J is for JEOPARDY!


For reasons I will explain later, this is my favorite Final JEOPARDY! answer- the category is SISTER CITIES: San Francisco, California is a sister city to this one in Italy.

I started watching the game show JEOPARDY! fairly early on. It started in 1964 as a noontime show on NBC-TV. Art Fleming was the host; you can see some of his 1970s work here. I would stop at the home of my maternal grandmother and great aunt Deana; Deana and I would watch the show while we ate lunch, which grandma Williams usually prepared, and then I would return to school. The show lasted for 11 years, and I probably watched it for the first four regularly, until I went to high school, and again as often as possible once I got to college in 1971.

It is the Fleming version of the show that shows up in the film Airplane 2 (about the only original bit in that movie sequel), and in the “Weird Al” Yankovic video I Lost on Jeopardy.

Then, after a short-lived version in 1978, JEOPARDY! returned in syndicated (non-network) television in 1984 with Alex Trebek as host. I recognized Trebek from a game called High Rollers, which involved answering a couple questions then using these oversized pair of dice.

The other thing that was different from the original game, is that the values of clues had increased tenfold, from $10-$50 in JEOPARDY! (and twice that in Double JEOPARDY!) to $100-$500 in JEOPARDY! (The values doubled in the beginning of Season 19, in the fall of 2002, to $200-$1000 in JEOPARDY!) Not incidentally, in the current game, “the minimum wager on a Daily Double is $5, which was half the smallest clue value on the original version of Jeopardy! that premiered in 1964 with Art Fleming as host.”

I always love the story about the creation of JEOPARDY! After the game show scandals of the 1950s, where certain players were leaked the answers, rigging the results, the late entertainer Merv Griffin was having a meal with his then-wife. He was musing about how he could put together a show in that atmosphere of distrust. She suggested giving the contestants the answers. He said something equivalent to “Are you crazy? That’s been the problem!” She responded, “5280”; he said, “What is the number of feet in a mile?” The ah-ha moment arrived.

Merv Griffin also wrote the Think Music that plays for thirty seconds while the contestants are writing down their Final JEOPARDY! responses.

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Oh, that question at the top: What I loved about it is that, obviously, the JEOPARDY! folks wouldn’t expect you to KNOW San Francisco’s Italian sister city. So there must be some linkage between SF and one city in Italy. And I figured it out. Any guesses?
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One of the things people occasionally ask me when they try out for the game show JEOPARDY! is what sources they should use. Sure, there’s the official JEOPARDY! site. But THE most valuable tool, I think, is the JEOPARDY! archive, specifically the help function.

Some intrepid JEOPARDY! fans have gotten together to archive almost every show in the past 13 years, and have captured some earlier episodes as well. If one can’t watch the show, then reading the answers and questions will help prepare you for playing. There is also information about wagering, a LOT of info I think, other than general knowledge, waging is the most important aspect in the game. The site even describes the episode on the TV show Cheers when postman Cliff Clavin was on JEOPARDY!, had an insurmountable lead and still managed to lose.

Karl Coryat, a two-day champion back in 1996, has some good tips for what to study: “…there are a few things you absolutely must know. These are, in order of importance: State and world capitals; U.S. presidents (order, years of office, and general biographies); state nicknames; and Shakespeare’s plays, including basic plot lines and major characters.” I might have put Presidents first, but I don’t disagree with his general premise.

“Prior to a rule change that went into effect at the beginning of the 20th Season [2003-2004], a champion could win a maximum of 5 games, whereupon he/she would retire and later return for the next Tournament of Champions.” It was the rule change that allowed Ken Jennings to win 74 games in a row. It was great for Jennings, but I’m still not convinced it was great for JEOPARDY! The Tournament that year, instead of having a bunch of 5-time champions, and maybe one or two 4-timers, actually had a 3-day champ, diluting the process.

One variation on JEOPARDY! you may or may not remember was called Rock & Roll Jeopardy. It ran from 1998 to 2001 on VH-1 and was hosted by Jeff Probst, who would later host a reality show called Survivor. I thought it was a lesser program, in large part because, for most of its run, one played for “points” rather than dollars, with the person with the most points getting $5,000.

You can read about my JEOPARDY appearances here; the Boston shows in 1998 were the first non-tournament games ever played outside the Los Angeles-area studio. I only discovered recently that I had the second highest one-game dollar amount in the 1998-1999 season.

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The question: What is Assisi? San Francisco is named for Saint Francis of Assisi.


ABC Wednesday


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