When a show is on as long as “Jeopardy!” has been, it earns a faithful following. Multiple generations have grown up with the game show as a constant in their lives. Alex Trebek, who hosted for the better part of four decades, played a huge role in keeping fans coming back. And he understood full well the impact his show had on those who grew up with it. He once described the phenomenon in detail.
As hard as it is to imagine “Jeopardy!” before Alex Trebek, it’s important to remember that the show originally started in 1964. The first version of it ran until the mid-1970s. And this first iteration captured the first generation of fans, who were excited to see it return in the 1980s.
In a 2007 interview with the Archive of American Television, longtime “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek laid out how audiences grew up with the show as a part of their lives.
“People are familiar with us. They watched us when they were going to school, going to college, on their lunch breaks,” Trebek said. “Because ‘Jeopardy!’ used to air back-to-back with ‘Hollywood Squares‘ on the NBC network, and it aired from 11-12, and a lot of college students would have their noontime breaks at that time. And they’d be watching and enjoying it. So they grew up with it.”
The early time slot made the show perfect for a younger audience. While full-blown adults were at work, college students could get together at lunch and watch together.
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After roughly a 10 year hiatus from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, “Jeopardy!” returned. And when it did, it brought two generations together.
“We brought it back in ’84 and now young people are getting into it again and adults are coming back to it,” Trebek continued. “And we’re just- we’re familiar territory. And that’s fine.”
Besides familiar territory, what made “Jeopardy!” so appealing to all of these audiences? Well, according to Alex Trebek, it had to do with how appropriate it was.
“We are a show that comes into your home every day that doesn’t disturb you. It’s the kind of program you can watch with every member of your family,” he said. “There’s something for kids. There’s something for the grandparents in terms of clues. Everyone can play. You can spend a half-hour together without feeling you have to flee the room to go watch your own show.”
Perhaps most importantly was the idea that “Jeopardy!” wasn’t special in a “big way.” People didn’t carve out time to watch. It’s just a show that you can’t turn away from when you realize it’s on.