On This Day: ‘Jeopardy!’ First Airs on Television in 1964

by Jon D. B.

Relive the birth of an “American Institution” as we celebrate the debut of ‘Jeopardy!’ on this day – March 30 – way back in 1964.

Today, game show titan ‘Jeopardy!’ is synonymous with the late, great Alex Trebek. Yet the show had existed for a full two decades before his celebrated tenure began. And at the heart of it all was producing mastermind, Merv Griffin.

“My wife Julann just came up with the idea one day when we were in a plane bringing us back to New York City from Duluth,” News & Record cites of ‘Jeopardy!’s founder. “I was mulling over game show ideas, when she noted that there had not been a successful ‘question and answer’ game on the air since the QUIZ SHOW SCANDALS [of the 1950s with the $64,000 question].”

As we now know, Julann Griffin’s idea would prove an absolute smash. Combined with Merv’s legendary television savvy, the duo would go on to create one of the longest running game show in television history – right alongside giants ‘The Price is Right’ and ‘Wheel of Fortune.’

“Why not do a switch, and give the answers to the contestant and let them come up with the question?” Merv continued of ‘Jeopardy!’. “[Julann] fired a couple of answers to me: ‘5,280’—and the question of course was ‘How many feet in a mile?’. Another was ’79 Wistful Vista’; that was Fibber and Mollie McGee’s address.”

“I loved the idea, went straight to NBC with the idea, and they bought it without even looking at a pilot show,” Griffin recalled. And the rest, as we know it, is history.

‘Jeopardy’ Premieres March 30, 1964 with host Art Fleming

While Trebek wouldn’t host the show until twenty years later in 1984, ‘Jeopardy!’s 1964 debut was a hit. The Griffin’s premise for their game show was so strong, too, that it barely changed then – or now.

57 years ago today, ‘Jeopardy!’ premiered on March 30, 1964 with television personality Art Fleming as host. Hand-picked through auditions by Griffin to host, announcer Don Pardo introduced Fleming for every episode with “and here’s the star of ‘Jeopardy!,’ Art Fleming!”

As such, Art would guide the show through it’s first run until cancellation came in 1975.

‘Jeopardy!’ would never be gone for long, however. Fleming would return to host again from October 2, 1978, to March 2, 1979. He earned two Emmy nominations for his tenure, and is said to have never missed a taping once in two decades.

Alex Trebek Creates an ‘American Institution’

When ‘Jeopardy!’ returned in 1984, it would never be the same again. Sony revived the show, bringing on Alex Trebek as host. It would become Trebek’s life’s work, and earn him a spot in the hearts and homes of millions of Americans every week.

In stark contrast to Fleming, Trebek refused to be introduced as the “star” of ‘Jeopardy!’, instead opting to enter as its “host” every episode – as he felt the contestants were the true stars of the show. This humility, alongside Trebek’s grace, generosity, and kindness, would secure the game show’s place in entertainment history as an “American institution.”

“Over the past 30 years, I’ve been approached many times by publishers and writers to do an autobiography,” Trebek narrated of his final book, ‘Alex Trebek: The Answer Is…”

“But I’ve always turned them down. I’ve had no interest whatsoever,” Trebek continued. “I didn’t think I had anything pertinent to say to the world. And my life was… not particularly exciting. I’m no different from many other people! I’ve never seen myself as anything special. And that’s why if you listen to Johnny Gilbert’s announcement at the opening of ‘Jeopardy!’, I’m introduced as the “host,” rather than the “star.”

Listen to Trebek’s excerpt from the posthumous release of his memoir below, courtesy of producer Simon & Shuster, and celebrate the legacy that is… ‘Jeopardy!’.

Happy Birthday, ‘Jeopardy!’