Jeopardy! is a popular quiz show featuring trivia in topics such as history, literature, pop culture, and science. The show has a decades-long broadcast history in the United States since its creation by Merv Griffin in the early 1960s. It first ran on NBC from March 30, 1964 until January 3, 1975, concurrently ran in a weekly syndicated version from September 9, 1974 to September 7, 1975, and subsequently ran in a revival from October 2, 1978 to March 2, 1979. Its most successful incarnation is the Alex Trebek-hosted syndicated version, which has aired continuously since September 10, 1984. It has also been adapted internationally.
During the game, three competing contestants select clues from a game board of 30 clues divided into six categories, each clue in the form of an answer to which they must supply correct responses, each response in the form of a question. The concept of "questioning answers" is original to Jeopardy! and, along with its theme music, remains a distinctive element of the show.
Since the 1980s, the Trebek version has consistently placed weekly among the top-rated shows in syndication. In January 2001, TV Guide ranked it #2 among the 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time. Esquire magazine readers named it their "favorite game show", and in the summer of 2006, it was also ranked #2 by GSN on their list of the 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time. The show holds the record for number of Emmy Awards in the category of Best Game Show, with 11.
Six categories are announced, each with a column of five trivia clues (phrased in answer form), each one valued, in dollars, incrementally more than the previous, ostensibly by difficulty. Each category is a topical category, and the categories change on each show; the category names are frequently puns or collectively build upon a theme. Upon the show's 1964 premiere, dollar values were $10, $20, $30, $40, and $50. These values were increased to $25, $50, $75, $100, $125 with the revival of the show in 1978, and successively doubled with the second pilot for the Alex Trebek version in 1984, with the premiere of the Trebek-hosted version in 1984, and during its 18th season in 2001 for present values of $200, $400, $600, $800, and $1,000. (The 1990 Super Jeopardy! tournament used a point value scale that incremented from 200 to 1,000.)
The returning champion or the newcomer in the first (leftmost to the home viewer) position begins the game by selecting a category and monetary value (e.g. "PRESIDENTS for $200"). Contestants are free to choose any unselected clue, although contestants usually select lower-valued clues before higher-valued clues in any given category. The host then reads the clue ("He was the father of our country; he didn't really chop down a cherry tree"), after which any of the three contestants may ring in using a hand-held signaling device. The first contestant to successfully ring in following the host's reading of the clue must then respond generally in the form of a question ("Who was/Who is/Who's George Washington?"). (See Phrasing below.)
A correct response earns the dollar value of the clue and the opportunity to select the next clue from the board. An incorrect response or a failure to respond within a 5-second time limit (shown by the red lights on the contestant's podium) deducts the dollar value of the clue from the player's score and gives any remaining opponents the opportunity to ring in and respond. If none of the contestants give a correct response, the correct response is read, and the player who has most recently given a correct response to a clue chooses the next clue.
In the Final Jeopardy! Round, some contestants have gotten away with omitting a form of the word "be" in their responses.
On Celebrity Jeopardy!, which is played for charity, contestants are allowed to participate in Final Jeopardy! under all circumstances, and such contestants are granted nominal scores with which to wager for Final Jeopardy!
In the original Art Fleming version, no money was awarded if a contestant finished with $0 or in the red (with a negative score), but he/she did receive parting gifts. If a returning champion finished in the red, it did not count against their previously accumulated winnings; any cash they had previously won was theirs to keep. At least once during the Fleming era, all three contestants finished Double Jeopardy! with $0 or less, thereby disqualifying everyone from Final Jeopardy! The time normally used for the final round was filled with chitchat between Fleming and the contestants. For the following telecast, three new contestants were featured.
After the final commercial break, the Final Jeopardy! clue is revealed and read by the host, following which contestants have 30 seconds to write a response on a card/electronic drawing board, again phrased in the form of a question. The light pen is automatically cut off at the end of the 30 seconds. With rare exception, the "Think!" music is played during this 30-second period.
Other Final Jeopardy! response methods are occasionally used:
Starting with the 1984 revival, rather than receiving their scores in cash, runners-up are awarded consolation prizes; the second-place finisher is awarded $2,000 and the third place finisher is awarded $1,000. Prior to May 16,2002, the second-place player typically received a vacation package and the third-place player received merchandise.
