‘Jeopardy!’: What Happens to ‘Problematic’ Clues, According to a Head Writer on the Game Show

Jeopardy! is all about the trivia. But for a game show that’s been on for decades, how does Alex Trebek keep dishing out interesting and timely trivia to contestants? Jeopardy! has a team of writers who come up with the clues on the board. So, what happens when some clues are trickier than others? Keep reading to find out what a head writer on the program says can sometimes happen to “problematic” clues. 

‘Jeopardy!’ writers craft more than 14,000 clues each season

Alex Trebek during the 'Jeopardy!' Season 28 premiere
Alex Trebek during the Jeopardy! Season 28 premiere | Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

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Thousands and thousands of clues have been read by Trebek on Jeopardy! to eager contestants hoping to win and viewers watching at homes. But those clues have to come from somewhere. Enter the writers at Jeopardy! who are responsible for delivering 230 or 14,030 clues in any given season, according to the game show’s official Jeopardy! website. That’s a lot of clues. 

In 2015, Jeopardy! head writer Billy Wisse opened up about the process of writing trivia on the show’s Jeopardy! website. He shared on an average day “a Jeopardy! writer should typically be able to come up with two to three categories (14 to 21 clues).”

He also said that the total number may fluctuate depending on whether or not the show’s being taped or games are being reviewed.  

‘A great fact has to go away’ when it can’t be sourced, head writer says

There’s a lot of work involved in getting a clue from a Jeopardy! writer’s head to the quiz board. And there are roadblocks along the way. 

During a 2019 interview with Vulture, Jeopardy! head writer Michele Loud provided some insight into developing clues for the show. She explained that when a clue can’t be accounted for it has to go away. 

“Sometimes you find a great fact and you simply can’t source it,” Loud said.  

Alex Trebek attends 'Jeopardy!' and IBM Man V. Machine press conference
Alex Trebek attends Jeopardy! press conference | Ben Hider/Getty Images

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She continued, saying it’s regular practice for writers to find two sources that back up the fact in each clue. 

“We have a standard of double sourcing, so we have two independent sources for each fact in the clue,” Loud said. 

So, what happens if a writer can’t find two sources for a particular clue? It’s got to go. 

“If you just can’t find it, then unfortunately a great fact has to go away,” she said. “Sometimes things are too good to be true. You have to be skeptical of things.” 

How ‘Jeopardy’ writers get inspiration for clues

Those who write the clues for Jeopardy! have to constantly churn out clues for new episodes of the show. While some writers might find inspiration by listening to a song on the radio or reading a book, Wisse relies on a specific strategy to develop clues. He shared them on the Jeopardy! website. 

“For me, there are two basic ways,” Wisse said of brainstorming content for the game board. Using the category Universal Pictures as an example, the head writer explained where he starts. 

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“You either come up with a cute title, like Universal Pictures, and try to find something to fit that category; or you say, ‘I haven’t written Art in a while, I’ll see if I can think of a new angle,” Wisse said. ”For me, it either comes from the title or the subject.”

There you have it. Clues on Jeopardy! Come from a team of writers who work behind the scenes to come up with content for the show. And when they find an interesting fact but can’t source it properly, it doesn’t make the board.