‘Jeopardy!’: A Small Detail on Contestants’ Podiums Tells Alex Trebek Who Selects the Next Clue

On the surface Jeopardy! is straightforward. Contestants respond to clues in the form a question to earn money. But it takes a lot to make it look effortless. That’s where the behind the scenes details come in. There are certain aspects to the production of Jeopardy! viewers might miss watching at home. Keep reading to find out how host Alex Trebek keeps track of which contestant gets to select a clue from the show’s trademark game board. 

‘Jeopardy!’ is filmed 46 days a year

James Denton, Bebe Neuwirth, and Neil Patrick Harris stand at their podiums rehearsing for Celebrity 'Jeopardy!' in 2006
James Denton, Bebe Neuwirth, and Neil Patrick Harris rehearse for Celebrity Jeopardy!’| Scott Wintrow/Getty Images

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From behind a lectern wearing a suit and tie, the Canadian-born host reads rapid-fire clues to eager Jeopardy! contestants. For a total of 46 days a year Trebek stands in front of a live studio audience and tapes episodes of the game show. But not just one. Five episodes are taped in a single day. 

The host’s pre-show routine means showing up at the show’s studio in Culver City, California, early. Upon his arrival, Trebek catches up on the news of the day then proceeds to familiarize himself with the game boards he’s going to be presenting to contestants. He looks up pronunciations, familiarizes himself with topics he doesn’t know much about, and sometimes asks the Jeopardy! writers to reword clues. 

A light tells Alex Trebek who will select the next clue

Trebek’s job might seem simple but there are a lot of moving parts. Apart from reading the clues and categories, it’s his responsibility to control the flow of the game. He has to know which contestant gets to select the next clue from the game board. Thanks to a discrete light on the players’ podiums, he always knows who to call on.

Alex Trebek on the set of 'Jeopardy!' Million Dollar Celebrity Invitational Tournament show taping
Alex Trebek on the set of Jeopardy! | Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

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Fans of the show can probably close their eyes and picture a detailed version of the set. There’s Trebek, the game board, and the contestants at podiums with their names in full view of the audience.

Upon closer inspection, some might notice a tiny light in the lower left corner of a contestant’s podium. That would be what’s known as the “podium indicator lights,” according to the official Jeopardy! website. They serve as a “small but very helpful visual clue.”

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Next time Jeopardy! is on, try to spot the podium indicator lights. 

Besides the lights, there is the mysterious but vital red phone sitting on the judges’ table. It’s used to connect the show’s producers to the director. And on commercial breaks, the staff deliberates on a contestants’ answer if need be. 

There’s a lot more to meets the eye when it comes to the classic game show. Trebek and the production staff make it look easy but that’s what comes from decades of experience and TV magic.

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