‘Jeopardy!’ Wasn’t Always the Hit Game Show It Is Now

As much of a ratings juggernaut as Jeopardy! currently is, the classic question-and-answer show hasn’t always been the popular program it is today.

It went through several incarnations until it reached the current Alex Trebek-helmed version that’s the ratings success familiar to millions.

Alex Trebek
Alex Trebek | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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Former talk show host Merv Griffin created ‘Jeopardy!’

Griffin explained to the Associated Press in 1963 shortly before the premiere of the game show that it was his wife, Julann, who came up with the concept of the original Jeopardy! series. The show first arrived on US television in 1964.

'Jeopardy!' creator Merv Griffin
‘Jeopardy!’ creator Merv Griffin | Jason Merritt/FilmMagic

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“My wife Julann just came up with the idea one day when we were in a plane bringing us back to New York City from Duluth,” Griffin said. “Why not do a switch, and give the answers to the contestant and let them come up with the question? I loved the idea, went straight to NBC with the idea, and they bought it without even looking at a pilot show.”

“Julann’s idea was a twist on the usual question-answer format of the quiz shows of the `50s,” Griffin wrote in his memoir Merv. “Her idea was to give the contestants the answer and they had to come up with the appropriate question.”

‘Jeopardy!’ had a couple of rough starts as a game show

The game show originally aired in 1964 as a daytime program hosted by Art Fleming and did well until 1974 when it was moved from its successful time slot. It was canceled in 1975.

Original 'Jeopardy!' host Art Fleming
Original ‘Jeopardy!’ host Art Fleming | NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

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It was revived in a new incarnation in 1978 as The All-New Jeopardy! but, by 1979, was also canceled.

Once the syndicated version aired in 1984, Alex Trebek took over hosting duties and has remained as host since then.

‘Jeopardy!’ is Alex Trebek and vice versa

America, simply put, loves Alex Trebek. He’s viewed as Jeopardy! personified. With almost four decades hosting the show under his belt, it’s easy to see why.

Trebek told The Hollywood Reporter in 2014 about setting a Guinness Record that year as the television personality with the “Longest Career as a Game Show Host of the Same Show.”

“You know, it’s funny, when you’re hosting a program like Jeopardy! for this long, you don’t necessarily think about records. . . I’m not standing here saying, ‘Boy, if I could just last another year I could set a record and be in the Guinness Record Book,’ Trebek said. “It doesn’t operate that way. I’m just enjoying what I’m doing, I’m happy to have a job. I like the show, I like the contestants and it pays well.”

Pat Sajak of Wheel of Fortune broke Trebek’s Guinness World Record in 2019.

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