Since the show does not provide airfare or lodging for most contestants (airfare was provided for returning champions' subsequent flights to L.A.), these cash consolation prizes alleviated the financial burden of appearing on the show.
If no contestant finishes Final Jeopardy! with a positive total (i.e., at least $1), then nobody wins and three new contestants appear on the following show; in such cases the three new players will participate in a backstage draw to determine player position. The three-way loss has happened three times since 1984, the first occasion being on the second episode; the number of times this occurred during the 1964 NBC version is undetermined. If two or more contestants tie for first place, they each win the money and come back, assuming that they each have at least $1. Three players have held the co-champ title twice.
Ties in non-regular-play games are broken via a special Tiebreaker Round; this has only happened on five occasions, most recently on November 13, 2007 during the second semifinal game of the Tournament of Champions. An additional tiebreaker category with a single clue is given after the Final Jeopardy! Round, and the first player to ring in with the correct response wins. In case of a three-way loss in a tournament, none of the three players advance, and an additional wildcard is added in the tournament. Scores coming to Double Jeopardy! break ties for a wildcard position.
A three-way tie for first place has only occurred once during the Alex Trebek era of Jeopardy!, and only one contestant in the Trebek era has won a game with only $1.
Some categories have special rules pertaining to them. In each case, contestants and viewers are told the specific format required to get the clue correct.
The 1974-75 weekly syndicated version was essentially the same as the NBC version, but with several changes. Host Art Fleming always wore a tuxedo with a check-patterned jacket and a number of flashing light bulbs were added to the set. Most contestants were previous winners from the daytime show. As well, any player who correctly answered all five questions in a category received a bonus prize, originally a Chevrolet Vega, later a trip to London (as opposed to a cash bonus on the daytime edition).
Originally, the winning contestant picked a number from 1-30 off the Jeopardy Jackpot Board; possible prizes included a new car, a luxury vacation, or bonus money, with the grand prize being $25,000 (though the latter took up two spaces, each corresponding one half, and could only be won if the contestant found the second half on an additional pick). Later in the show's one-season run, the Jackpot Board was dropped, and the champion's bonus prize or cash was based on his or her final score (it was also at this point that the aforementioned "maingame category sweep" prize was changed from the car to the London holiday, since the Chevy Vega was now one of the bonus prizes).
However, this version failed to catch on in the ratings or garner enough stations, mainly due to a glut of other weekly versions of network daytime games that stations ran in their Prime Time Access early-evening timeslots, such as Price is Right and Let's Make a Deal. The show was cancelled after only one season. During the previous season, packagers of Dating Game and Sale of the Century had tried to keep their shows alive in syndication as well; neither of those games were successful either.
The All-New Jeopardy! was a short-lived 1978–1979 series with significantly different rules than the 1964-75 versions. The lowest-scoring contestant was eliminated after the Jeopardy! Round; whoever was ahead at the end of the Double Jeopardy! Round became the champion.
Instead of Final Jeopardy!, the winner then got to play a bonus round called Super Jeopardy! (no relation to the special summer 1990 tournament of all-time champions as aired on ABC). This round featured a new board of five categories with five clues in each, numbered 1–5 (and unlike the main game, not necessarily increasing in difficulty down the column). The object was for the contestant to provide any five correct responses in a straight line in a Bingo-like fashion (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally).
Giving an incorrect response, or a pass, earned the player a "strike," and blocked off that space on the board; three strikes ended the round. Super Jeopardy! was worth $5,000 to a first-day champion, with the jackpot increasing by $2,500 each day that champion successfully defended his/her title; with the five-day limit in place, that meant a potential total of $50,000 in just Super Jeopardy! earnings ($5,000 + $7,500 + $10,000 + $12,500 + $15,000). If a player struck out, he/she still received $100 for each correct response given. In the pilot, the player had a time limit of 90 seconds to get five in a row.
