Monday, November 17, 2008

This! Is! Jeopardy!

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

As you might have been able to predict, this week's featured television show is
Another masterpiece by Merv Griffin, the syndicated version premiered in 1984, and is still running 24 years later. Before that, it did run 1964-1975, with a revival 1978-1979. It has 11 Emmys for Best Game Show (and 28 Emmys in all), and has been ranked among the highest of game shows by audiences for years. While the US associates Alex Trebek with Jeopardy!, there are many international adaptations.

Jeopardy! was actually masterminded by Griffin's wife, who pitched the idea to him that it might be interesting to have an answer and make contestants come up with the question. She came up with this technique to prevent the cheating that had been a prevalent scandal in the late 1950s. NBC actually bought the show without even seeing a pilot!

The format of the game has remained unchanged: a Jeopardy round, then Double Jeopardy (prize values are doubled), then Final Jeopardy. There's almost always a defending champion at the stage right podium. You must phrase your response in the form of a question (although Alex seems to be a little lax in the first round). You win the prize value if you answer correctly, and your score is deducted if you answer wrong or don't say anything before the 5-second time limit is up. (Hence how there's nearly always someone going into the negatives at some point in the game.) There are Daily Double spaces on the board where a contestant can wager between $5 and the top prize value for that round, choosing his or her fate. True-blue Jeopardy! players say "True Daily Double" and go all-or-nothing (the way, in my opinion, it should be done).

There are six categories in each of the first two rounds, usually on blue screens. But, for a period in the 1980s and 1990s, Double Jeopardy would have a red background. If you have less than $1 at the end of the second round, you get eliminated and don't get to play Final Jeopardy (unless it's the Celebrity edition). In Final Jeopardy, like Daily Doubles, you choose your wager... only it can be anything, including $0. Alex reads the question, and you get a fun light pen to scribble down your answer (and you can't cheat and write after the timer, because the pen turns off!), and then you immediately get to find out who got it right or wrong.

Now, here's the part about Jeopardy! that you probably didn't know... only the champion gets to keep his earnings! Second place gets $2,000 and third place gets $1,000! Champions are awarded a flight allowance for subsequent appearances (like Tournaments of the Champions) but otherwise no travel or lodging accommodations are given to players. (And the methodology of the Tournaments is rather intense, so I'm just going to skip over that...)

Other fun facts:
- Merv Griffin composed the theme music.
- During the production season, Jeopardy! tapes 5 shows per day
- Ken Jennings (remember him?) has the record for most money won in a single day: $75,000.
- In the show's history (since 1984), there have been 3 separate occasions where nobody had any winnings at the end of Final Jeopardy.
- If there's a tie for first place, those contestants are considered co-champions, each gets to keep his winnings, and each will appear again. Unless it's the tournament of champions, in which case there's a tiebreaker question and the first to respond correctly wins.
- There has been 1 contestant to win with just $1.
- From 1997 until 2003, contestants could play a maximum of five games (not including tournament games), then they would retire AND WIN A CAR. In 2003, the maximum number of appearances was lifted.
- With the 5-show-limit gone, several contestants played for weeks at a time. In 2004, Ken Jennings had 75 appearances, with winnings totaling $3,022,700. (He's not actually the all-time highest though! Google around and read up on Brad Rutter for that info.)
- For those who grew up watching the game, then missed a few years and came back to it, it was in 2001 that the point values jumped.
- In 2006, the set was upgraded from individual video monitors to a projection video wall (yeah, for HD. go figure).
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Anonymous said...

Given the trend, should we expect Merv Griffin’s Crosswords next week? He really is the master of gameshow creation.

Amy K. Bredemeyer said...

One might think that. However, as I did with the Children's Shows features, I think I may limit it to two in a row and move on to a different category next week.

But I agree, Merv Griffin really was the master. :)

Katie said...

did you see jeopardy one time - I think 1 or 2 years ago - when ALL 3 contestants tied in final jeopardy? so all 3 came back the next day to compete. I think it's the first (and only) time that's ever happened.

Amy K. Bredemeyer said...

wow, no I definitely missed that. How amazing! Especially considering that most episodes there's that one person who bets an odd amount, like $14,099 or something. Neat! has the two-way tie and they use a tiebreaker. is the episode you mentioned, with some commentary by Alex on how it happened. :)