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'Jeopardy!' Past and Present

By

Jeopardy logo
courtesy Jeopardy! Productions Inc.

Host: Alex Trebek
Created By: Merv Griffin
Executive Producer: Harry Friedman
Original Series Premiere: March 30, 1964
Current Series Premiere: September 10, 1984
Network: Originally on CBS, now airs in syndication on affiliate networks
Airs On: Monday to Friday evenings
Top Prize: Unlimited

Jeopardy is consistently one of the highest rated shows in syndication across the country. Airing every weeknight on local affiliate networks, the show has gained a cult-like following amongst trivia buffs and game show fans. The theme song is instantly recognizable and has been used in a wide variety of media from comedy sketches to major motion pictures.

How it All Began:

In the 1950's there was growing frustration from the public with quiz shows. Scandals were erupting, and producers were being accused of providing answers to contestants and thereby rigging the results. Jeopardy was an answer to this frustration, attempting to provide a departure from traditional quiz shows by asking contestants to give their answers in the form of a question. The show caught on, and enjoyed a successful daytime run from 1964 to 1975.

The original Jeopardy game show was hosted by Art Flemming and aired on NBC. After eleven years on the air, the show was canceled. Jeopardy enjoyed a brief, one-season revival in 1978, and was once again canceled due to poor ratings.

The New Jeopardy:

In 1984, CBS picked up the show and transformed it into a prime time program with a brand new host. With Alex Trebek at the helm, Jeopardy returned in syndication in 1984. The show has been on the air ever since, airing five times a week on local CBS affiliate stations.

Game Overview:

Jeopardy pits three contestants against each other in every episode. Two of these contestants are new, while the third is the returning champion from the previous game. Returning champions may play the game for as long as they keep on winning. The first two rounds of the game allow contestants to answer clues and rack up some money, while the final round in a winner-takes-all, one-question battle.

The Jeopardy Round:

The first round is called the Jeopardy Round. Six trivia categories are posted on the board, with a column of five clues below each category. The clues are hidden by dollar amounts, which increase in value from top to bottom. The higher the dollar amount, the tougher the clue.

Players begin by choosing a category and a dollar amount. Trebek reads the clue, and the contestants must buzz in with a hand-held buzzer for the opportunity to answer the question. The twist in the game is that the answers must come in the form of a question. For example, if the clue were to read, "This game show is hosted by Alex Trebek," the answer would be, "What is Jeopardy?" Whoever answers correctly gets the money value of the question added to their pot.

Double Jeopardy:

The second round works the same as the Jeopardy Round, but with new categories, slightly harder questions, and the money values are doubled. If any contestant finishes the Double Jeopardy round with no money in their bank, he or she is disqualified from playing the final round.

The Final Round:

The final round of Jeopardy consists of a single question. Trebek announces the category, and contestants must then wager some or all of their current earnings. The clue is read, and, as the Jeopardy theme song plays in the background, contestants must write their answer to the clue (still in the form of a question) on an electronic board in front of them.

When time is up, the answers are revealed one by one. If a contestant gets the answer correct, the amount wagered is added to his or her score. If the answer is incorrect, the amount wagered is deducted. The person with the most money at the end of this round is the winner, and returns to play the game again in the next episode.

Tournaments and Theme Weeks

Jeopardy hosts a number of regular tournaments and theme weeks. These include:

Jeopardy Fun Facts

  • Jeopardy airs in various international versions in over 25 countries.

  • Prior to 2004, a contestant could win a maximum of five games. After winning a full week's worth of shows, the contestant was retired and guaranteed a seat in the next Tournament of Champions. This rule was eliminated in the show's 21st season.

  • Ken Jennings is the record holder for the longest winning streak. Jennings won a whopping 74 games in 2002, before being defeated in Final Jeopardy by Nancy Zerg. He accumulated $2,520,700 in prize money during those 74 appearances.

  • A spin off show called Rock & Roll Jeopardy aired on VH1 from 1998 to 2001. Rock & Roll Jeopardy was hosted by Jeff Probst, who is now the host of the reality show Survivor.

  • From 1984 to 1990, contestants' winnings were capped at $75,000. Any money earned over that amount was donated to a charity chosen by the winner. The cap was eventually raised, and then eliminated all together.

  • The Jeopardy theme song is called "Think," and was composed by Merv Griffin as a lullaby for his son.
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