This bonus game proved rather unpopular among long-time fans of the show, and some critics allege that its inclusion, and the gameplay's elimination structure, doomed the revival to failure. Two sound effects from this version carried over to Sale of the Century in the 1980s: the correct response bell in Super Jeopardy! (a high-pitched e-note ding) and the Daily Double bell, a Family Feud-esque series of dings.
Rock & Roll Jeopardy! was a music-intensive version of Jeopardy! that aired on VH1 from 1998 to 2001. Hosted by future Survivor host Jeff Probst, clues on this version of the show highlighted post-1950s popular music trivia. Though the host was somewhat looser with the "phrase in the form of a question" requirement, the gameplay was basically identical to Jeopardy! The first two seasons used points, with $5,000 to the winner; subsequent seasons were played for cash with a $5,000 house minimum.
Jep! was the children's version of Jeopardy!, hosted by cartoon voice artist Bob Bergen. The show aired in 1998 on Game Show Network (now GSN), and up to late 2004 on Discovery Kids. It did not fare well with either critics or viewers and the show was cancelled after one season. Starting in 1999, just after Jep!'s cancellation, Jeopardy! began a "Back-to-School Week", which has easier clues and more accessible material for the younger contestants, but is otherwise identical to the adult version.
From Season 14 to Season 17, an undefeated champion would also be awarded a choice of Chevrolet cars or trucks (Corvette, Tahoe, or two Camaros). From Season 18 to Season 19, the winner won a Jaguar X-Type. Similarly, as part of the deal with Ford Motor Company for the 2001–02 season, Ford also added a Volvo to the Teen Tournament prize package.
To mark the start of the current version's 20th season, in September 2003, the show changed its rules so there is no winnings limit, and champions' reigns became indefinite; a champion keeps coming back as long as (s)he keeps winning (although automobiles were no longer awarded for five wins). This rule change led to the remarkable winning streak of Ken Jennings, who currently holds most of the winning records on the show, including greatest number of appearances and regular season highest total dollar amounts won (excluding tournaments).
The ToC lasts two weeks (10 shows), in the following manner.
Shows 1–5: The quarterfinals, with three new contestants participating each day. The five winners advance to the semi-finals. Four wild card spots are available to the highest-scoring non-winners, with ties broken by the scores after the Double Jeopardy! Round.
Shows 6–8: The semifinals. At this point, the game becomes a single-elimination affair, with each winner advancing to the finals. If at any point in the quarterfinals or semifinals there is a tie for first place, one or more successive Tiebreaker Rounds are played, with the first player to answer correctly advancing to the next round. (Tiebreaker Rounds have appeared on the show only five times, four times in tournaments. In the event of more than one Tiebreaker Round being played in a game, only the deciding Tiebreaker Round is aired as part of the show broadcast; the others are edited out.)
Shows 9–10: The two-day finals. Players begin the second final game with their scores reset to $0, and contestants' totals from both days are added together to determine their final scores. The contestant with the highest cumulative score wins the grand prize ($100,000 from 1985-2001; $250,000 since 2003). All other players, including the second- and third-place players in the finals, receive a guaranteed amount based on their finishing positions. In addition, the runners-up in the finals receive additional cash equal to their score if it exceeds the guaranteed amount.
First aired in 1987, the Teen Tournament features high school students, with the winner receiving a cash prize ($75,000 in the most recent years), and, in some years, a new car. Until 2001, the winner was also invited to participate in the Tournament of Champions. One of the most notable Teen Tournament champions was Eric Newhouse, who advanced to the finals of the 1989 Tournament of Champions, was a finalist in the Million Dollar Masters tournament, and participated in the Ultimate Tournament of Champions.
Beginning in 1989 the College Championship uses college students as contestants. The College Championship pits 15 full-time undergraduate students from colleges and universities in the US against each other in a two-week tournament, identical to the ToC in format. Beginning in 1997, the College Championship has been taped at host college campus using the show's traveling set. The winner earns $100,000, a trophy, and a spot in the next Tournament of Champions. (Tom Cubbage, the very first Jeopardy! college champion, also won his Tournament of Champions the following season.)
Between 1987 and 1995, ten Seniors Tournaments were held for contestants over the age of 50. This tournament was discontinued after December 1995, purportedly due to advertisers wanting to pull in younger demographics.
