Legend has it that the origins of Jeopardy, one of the most popular TV game shows ever, was done as a response to a scandal.
Around 1964, TV talk show host Merv Griffin decided to create a quiz show that would be the antithesis of the Quiz Show Scandals of 1959-1960, in which a U.S. Congressional investigation examined allegations that certain contestants on such popular TV quiz shows as The $64,000 Question and Twenty-One were furnished with the answers for that evening’s broadcast before they went on the air. Not only did these contestants win unheard-of large amounts of cash, but it also helped to shoot the quiz shows’ ratings through the roof. Needless to say, when those allegations were found to be true, it shook up the young mass medium, especially all those quiz shows, which quickly disappeared from network schedules.
As a twist to these scandal-ridden quiz shows, Griffin decided to keep it honest by giving the contestants the answers … and they had to come up with the questions. And to add an edgy element to it, the contestant who provided the incorrect question would be deducted the certain dollar value of that clue from their score. And Jeopardy! was born.
It debuted as part of NBC’s daytime program line-up in the fall of 1964, with the genial, voice-of-authority Art Fleming as its host, and developed a large following during it near 15-year run. In the fall of 1984, Jeopardy was revived in syndication. It was promoted as “trivia with a twist” and selected veteran Canadian-born TV quizmaster Alex Trebek to be its host. During the past 37 years, Jeopardy has become more than just a TV game show. It has become the most popular syndicated TV show, has become a pop culture phenomenon in song and parodies, has made such champion contestants as Chuck Forrest, Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter and James Holzhauer international celebrities, and when Trebek passed away from pancreatic cancer last fall, many of its viewers and past contestants practically regarded it as if it was a death in the family.
But what has made this answers-and-questions TV game show so wildly popular that it’s almost like a way of life (not to mention an almost type of redemption for all those trivia geeks)? Claire McNear, a writer for the sports and popular culture website The Ringer, decided to explore the world of Jeopardy for her recently-released book Answers in the Form of Questions.
What sets her book apart from the other tomes that have been written about this subject is simple. Unlike the other Jeopardy book authors, who were usually past contestants who were big money winners and multiple tournament participants, Ms. McNear was never a bona fide Jeopardy contestant (although she did audition for it, which her experience is chronicled in the book), and gives the book a welcoming sense of journalistic objectivity.
She gives plenty of behind-the-scenes insights – both within and outside the studio walls – of the Jeopardy phenomenon, and doesn’t leave any aspect out of her exploration. You get to discover, for example, what goes on at a typical Jeopardy audition; the different strategies when it comes to mastering the buzzer, wagering and selection of categories (such as Chuck Forrest’s “Forrest Bounce” and James Holzhauer’s tendency to select clues from the bottom of the board and work his way up); what inspired “Weird Al” Yankovic to write his song parody “I Lost on Jeopardy”; the pressures of being a prospective or champion contestant; the best and worst Jeopardy games ever; the indispensable J! Archive website; and why many contestants’ weakest categories are the ones that are related to sports.
On a personal note, reading this book made me quite aware of the massive changes Jeopardy went through since I appeared as a contestant back in 1990. That includes the lifting of the five-game, $75,000 cash winnings ceilings; the raising of the dollar values of the clues (as a result of the brief, yet fierce, competition between Jeopardy and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in 1999-2000); the evolution of the “Clue Crew”; how contestant tryouts/auditions switched from live, city-by-city contestant search tours to online tryouts; the proliferation of different Jeopardy tournaments; the vast Jeopardy alumni network; and the annual Trivia Nationals tournament and impromptu trivia tournaments that take place at O’Brien’s, an Irish Pub in Santa Monica that are both popular with Jeopardy contestants past and present.
Answers in the Form of Questions is not only a thorough, well-researched definitive history of this great game show, but it doubles as an indispensable guide for any aspiring Jeopardy contestant seeking the inside track on how they can better their chances of appearing on the show and hopefully, win a sizeable amount of cash from knowing so much factual knowledge. This is the book that all Jeopardy mavens were hoping for. They will certainly not be disappointed with what this book has to offer them, as they make their own quest for trivia immortality and follow in the footsteps of Messrs. Jennings, Holzhauer, Rutter and Forrest, and so many more who have done the impossible and phrased all those answers in the form of questions.