The History of Jeopardy

One of few benefits of being home sick as a kid was lying around watching game shows like Jeopardy! The perennial early evening favorite started out as one of NBC’s cadre of daytime game shows.

The network virtually owned the genre in the 1960s. The 1967-68 Daytime Network Schedule brings back many memories. On school days, in the Detroit market, we would cram in The Three Stooges on Channel 7 before heading to class. If we were stuck at home and were too old for Captain Kangaroo, we tuned to NBC for three straight hours of competition. Snap Judgment with Johnny Carson sidekick Ed McMahon, Concentration hosted Hugh Downs, Personality with Larry Blyden. The Hollywood Squares facilitated by Peter Marshall, Jeopardy! with Art Fleming, and Bill Cullen’s Eye Guess. We might jump over to ABC at 1pm to watch the first half hour of a Fugitive rerun, but we were back on NBC at 1:30 where Monty Hall held court on Let’s Make a Deal. We switched back to ABC at 2 for The Newlywed Game and might check out Chuck Barris’ Dream Girl at 2:30. CBS’ lone game show, To Tell the Truth, was on the air at 3. It was back to NBC at 3:30 for You Don’t Say! and then it was Jim Lange on ABC at 4 with The Dating Game.

Art Fleming, Jeopardy’s First Host

How many of you remember Art Fleming‘s Jeopardy intro, “Thank you Don Pardo. Thank you friends..”? Yes Don Pardo had a career before Saturday Night Live. When someone solved the puzzle on Concentration, Hugh Downs would shout, “.. is right!” And how about Kenny Williams‘ intoning, “Today one of these stars is sitting in the secret square and the contestant who picks it could win prizes totalling…” followed by a stunning dollar figure. “Which star is it?”.

Jeopardy was the brainchild of singer and talk show host Merv Griffin. He told the AP just prior to the show’s launch, “My wife Julann just came up with the idea one day when we were in a plane bringing us back to New York from Duluth. I was mulling over game show ideas, when she noted that there had not been a successful ‘question and answer’ game on the air since the quiz show scandals. Why not do a switch, and give the answers to the contestant and let them come up with the question.”

Alex Trebek

The show premiered as What’s the Question? on NBC on March 30, 1964. Its initial run lasted for 11 years. Griffin produced Jeopardy‘s successor, Wheel of Fortune, which premiered on January 6, 1975. By the end of the decade, Jeopardy was the second-highest-rated daytime game show. The Hollywood Squares was number one.

Several iterations came and went over the years. The daily syndicated version launched on September 10, 1984, in response to the syndication success of Wheel of Fortune. Alex Trebek hosted the program from its premiere in 1984 until his death in 2020.

Wikipedia notes that the syndicated version of Jeopardy has outlived 300 other game shows and has become the second most popular game show in syndication (behind Wheel), averaging 25 million viewers per week.

In a 2019 interview, Shaun Young, an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto and the editor of Jeopardy and Philosophy: What is Knowledge in the Form of a Question? told InsideHook “I think one of the primary ones is that it allows people to engage in a competition of intellect, from the comfort of their own home, their own living room, sitting on the couch.. They can compete with the people who are actually competing on the show, as well as any of their family members, friends, etcetera, who may be sitting in the room with them. So it provides that opportunity for that type of, hopefully, friendly competition. And I think there’s probably an element in many of us, if not all of us, about testing our own level of knowledge and intellect.”

All us who became game-show-holics in the 1960s would agree.

