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Five reasons I prefer classic Jeopardy - VIDEO

by Allison Waldman, posted Aug 21st 2008 10:02AM
Jeopardy 1964When I read AOL's Top 20 Best Game Shows of All Time, I pretty much agreed with all the choices. I might have moved Password up a bit, and dropped Who Wants to Be A Millionaire to a lower slot, but the one selection that really made me glower was The Price Is Right as number one.

No, no, not to me. For me, the only choice for numero uno is Jeopardy. It's not a game of chance or luck or random spins of a wheel. It's all about brains and thinking on your feet. And maybe having really fast thumbs. Merv Grifffin's creation remains the best gameshow ever in my book.

As I was thinking about Jeopardy, I realized that for me, the best Jeopardy is not today's Alex Trebek version. I mean, it's great -- don't misunderstand me. It's the one I still prefer to watch today, but my favorite Jeopardy remains the pre-syndication edition, the one that played on NBC daytime from 1964-1975. No, I'm not nuts. I have five very good reasons why I prefer the original, classic Jeopardy.

1) Art Fleming
There was something very matter of fact about game show host Art Fleming. He was authoritative and positive, but you never got the feeling that he believed he was smarter than the contestants or that he'd know the answers if they weren't written on the card in front of him. Trebek has a tendency to get too cute and punny (not funny) with the responses. Maybe it's the writers, maybe not, but it comes off as unctuous. Art Fleming was more of a straight shooter, and his enthusiasm for the game was palpable. He was the Johnny Carson of Jeopardy, which means Trebek is Leno.

2) New York
Like a lot of classic TV, Jeopardy originated as a New York production. It was filmed in a studio at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the same building -- the RCA Building then -- that Saturday Night Live calls home. But more than the building, a New York based show has an attitude. It always has; like 30 Rock. Jeopardy had it in the NBC years. The current edition is very much a Hollywood production. Nothing wrong with that, but it's lost the flavor of NYC.

3) Money
Yes, yes, yes. Today's Jeopardy is a much richer show. A contestant can make a fortune -- ask Ken Jennings! However, in the classic version of Jeopardy, even if you came in second or third, you got to keep your winnings. The money you made you got to keep. Not so now. No, now there are prizes. Forget that, I want the cash.

4) Low tech vs. high tech
There was something very down-to-earth and quaint about classic Jeopardy. Real hands built that huge board with the cardboard squares. The clues and the categories looked like they were stenciled with Magic Markers! The Jeopardy of today reflects the trend for glitzy lights and electronic music, the whole Millionaire phenomenon that altered the look of just about every game show on TV.

5) Announcer Don Pardo
He was the voice of Saturday Night Live after becoming a legend as the voice of Jeopardy. Actually, Don was also the announcer for The Price Is Right from 1956 -63. His booming baritone remains a vivid voice in my memory. He's as identified with classic Jeopardy as Art Fleming. The two of them added color and vigor to the gameshow.

Here's a clip of Art Fleming from Jeopardy in its early days -- its 2,000 episode while it was still a fixture in the NBC daytime lineup. (Those words are oxymoronic in the current Jeff Zucker-world of mostly all-Today, all the time on NBC.)

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Mark "The Hobo" Watson

ABC Studios had done some brainpower in the late 1990s.

Jeopardy! rip-off Win Ben Stein's Money was one of the best big-money game/quiz shows of all time, having honored with more than nine Daytime Emmy nominations
including Best Game Show and Best Game Show Host
(author Ben Stein and a pre-Man Show/pre-Jimmy Kimmel
Live and pre-Set for Life Jimmy Kimmel) and over 700-plus editions to the series' credit. The object of the game was to get three contestants to win the total daily grand prize of more than $5,000 by answering simple trivia questions correctly.

Great television game show format. A pair of great emcees. I also enjoyed the U.K. and Australian versions of the satirical quiz format with H.G. Nelson, Rampaging
Roy Slaven and the late Jeremy Beadle. Look up WBSM
online at http://www.myspace.com.