At least once per season since 1999, the show holds a special week of shows collectively known as Kids Week, Holiday Kids Week, or Back to School Week, featuring children ages 10 through 12 as contestants. These games are usually recorded at the show's main studio in Culver City. These weeks comprise five independent shows, with three new contestants in each. Unlike the regular Jeopardy! format, the winner of each game does not return to play another game. The third place winner receives $1,000, second place receives $2,000, and first place wins the amount of his or her score, with some minimum guarantee (typically $10,000). Additional prizes for all players, such as computers, gift certificates, and trips to local theme parks have been awarded in the past.
The first of these "all-time best" tournaments, Super Jeopardy! aired in Summer 1990 on ABC. It featured top players during the first six years of the 1984 syndicated run, plus a notable champion from the original Fleming era. The tournament was similar to the Million Dollar Masters and Ultimate Tournament of Champions (see below), although it was on a much smaller scale than that tournament. The Super Jeopardy! tournament also featured 4 contestants per game (in the first round of the tournament) as opposed to the standard three, and the games were played for points instead of dollars. Bruce Seymour won the tournament and $250,000.
The Tenth Anniversary Tournament was a five-day tournament aired in 1993 following the conclusion of the regular Tournament of Champions. The winner of that tournament, Tom Nosek, received a bye into the Tenth Anniversary Tournament; the other eight spots were awarded by lottery from among Tournament of Champions finalists and semifinalists of the previous decade (one chosen from each of the eight years the tournament was played). Frank Spangenberg won the tournament with a two-game score of $16,800 plus a $25,000 bonus for a total of $41,800.
In November 1998, players from the 1987, 1988, and 1989 Teen Tournaments (including the champions) were invited to Boston to play in a special Teen Reunion Tournament. 1989 Teen Tournament winner Eric Newhouse won the tournament.
The final winner was Brad Rutter ($62,000 for the tournament final), winning $2 million, the second-largest single-game prize in game show history. Jennings placed second (with $34,599) and took home $500,000. Jerome Vered finished third ($20,600), collecting $250,000. As a result, Rutter is the all-time highest winner of any game show with $3,270,102 (plus two Camaros), with Jennings a close second with $3,022,700.
Unlike the audition process for many game shows, the Jeopardy! contestant audition process is in part merit-based, with 50-question contestant tests administered at local audition sites and, as of 2006, over the Internet.
Since the debut of Jeopardy! in 1964, there have been many different iterations of the theme music for the show, a majority of which has been composed by Merv Griffin.
Since the early days of Jeopardy!, versions of the show have been produced in foreign countries worldwide.
It is believed that only a small number of the 2,753 episodes from the original NBC Daytime version of Jeopardy! survive, mostly as black-and-white kinescopes of the original color videotapes. In all likelihood, the original tapes were wiped as they were recorded over by NBC with new programming in an era when videotape was an expensive commodity.
Some episodes from 1967, 1971, and 1973-1974 exist in the UCLA Film and Television Archive while various episodes are in the Paley Center for Media (including the 1964 "test" episode) and incomplete paper records of the NBC-era games exist on microfilm at the Library of Congress.
The Trebek version is completely intact. GSN—which like Jeopardy! is an affiliate of Sony Pictures Television—has rerun 9 seasons to date, and since July 28, 2008, GSN is airing the 2003-2004 season (season 20).
There is a 66 game disparity between the show numbers assigned new Jeopardy! episodes and the actual number of Trebek-era games played. To assist subscribing affiliate stations in airing episodes in the correct order, a show number is read by announcer Johnny Gilbert just prior to the taping of each game; this number is audible on the episodes as received by the affiliates, and visible on the slate attached to them, but the slate is trimmed from the show prior to broadcast. Each new episode receives an integer show number 1 greater than the previous episode. However, all 65 reruns in Season 1 (1984-1985) were given new show numbers despite not being new games, and a retrospective clip show that aired May 15, 2002 was also given a show number (#4088). As such, the game with show number #5000 aired on May 12, 2006, but the 5,000th game hosted by Alex Trebek did not air until September 25,2006.