LOS ANGELES - If you’re among the loyal fans who play along with Jeopardy! every night, you’ve probably heard Alex Trebek tell you that the show is celebrating its 35th year on air. While age is just a number, the classic game show is actually much older (55, to be exact).
Most people probably don’t realize Jeopardy! was actually canceled twice before eventually reemerging as the classic game show you know and love today. Yes, there was indeed a Jeopardy! before Alex Trebek.
The early days of Jeopardy!
Jeopardy! was originally created in 1964 by media mogul Merv Griffin, who was also responsible for the show’s iconic theme song. Its first host was Art Fleming, an actor who had never hosted a game show before.
It premiered on NBC on March 30, 1964, airing as part of the network’s daytime lineup. In its first run, Jeopardy! lasted more than 10 years.
After that, there was a short revival when The All New Jeopardy! aired in 1978, still hosted by Fleming, but poor ratings led to a second cancelation after less than a year.
The question: What happened next? Answer: Who is Alex Trebek?
In 1984, Jeopardy! returned in syndication with Trebek as the new host, and he has been at the helm of nearly 8,000 episodes over the last 35 years. Before Jeopardy!, Trebek’s resume included seven years as host of the Canadian game show Reach for the Top, and host of The Wizard of Odds, which aired on NBC. Before game shows, Trebek, who is originally from Ontario, Canada, was a newscaster for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company).
Jeopardy! holds the Guinness World Records title for most Emmy Awards won by a TV game show, currently 34. Trebek also holds the Guinness World Records title for the most game show episodes hosted by the same presenter.
The voice behind the iconic intro, “This… is… Jeopardy!” is the legendary Johnny Gilbert, who has been the show’s announcer since its revival in 1984. Gilbert holds the Guinness World Records title for longest career as a game show announcer for the same show.
The show’s producer, Harry Friedman, holds the Guinness World Records title for the most game show episodes produced. That total, according to Jeopardy!'s website, is 12,075 episodes and counting.
A cultural phenomenon
Since its return, the extremely popular “smart” quiz show has remained one of the highest-rated syndicated programs on television. It has become a staple in pop culture, boasting a weekly audience of 23 million viewers. It has influenced parodies on Saturday Night Live and made headlines when the I.B.M. computer Watson appeared as a contestant in 2011 and beat former Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings, who was known for his 74-game winning streak.
Over the years, former champions, teachers, college and high school students have all had their turn competing in the game of answers and questions. Since 1984, contestants have won more than $100 million in prize money on Jeopardy!.
How to play
On “Jeopardy!,” three contestants go head-to-head, testing their knowledge of subjects from literature, to the arts, science, history, and pop culture. Each episode consists of three rounds: Single Jeopardy!, Double Jeopardy!, and Final Jeopardy!.
Single Jeopardy! starts out with six categories, each with a column of five “clues” that come in the form of an answer. The first contestant to ring in and successfully give a response in the form of a question wins the dollar amount assigned to the “clue.”
Double Jeopardy! features new categories and “clues” doubled in their value. Final Jeopardy! consists of one “clue” that contestants wager their cash winnings over, and they have 30 seconds to write a response.
2019: Trebek diagnosed with cancer
The 55th anniversary of the show’s debut comes just weeks after the news that Trebek, 78, is battling cancer. On March 6, he revealed in a video on the show’s YouTube page that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. In the video, Trebek said he intends to fight the disease and win, and he will keep working.
“Truth told, I have to! Because under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy! for three more years!” Trebek joked. “So help me. Keep the faith and we’ll win. We’ll get it done."
Since it was posted, the video of his announcement has been viewed over 4.9 million times on YouTube.