August 30 2008 at 7:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One of my great teenage memories was going from Birmingham to New York and getting to sit in the Jeopardy audience to watch the game live. Art Fleming was such a gentleman. He made everyone, both in the studio and at home, feel genuinely welcomed. The studio was quite small, which is one reason that they cautioned the audience not to say the "questions to the answers" aloud. I also prefer the old format to the new one.

August 23 2008 at 3:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"The Jeopardy of today reflects the trend for glitzy lights and electronic music, the whole Millionaire phenomenon that altered the look of just about every game show on TV."

Wha...? Since 1984, the electronics and glitz have been relatively consistent. I'm guessing you didn't watch it very much during the 80s and 90s? I did, religiously :)


In 1992, it was all-electronic board, and the podiums weren't terribly different from today, either:


Already in 1992, Final Jeopardy had that darkened-and-intense feel that Millionaire (which premiered in the UK in 1998) adopted later.

The only thing that Millionaire may have changed is the question values and the rules about returning champions. Frank Spangenberg (the Police Officer from New York) might have been the all-time champion if it had not been for the 5-and-out rule in the 80s-90s.

August 22 2008 at 5:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

check out www.viewmy.tv - over 2000 + free tv channels, really good

August 22 2008 at 12:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Gimme a break, there's no "New York Flavour" attached to game shows which film there. If you take a producer a host and a writer they'll all be drawing from whatever their background is regardless of where they're from.

August 22 2008 at 12:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Argus's comment

Wow, even I thought that my post came off way too negative....

August 22 2008 at 12:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Actually, I'd disagree with that. Game shows taped/shot in NY always tended to be a bit more lively, a bit more urgent. I suppose that's a reflection of the differences in lifestyle between NYC and Southern CA.

I was going to point out, tho, that Millionaire is shot in NYC, but it's the exception that proves the rule (although Regis was practically a living embodiment of NY Attitude during the first few limited runs of WWTBAM).

August 22 2008 at 12:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"The Jeopardy of today reflects the trend for glitzy lights and electronic music, the whole Millionaire phenomenon that altered the look of just about every game show on TV. "

I'm not sure I follow the logic here. The current version of Jeopardy debuted in the early 1980s, when electronic music was still considered reasonably cutting-edge. The original Trebeck set featured lots of flashing neon and, IIRC, some strobes. So if anything, "Jeopardy" inspired Millionaire, et al, not the other way around.

The set was toned down drastically in 1997, exchanging the electronica, neon, and hard plastic podiums for an orchestral arrangement of the theme, woodgrain EVERYWHERE on the set, and a generally more subdued, sophisticated feel. The 1997 set eventually evolved into the set currently in use, and the only real lighting 'effect' comes during Final Jeopardy's 30 second answer period.

August 21 2008 at 1:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm such a geek I even liked (and remember!) the little theme song that played as the curtain opened to reveal the Jeopardy! board.

August 21 2008 at 12:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Regarding that clip, did the show actually use the song clip from the Overture from Tommy by The Who, or was that added in later by whoever set up the clip online? It seems like it was an odd choice of music, though the timing works.

August 21 2008 at 12:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to JT's comment

Yes, they used the "Tommy" clip on the actual episode. They didn't use it all the time, though -- just because it was a special episode.

September 12 2008 at 3:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The reason that they went with prizes a while ago, and a set amount of money for the past several years ($3K and $1K for second and third respectively), is to keep Final Jeopardy! competitive. Otherwise you don't have the contestants trying to make a game out of it if it is a category they aren't familiar with it.

Unfortunately I was born late enough that I can't remember the original version. I don't know if I ever even saw one of the original shows as I would have been 1 1/2 at the oldest when the show ended. I have watched as much of the Trebek version as I could though.

August 21 2008 at 11:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Davin Peterson

On Wheel of Fortune they let the runners up keep the money, so I don't understand why Jeopardy! doesn't do it.

August 21 2008 at 11:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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