Today in History:

1840: Queen Victoria marries Prince Albert
1897: NY Times begins using slogan All the News That’s Fit to Print”.”
1939: ‘Stagecoach‘ western film directed by John Ford, starring Claire Trevor and John Wayne, premieres in Miami.
1940: ‘Tom & Jerry‘ cartoon created by William Hanna & Joseph Barbera debut by MGM.
1940: ‘In The Mood‘ by Glenn Miller hits #1.
1949: Arthur Miller‘s play ‘Death of a Salesman‘ opens at Morosco Theater, NYC.
1951: ‘John and Marsha‘ by Stan Freberg, a parody of daytime soap operas which had only two voices repeating each other’s names, peaks at #21.
1956: ‘My Friend Flicka‘ premieres on CBS (later NBC) TV.
1966: ‘Valley of the Dolls‘ by Jacqueline Susann is published by Bernard Geis Associates in the US – sold over 31 million copies.
1967: The Beatles recorded the orchestral build-up for the middle and end of ‘A Day in the Life‘. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Mike Nesmith and Donovan also attended the session.
1968: ‘Spooky‘ by Classics IV peaks at #3.
1971: Carole King releases her second studio album Tapestry. It is one of the best-selling albums of all time, with over 25 million copies sold worldwide.
1972: David Bowie appears at the Tolworth Toby Jug, London, on the opening date of his Ziggy Stardust tour playing to around 60 people in the room.
1973: Elton John‘s Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player tops the charts. The title of the album came from comic actor Groucho Marx of The Marx Brothers who referred to him as ‘John Elton’ while holding out his middle and index finger in the style of a pistol. Elton then retaliated saying ‘Don’t shoot me
1975: Dave Alexander, the original bassist for The Stooges died from pneumonia aged 27. He was fired from the band in August 1970 after showing up at a gig too drunk to play.
1978: Van Halen releases their self-titled debut studio album. Peaking at No.19 LP went on to sell more than 10 million copies in the US.
1979: Rod Stewart starts a four week run at No.1 with ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy’.
1993: ‘Michael Jackson Talks To Oprah Winfrey‘ airs on ABC & drew an astounding 39.3 rating/56 share, 90 million people.
1998: AOL raises monthly flat rate internet access from $19.95 to $21.95.
2005: His Royal Highness Charles, Prince of Wales announces engagement to Camilla Parker Bowles.

Today’s Birthdays:

Roberta Flack

1892: Alan Hale Sr., American actor (Little John-The Adventures of Robin Hood), born in Washington, D.C. (d. 1950).
1893: Jimmy Durante, American actor, comedian and singer known as ‘the schnozzola’ (The Durante-Moore Show, Jimmy Durante Show), born in Manhattan, New York (d. 1980).
1906: Lon Chaney Jr, American actor (Larry Talbot-The Wolf Man, Lennie Small-Of Mice and Men), born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (d. 1973).
1927: Leontyne Price, American opera soprano (Porgy & Bess), born in Laurel, Mississippi.
1930: Robert Wagner, American actor (It Takes a Thief, Switch, Hart to Hart), born in Detroit, Michigan.
1937: Roberta Flack (‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’,’Killing Me Softly With His Song’, ‘Set The Night to Music’).
1937: Don Wilson (The Ventures).
1940: Jimmy Merchant (Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers).
1947: Chris Ethridge (International Submarine Band and The Flying Burrito Brothers). The Bass Guitarist also worked with Nancy Sinatra, Leon Russell, Delaney Bramlett, Johnny Winter, Randy Newman, Ry Cooder, Linda Ronstadt, The Byrds, Jackson Browne, and Willie
1949: Nigel Olsson, (the Elton John band).
1950: Mark Spitz, American swimmer (won then record 7 Olympic golds in 1972), born in Modesto, California.
1951: Bob [Robert] Iger, American entertainment executive (CEO of The Walt Disney Company), born in NYC, New York.
1958: Norman Harris (The Delfonics
1958: Walter Afanasieff (Mariah Carey / Celine Dion).
1961: George Stephanopoulos.
1967: Laura Dern (Jurassic Park, Mask, Smooth Talk).

Number one this week in 1976, Paul Simon‘s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”. It’s the second single from Simon’s fourth studio album, Still Crazy After All These Years and his only number 1. Those voices you hear in the background on the chorus are Patti AustinValerie Simpson, and Phoebe Snow. Drummer Steve Gadd plays the iconic drum riff.

Thanks for listening!

Scott Westerman
Host and Producer – Rock and Roll Revisited
Author: Motor City Music – Keener 13 and the Soundtrack of Detroit