‘Jeopardy!’: Writers Have ‘Secret’ Jobs on the Show
Jeopardy! is all about the trivia. And who comes up the clues and categories fans see every episode on the quiz board? A team of writers. However, their jobs don’t end once they’ve filled the board with informative and fresh content. No, their jobs continue when host Alex Trebek tapes an episode of the classic game show. With cameras rolling, some writers have “secret” jobs to do. Keep reading to find out what Jeopardy! writers do while the program’s being taped.
‘Jeopardy!’ tapes 46 days a year
Hosting Jeopardy! since 1984, Trebek is currently in his 36th year of leading the show. He and the rest of the Jeopardy! team tape the program 46 days a year. In a single day, five episodes are taped.
Thanks to Trebek’s pre-show routine, we know the TV personality starts taping days off early. He is up at 5:15 am and on his way to the show’s studio in Culver City, Calif., to get himself familiar with the game boards before dishing out trivia to contestants.
One writer keeps score
In a 2019 Vulture interview with Jeopardy! Head Writer Michele Loud, she opened up about the “secret secondary jobs” people on the writing staff have when it comes time to record the show. Her job? Scorekeeper.
“Some of us have secret secondary jobs,” she said. “I’m the backup scorekeeper.”
She continued, saying it’s her job to confirm the scores are accurate.
“I’m always keeping a running tally on a score sheet with paper and pencil to make sure that scores are correct, because the person who runs the score computer sometimes gets an itchy trigger finger or does the wrong thing,” she said.
Aside from keeping score, she and the rest of the people off-camera are always listening to the answers contestants give.
“We’re all, of course, attentively listening to the contestants’ responses. Sometimes they slur responses or you can’t hear what they’re saying clearly,” she said.
A senior researcher works ‘the buzzer-lockout system’
Loud isn’t the only Jeopardy! with a second job. The researchers are tasked with certain responsibilities when the game is being taped too.
“One of the senior researchers enables the buzzer-lockout system, so when Alex is finished reading the last syllable of the last word in a clue, the researcher hits a button and the lights go on on the side of the board, which tells the contestant it’s safe to ring in,” Loud said.
That’s a lot of pressure!
According to the official Jeopardy! website, long ago the game show used to operate where contestants could ring in at any time but that proved to be disruptive to the flow of the game.
There’s a writer sitting off-camera to ‘instantly do research’
While the game show appears simple, it’s anything but. There are a lot of things that have to happen to make the program go smoothly. In the lead up to taping, the writing staff and researchers fact check clues and sometimes the problematic clues have to be tossed when they don’t meet the show’s double-sourcing standard.
But, despite the attention to detail that goes into the clues before taping, things can always during a game. And the people at Jeopardy! have accounted for that.
“One of the other writers sits onstage with a computer so that he can instantly do research if an issue arises,” Loud said.
As for everyone else not near the stage during taping? They keep a close eye on the games.
“The rest of the writers and researchers are in our office and library — they monitor the taping in real time,” she said. “We can all easily communicate with our phones if any issues with answers or pronunciations arise.”
There you have it. Just because the writers have filled the board with categories and clues doesn’t mean their jobs are done.