Jeopardy! was a game show that originally ran on American TV from 1964-1979, but this piece will concentrate on the revival which launched in 1984 and has been hosted by Alex Trebek ever since. Although there were three attempts at making a British version of Jeopardy!, none of them were particularly successful, but the American version has become a long-running institution. So I decided to look at some editions on YouTube, and I remember that this version was also briefly shown on Sky One.
Three contestants take part and they have to give their answers in the form of a question. There are six categories to choose from with five clues each. If they give the correct response, they win the money on offer. Get it wrong and they lose that money. This was repeated in the second round but with the values doubled. This meant that a contestant could gain or lose as much as $2,000 on one question, so there was slightly more tension than in the UK version where as little as five points could be at risk. Don’t forget to look out for those Daily Doubles too! (two on offer in each round in this version, three in the ITV version.)
In the final round, contestants were given one more clue, and they had to write down their response in the form of a question accompanied by possibly the most famous game show thinking time music this side of Countdown. When time was up, their responses were revealed, with them having their bid added to their score if they were right, but they would lose it if they were wrong, meaning the scores could change in all sorts of ways, and on at least one occasion the winner scored only $1. The highest scorer was declared the winner and could return the next day as the defending champion.
In the early days, winning contestants could play five times before they had to retire undefeated, winning a bonus prize. After a while, this rule was changed so that contestants could stay for as long as they kept on winning and they could win a huge amount of money. The most famous example of this was Ken Jennings, the contestant who appeared on 75 consecutive shows and won a seven-figure sum of money in a remarkable winning streak. What do I think of his performance? Well he’s no Ian Lygo but he’s still clearly a very talented contestant.
Jeopardy! remains consistently popular, and there have been several variations on the show, including tournaments featuring former champions competing, teen tournaments for students, and also lots of celebrity specials. The show also seems to have a big presence online, with websites dedicated to discussing the clues featured on the show and debating the wagering strategies for the final in a little too much detail.
Another reason that I feel Jeopardy! is just about the American equivalent of Countdown is that it’s a slightly more challenging game show which seems to have been on TV just about every weekday for the last 30 years where you always come away feeling that you have learned something. I did enjoy watching it myself and it’s a shame that despite three attempts (on Channel 4, ITV and Sky One) a British audience never really caught on to it.