‘Jeopardy!’: The Red Phone Audiences Don’t See and Why It’s Vital to the Show

Jeopardy! is a mainstay on TV and has been for decades. Featuring the game board, host Alex Trebek behind a lectern, and contestants standing at their respective podiums, audiences have become very familiar with the program’s set over the years. But like any game show, there are certain key aspects to production viewers don’t see. Keep reading to find out the purpose of the red phone and why it’s necessary to make Jeopardy! run smoothly.

‘Jeopardy!’ is filmed 46 days a year

'Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time'
Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time | Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images

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Currently on Jeopardy! Season 36, the production team (and Trebek) have had years of experience when it comes to taping the show. According to the official Jeopardy! website, taping happens 46 days a year. Five episodes are shot in a single day. When taping happens, Trebek shows up at the show’s studio in Culver City, Calif., around 6 am to prep. 

Fact-checking happens during commercial breaks

While the game of Jeopardy! appears to be pretty simple as far as TV shows are concerned, there are a lot of moving parts to the program. When a game is being taped, there’s a live studio audience watching. Plus, there’s a production team as well as writers aka the ones responsible for coming up with categories and clues and researchers who are standing by to answer questions 

According to what Jeopardy! head writer Michele Loud told Vulture in 2019, a lot is going on outside of what’s seen on-camera. She says there’s a writer who “sits onstage with a computer so that he can instantly do research if an issue arises.” 

As for the rest of the writing staff and researchers, they can be found in the office and library when games are being taped. “They monitor the taping in real time,” Loud said. “We can all easily communicate with our phones if any issues with answers or pronunciations arise.”

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

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But what also comes in handy are commercial breaks, which Loud refers to as “a real blessing.” She explained that while commercials may only last a few minutes to audiences watching at home, in reality, those breaks from the game could be longer. 

“Through the magic of television it can look like we make decisions very quickly, even if we have to stop for more time than we’d like,” she said. “We just want to do what’s right factually and what’s fair. We’re not trying to advantage or disadvantage anybody, because we realize any score change could disadvantage two people while it advantages one person.”

Red phone gives producers ‘a beeline to the director’s booth’

To keep the taping of the games as close to schedule as possible, it makes sense there’d be an easy way for the production team to talk to each other. This is where the red phone at the judges’ table comes in. According to the official Jeopardy! website, the red phone on the game show’s set has a very specific purpose. 

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“Every so often the game is even paused for the judges to confer with the research team, who they can quickly access by phone,” the website says. “The red phone is used by the head producers as a beeline to the director’s booth once a gameplay verdict has been reached.”

The phone lines goes from the judges’ table at the stage to the control room to make it easier when questions arise about a clue or category. Next time Jeopardy! is on and it cuts to a commercial break, think about what happens behind the scenes and know the red phone may have been put to use.

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