one. Since its beginnings, Jeopardy has been one of the most popular game shows, winning several daytime Emmys and being referenced in dozens of TV shows and movies. (For just two examples, check out Groundhog Day and the “What is…Cliff Clavin” episode of Cheers.)

A brief Jeopardy! history

The brainchild of Merv Griffin, Jeopardy! made its debut in 1964 on NBC. It ran for 11 years as part of NBC’s daytime lineup, with Art Fleming as host. (Fleming also hosted a syndicated version than ran in primetime from 1974-1975.) The syndicated version that present-day fans are familiar with premiered in 1984, with Alex Trebek as the emcee; as of this writing it’s still on the air, often paired with fellow Griffin creation The Wheel of Fortune.

Throughout the show’s history, the basic format has been the same — two rounds with six trivia categories, followed by a third round with one final question. The goal is simple: get enough correct responses, and end up with more money than the other two contestants. Doing that, however, is easier said than done.

The Jeopardy! gauntlet

Here’s how a hypothetical first round might start:

Alex Trebek: Player A, since you’re our reigning champion, you get to go first.

Player A (scans the game board): I’ll take Familiar Phrases for $200, Alex.

Trebek: Familiar Phrases for $200. And the answer is, Don’t do “this” to spite your face.

Player B (buzzes in): Cut off your nose!

Trebek: Sorry, that is incorrect.

As Player B groans and shakes his head, Player A and C try to buzz in at the same time. C wins.

Player C: What is “cut off your nose”?

Trebek: Correct!

Player C’s screen now reads $200.

Trebek: Remember, responses must be phrased in the form of a question. Player C, it’s your turn to choose an answer.

Player C: I’ll take Anagrammed Countries for $500, Alex.

Players A and B, who hate anagrams and geography, groan and shake their heads.

As you can see, knowing trivia isn’t enough, and having a quick trigger finger isn’t enough. To survive even one episode of Jeopardy!, one needs knowledge, quick reflexes, and presence of mind. And when it comes to the Daily Doubles and the final round, a bit of a gambler’s instinct helps as well.

Although there have been changes over the run of the show (increases in prizes, the disappearance of Trebek’s signature mustache) and various tournament editions, the biggest change in Jeopardy! came in September 2003. Before 2003, someone who won five times in a row would “retire”, and be brought back at season’s end for the Tournament of Champions. With the new rule, a player may keep competing until he or she is dethroned.

The rule change helped turn Ken Jennings into a pop-culture celebrity. Jennings, a lifelong trivia fan, won 74 times in a row, earning $2,522,700 in the process, and it’ll probably be a long time before someone breaks his records. Luckily for Jeopardy! fans, the show isn’t leaving anytime soon.

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