'Jeopardy!': A Brief History

Game Show Has Been on TV Since 1964

Jeopardy logo
courtesy Jeopardy! Productions Inc.

"Jeopardy!" has been around in its current format since 1984, with the same host and the same familiar style of game play. But its history goes back to the 1960s -- it premiered in 1964 and was created by the game show king of that era, Merv Griffin. 

"Jeopardy" is consistently one of the highest-rated shows in syndication across the country. Airing every weeknight on local affiliate networks, the show has gained a cult-like following among trivia buffs and game show fans.

The theme song is instantly recognizable and has been used in a wide variety of media from comedy sketches to major motion pictures.

How it All Began

In the 1950s there was growing frustration from the public with quiz shows. Scandals were erupting, and producers were being accused of providing answers to contestants and rigging the results. "Jeopardy!" was an answer to this frustration, attempting to provide a departure from traditional quiz shows by asking contestants to give their answers in the form of a question. The show caught on and enjoyed a successful daytime run from 1964 to 1975.

The original "Jeopardy!" game show was hosted by Art Flemming and aired on NBC. After 11 years on the air, the show was canceled. "Jeopardy!" enjoyed a brief, one-season revival in 1978 and was once again canceled because of poor ratings.

The New Jeopardy

In 1984, CBS picked up the show and transformed it into a prime-time program with a brand new host.

With Alex Trebek at the helm, "Jeopardy!" returned in syndication in 1984. The show has been on the air ever since, airing five times a week on local CBS affiliate stations.

The Game

"Jeopardy!" pits three contestants against one another in every episode. Two of these contestants are new, while the third is the returning champion from the previous game.

Returning champions can play the game for as long as they keep on winning. The first two rounds of the game allow contestants to answer clues and rack up some money, while the final round in a winner-takes-all, one-question battle.

The Jeopardy Round

The first round is called the Jeopardy Round. Six trivia categories are posted on the board, with a column of five clues below each category. The clues are hidden by dollar amounts, which increase in value from top to bottom. The higher the dollar amount, the tougher the clue.

Players begin by choosing a category and a dollar amount. Trebek reads the clue, and the contestants must buzz in with a hand-held buzzer for the opportunity to answer the question. The twist in the game is that the answers must come in the form of a question. For example, if the clue were to read, "This game show is hosted by Alex Trebek," the answer would be, "What is "Jeopardy?" Whoever answers correctly gets the money value of the question added to their pot.

Double Jeopardy

The second round works the same as the Jeopardy Round, but with new categories and slightly harder questions, and the money values are doubled. If any contestant finishes the Double Jeopardy round with no money in their bank, he is disqualified from playing the final round.

The Final Round

The final round consists of a single question. Trebek announces the category, and contestants must then wager some or all of their current earnings. The clue is read, and, as the show's theme song plays in the background, contestants must write their answer to the clue (still in the form of a question) on an electronic board in front of them.

When time is up, the answers are revealed one by one. If a contestant gets the answer correct, the amount wagered is added to his score. If the answer is incorrect, the amount wagered is deducted. The person with the most money at the end of this round is the winner, and returns to play the game again in the next episode.

Tournaments and Theme Weeks

Jeopardy hosts a number of regular tournaments and theme weeks. These include:

Fun Facts

  • "Jeopardy!" airs in various international versions in more than 25 countries.
  • Before 2004, a contestant could win a maximum of five games. After winning a full week's worth of shows, the contestant was retired and guaranteed a seat in the next Tournament of Champions. This rule was eliminated in the show's 21st season.
  • Ken Jennings is the record holder for the longest winning streak. Jennings won a whopping 74 games in 2002, before being defeated in Final Jeopardy by Nancy Zerg. He accumulated $2,520,700 in prize money during those 74 appearances.
  • A spin-off show called "Rock & Roll Jeopardy" aired on VH1 from 1998 to 2001. It was hosted by Jeff Probst, who is now the host of the reality show "Survivor."
  • From 1984 to 1990, contestants' winnings were capped at $75,000. Any money earned over that amount was donated to a charity chosen by the winner. The cap was eventually raised and then eliminated completely.
  • The "Jeopardy!" theme song is called "Think" and was composed by ​Griffin as a lullaby for his son.