Jeopardy! (1964-1975)

A popular staple of late night comedy shows was always the bit where they give the answer and then the question. Steve Allen did it as The Question Man, and Johnny Carson did the exact same thing as Karnak the Magnificent. (“The answer is…Sis Boom Bah. The question is: Describe the sound of a sheep exploding.”) Under the contract of The Merv Griffin Show, his failed NBC afternoon talk show, Merv was owed a couple of commitments for game shows. He originally tried to assemble a comedy quiz program based on the answer-before-the-question premise but it didn’t come together. At the suggestion of his then-wife, he made it a non-comedy show and defied the notion that daytime TV viewers wanted fluff, not hard questions. In no time at all, Jeopardy! became one of the greatest success stories in the history of television. It debuted in March of 1964 and lasted on NBC until January of 1975, so the third ticket above would have been to one of the last tapings. Eleven years is a hefty run but Griffin was still angry at the time, feeling his “baby” could have run much longer.

A lady named Lin Bolen had taken over in the programming division of the network and she had definite ideas about how to reinvent the stodgy old game show. One was to jettison the “old men” who hosted many of them and bring in “young studs” as hosts. Her theory — and it made sense — was that housewives would rather look at Geoff Edwards and Alex Trebek (who were among her finds) than at Art Fleming and Dennis James. She had other theories as well, and she put them to the test when she developed a new game show called Jackpot! She put her new show in the coveted Jeopardy! time slot, moving that show to a later, less desirable hour. Both shows failed. NBC cancelled Jeopardy!…but under the terms of their contract with Griffin’s company, Merv was owed another year of some show, so he came up with Wheel of Fortune. It debuted the Monday following the last Jeopardy! with one of Bolen’s “young stud” discoveries, Chuck Woolery, as the host. In 1978, after Bolen was no longer at NBC, the network tried bringing Jeopardy! back in a slightly-glitzier format — at Griffin’s insistence, with Art Fleming — but it only lasted five months. Then in 1983, with Wheel of Fortune still doing well on NBC daytime, Griffin launched a syndicated nighttime version. It was a smash so Merv immediately revived Jeopardy!, hired Alex Trebek (one of Lin Bolen’s “young studs,” now considerably older) and sold the two shows as a package. He made a gazillion dollars.