Television Critique - First Decade of Jeopardy!

For other posts regarding the show, Jeopardy!, go here.

Jeopardy!, American television game show, has been on air since 1964, which was created by Merv Griffin. However, Alex Trebek has been hosting it since 1984 when it turned into a daily syndicated version on NBC. Due to the pandemic they are unable to air any new episodes. So the Jeopardy! Team have been giving us glimpses into their past episodes and championship events. A couple weeks ago we got to see the very first decade of the show.

The five episodes that aired for the "First Decade" week started with the first one from September 10, 1984; continued on with the second episode from that first season which originally aired on September 11, 1984; third episode from the second season originally aired on October 4, 1985; the fourth episode from the fifth season originally aired on January 15, 1990; and the final episode was from the Jeopardy! Tenth Anniversary Tournament, the final game of that championship, originally aired on December 2, 1993.

The very first episode is considerably different from what we see today. Both the opening of the show and Alex certainly look different. The players would walk to the podium as they are introduced as opposed to already being at the podium that currently happens.

The game format remains still the same today, except the dollar values of the clues were different, lesser then. The first round, Jeopardy! Round, the dollar amount ranges from $100 - $500 while the second round, Double Jepardy!, the dollar amount doubled to $200 - $1000. Also the categories are already on the screen and Alex reads them out. 

That first year they had a signaling glitch - meaning, the players should not be ringing until Alex finishes reading the question. However, during the first year, the players could ring in as soon as the clue appeared. The Jeopardy! Team rectified it from the second year around. 

This being the first episode, there is lot of explanation given by Alex before each round, and during the clues too. Perhaps that is why there were lot of clues left out in both rounds in this first episode. The later episodes that were aired from that decade had seen lesser explanation from Alex, and proceeded with players able to get to all clues. 

In the second episode that was also the second episode of the first decade, the Final Jeopardy!'s category was "The Calendar", with clue being "Calendar Date with which the 20th century began". All three contestants responded with "What was Jan 1, 1900?" which was incorrect (I guessed it wrong too!). Incidentally all of them had waged their entire earnings causing a three-way tie with $0 each. This has never happened on Jeopardy! again, making it a historical moment for the show. The next episode had brand new contestants since none won in this episode. 

In the third episode that was from the second season, we get to see Chuck Forrest, who created the strategy called "Forrest Bounce" which is still used to date by every contestant on the show. He created history by winning the most money at that time in the five shows he appeared - $72, 800. He had created a record of highest earnings - $60,000 - in his four-day winning streak, which he broke it with his fifth day win. 

At the time of this show, Chuck was a law student from Grand Blanc, Michigan. Though Chuck called the strategy "Rubin Bounce" after his law school friend, Donn Rubin, the strategy basically has the player who is in control to bounce across all the categories without any rhyme or reason, thus confusing the opponents. Alex personally doesn’t like this strategy but players have been using it since then. 

Originally contestants were limited to five appearances i.e. five wins and then three brand new contestants would be brought in. These five-time winning contestants would go on to participate in that year's Tournament of Champions. 

In the fourth episode that was from the fifth season, we get to see Frank Spangenberg in his fifth and final, who demolished all records of Jeopardy! at that time - one day winnings record of $30,600 and a five-day winnings record of earning over $102, 597. A New York City Transit Cop who earned more than $75K, the amount allowed by a network to win on a program, donated the excess amount to Gift of Love Hospice, a Charity in New York City. 

Only James Holzhauer broke the 5-day winning record by earning $298,687 in five days (adjusted earnings of Spangenberg as of 2001 scoring was $205,194). 

The fifth and final episode that was aired as part of "The First Decade" series, was the final game of the Jeopardy! Tenth Anniversary Tournament championship. The tournament invited one winner from each of the nine years of the show, to compete for $100,000 grand prize. No surprise to see Frank Spangenberg in the final game. He still held the record for winnings at that time, and was a fan favorite. 

The finals of the championship is typically two days. Going into the final game, Frank actually was second with $600 earnings from first day of finals; while Tom Nosek was leading with earnings of $13,600 from the first day. He came out on top earning $16,800 to which the prize money of $25,000 was added making it a total of $41,800.

The final Jeopardy! Category was Women Playwrights with the answer being - 1 of 3 women who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in the 1980s. Frank's response was "Who is Wendy Wasserstein?" She is the author of "The Heidi Chronicles". And Frank was invited to have lunch with her after the show.

Note the change in revealing the categories. They are not revealed until Alex announces them which is how now it is being done.

Another change was after the first break, Alex typically asks contestants to speak regarding their experience in the final game of a tournament. In this he did that right before the second break at the end of the Jeopardy! round. Last change I noticed was that the contestants get to keep their earnings and to which the prize money of $25,000 and $7,500 got added.

A wonderful walk down through Jeopardy! Vault and a look-see at the episodes that many might not have watched. An enjoyable week when everything seems morbid around us now.


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