I saw something unexpected on the television last Friday afternoon when I went with some friends to the university pub. In America, it’s rare to see something other than a sporting event or ESPN on the TV at a bar, but here in Melbourne I noticed that Jeopardy was on. Since I’ve been watching Jeopardy since long before I knew any facts which would allow me to play (three years old I think), I couldn’t resist writing an article about the show.
Unlike many game shows today which tend to come and go, Jeopardy’s been a stalwart of television for the better part of the past fifty years. Save for a brief gap from 1979-1984, Jeopardy! has been on the air since 1964. It’s currently in the 28th season of the more recognizable version with Alex Trebek, who has served as host since the show was revived in 1984. Aside from increases to the questions’ monetary values and a rule change which allowed contestants to stay on for more than five shows, the game has largely remained the same show that aired back in the sixties.
Shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Deal or No Deal have hit it big and fizzled all within the timeframe of a few years. Yet Jeopardy! remains popular after decades on the air. It’s success can be attributed to the simplicity of its format. The show isn’t powered by lifelines or the greed of its contestants, but rather the intelligence of its contestants. The fast nature of the game allows viewers at home to participate on a level that Millionaire could never satisfy.
To be fair, Jeopardy! has never been the national phenomenon that Who Wants to be a Millionaire! was. Aside from a ratings spike back in 2004 when Ken Jennings embarked on his 74 game winning streak, Jeopardy! has never been a big ratings juggernaut. But it does have a level of consistency that few shows have ever been able to claim.
As The Colonel, whose comment on this article is inevitable, can tell you, Jeopardy! is a tradition in my family. While I don’t get to play very often when I’m at school, I always enjoy playing it when I go home for holidays. Seeing it on TV in Melbourne made me smile because even though I’m 3,000 miles away from home, there’s always something there to remind me of it.