Jeopardy! continues to thrive in American culture, on 50th anniversary

Looking onto the stage of the Jeopardy! set, with Alex Trebek at the podium and contestants in place

An inside look at the set of Jeopardy! Photo by Steve Jurvetson, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, MARCH 30: Three contestants. Six categories. One Alex Trebek.

What is: “Jeopardy!” (And, yes, an exclamation point is part of the TV show’s name.)

The game show that has wrangled an unprecedented 30 Emmy Awards first aired 50 years ago today as the unassuming brainchild of Merv and Julann Griffin. This year, the show not only marks 50 years since its first airing, but 30 years since Alex Trebek fist took to the podium. In contrast to most of its game show counterparts, Jeopardy! has, during its wildly successful run, remained virtually unchanged. Down to the minute, the format of Jeopardy! has captured the minds of millions of viewers, giving answers first and questions last.

For this celebratory season, Jeopardy! has launched an all-out Battle of the Decades, polling fans and bringing back favorite contestants from the past to compete in a series of games that will end in one million-dollar Champion. (Click on this map to find air dates and times in your area.)

Did you know? The first Jeopardy! clue was: “5,280.” The question: “How many feet in a mile?” The clue was suggested by Julann Griffin to her husband, during a plane ride. (Learn more in an article in the Smithsonian.)

The date was March 30, 1964, when television personality Art Fleming was featured on the air, in a brand-new game show. Originally a daytime show, Jeopardy! was so popular that it began airing a weekly nighttime syndicated version in 1974. Ten years later, in 1984—30 years ago, this year—Alex Trebek took over as host, and the daily syndicated edition of the show was launched. (Wikipedia has details.) Trebe is signed on to host through 2016, with no indication of Trebek planning to retire at that time.

A FORMULA FOR SUCCESS

While no major changes are planned for the show—after all, the host and format have worked so well thus far—the cast and crew of Jeopardy! attest that the show is always evolving. The show’s eight researchers and eight writers are constantly searching for new twists on topics, while striving to “strike a balance between scholarly subjects and those that have wider appeal,” said Jeopardy! Executive Producer Harry Friedman, in a recent interview with USA TODAY Network. For example, earlier this season, Trebek rapped an entire category in one show.

Why has Jeopardy! endured through the generations, facing sitcoms and reality TV with ease?

According to its host: “Americans are very competitive, and they like to be challenged. They especially like to be challenged intellectually, and Jeopardy! does that. You can’t watch Jeopardy! in passing. It demands your attention.”

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