Alex Trebek: I believe the Jeopardy! test is more difficult than being a contestant on the program.
Can you believe that Jeopardy! debuted on NBC on March 30, 1964? Fifty three years ago. Did you know that when the show first came on the air, the contestants sat? Unlike today, where the contestants are required to stand at the podium for an ungodly 20 minutes or so!
I admit it. I love game shows. My mother was a stay-at-home mom until Leslie was in high school, so when we got home in the mid-afternoon, we’d watch game shows and an occasional soap opera. Password, Match Game, you-name-it. And we now watch the current remake of Match Game; I even love the long skinny microphone!
Jeopardy! has always been my favorite. The show was created by Merv Griffin in the early 60s and, of course, everyone knows the contestants are presented with clues in the form of answers and they must phrase their responses in the form of questions. The original daytime version debuted on NBC in 1964 and aired until January 3, 1975. A weekly nighttime syndicated version aired from September 1974 to September 1975, and a revival, The All-New Jeopardy!, ran on NBC from October 1978 to March 1979. The current version, a daily syndicated show premiered on September 10, 1984, and is still airing, making it by far the program’s most successful incarnation.
Both NBC versions and the weekly syndicated version were hosted by Art Fleming. Don Pardo served as announcer until 1975, and John Harlan announced for the 1978–1979 show. Since its inception, the daily syndicated version has featured Alex Trebek as host and Johnny Gilbert as announcer.
With 7,000 episodes aired, the daily syndicated version of Jeopardy! has won a record 33 Daytime Emmy Awards. (I find myself feeling sorry for the other shows necessarily included in the same category because…really…how could they win?) In 2013, the program was ranked No. 45 on TV Guide‘s list of the 60 greatest shows in American television history. We are currently enjoying the show’s 33rd season which premiered on September 12, 2016.
From the premiere of the original Jeopardy! until the end of the first season of the current syndicated series, contestants were allowed to ring-in as soon as the clue was revealed. Since September 1985, contestants are required to wait until the clue is read before ringing-in. To accommodate the rule change, lights were added to the game board (unseen by home viewers) to signify when it is permissible for contestants to signal; attempting to signal before the light goes on locks the contestant out for half of a second. The change was made to allow the home audience to play along with the show more easily and to keep an extremely fast contestant from potentially dominating the game.
In pre-1985 episodes, a buzzer would sound when a contestant signaled; according to Trebek, the buzzer was eliminated because it was “distracting to the viewers” and sometimes presented a problem when contestants rang in while Trebek was still reading the clue. I don’t recall seeing any visually impaired contestants, but when they’re on the show, they’re given a card with the category names printed in Braille before each round begins, and an audible tone is played after the clue has been read aloud.
We all know that Alex Trebek has served as host of the daily syndicated version since it premiered in 1984, but do you recall the one time he switched places with Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak as an April Fool’s joke on the episode aired April 1, 1997? I do! I am a little concerned, however, that Trebek’s contract ends at the end of the 2017-2018 season, and I can’t picture anyone else hosting the show, can you? Well, maybe Will Ferrell. (Check out the classic Jeopardy! spoofs on Saturday Night Live.)
The best-known theme song on Jeopardy! is “Think!,” originally composed by Merv 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. “Think!” has become so popular that it has been used in many different contexts, from sporting events to weddings. Griffin estimated that the use of “Think!” had earned him royalties of over $70 million throughout his lifetime.
We now record Jeopardy! every night. When we’re watching a TV show and it gets close to real time, we’ll start to watch an episode of the iconic game show so we can avoid the commercials. Who doesn’t?