‘Cultural icons’ for $1,000, please, Alex …

May 13, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Airing in more than 30 countries and outlasting 59 syndicated game shows as well as a popular “Saturday Night Live” spoof, King World Productions’ “Jeopardy!” will celebrate its 4,000th episode Wednesday.
For station managers, distribution executives and producers, the future of the series echoes its format-the answers are already given.
“It’s simply one of the great television classics of all time,” said Roger King, president of CBS Enterprises and King World. “When you look at all the other game shows that have come and gone, it’s easy to think the show will go on forever because it’s a classic format topped with a host who not only is professional, bright and charming but has become part of the show.”
Created by Merv Griffin in 1964 and earning 19 daytime Emmys since debuting in syndication in 1984, “Jeopardy!” ranks as the second-highest-rated series in syndication, behind only fellow King World series “Wheel of Fortune.” Bringing the series into homes are host Alex Trebek, executive producer Harry Friedman and producers Lisa Finneran, Rocky Schmidt and Gary Johnson. The show is produced by Columbia TriStar Television.
“It’s simply become a cultural icon,” said Steve Mosko, president of Columbia TriStar Domestic Television. “Harry Friedman has always been able to find ways to tweak the show while finding ways to stay true to the format. Roger has made sure we’re on great stations in great time periods, and that’s why `Jeopardy!’s’ ratings are higher than most network shows.”
The series this season has earned an 8.1 rating nationally in syndication, beating 92 percent of prime- time network shows. This season, the strip introduced “Clue Crew” members as a way to incorporate new answer presentations through roving correspondents. The series has also beefed up celebrity clues along with cross-promotional categories with companies ranging from the Discovery Channel to Animal Planet to Cliff’s Notes to The New York Times.
That tinkering has kept Mr. Friedman continually on his toes meeting the needs of both contestants and television audiences. “I’ve learned that the realm of knowledge that people have goes way beyond academics,” he said. “In fact, it’s so influenced by trends, the Internet and world events, sports, music, that we dare ourselves to make our questions reflect that spectrum.”
He recalls the series adapting to include blind contestant Eddie Timanus, the first time a player with that handicap had participated. Mr. Timanus accepted an invitation to return to the series for the “Jeopardy! Million Dollar Masters” tournament in celebration of the milestone at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Fifteen of the most memorable “Jeopardy!” contestants in the show’s 18-year syndication history were selected to compete in the first-ever tournament to feature a $1 million cash prize. The 4,000th episode, airing nationally on Wednesday, will feature highlights from the show’s 18-year reign at the top of the quiz show ratings.
Ticket requests for the 24,000 seats at Radio City Music Hall topped 600,000 after the show announced it would tape in New York City for the occasion. According to Mr. Trebek, the recent trip down memory lane was both flattering and humbling.
“The memories that it has brought back have truly been amazing,” he said. “I sincerely hope to keep doing this show as long as they want me to.”