The “Jeopardy!” questions may be far from simple, but the show’s strategy for success is precisely that.
Longtime “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” producer Harry Friedman revealed the show’s secret to its longevity. Friedman, who has been behind the wheel of the shows for two decades, lives with the age-old philosophy of, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“Both have extremely solid formats, which at their core haven’t changed since the shows were introduced,” Friedman said in a 2020 interview with PEOPLE. Friedman made headlines for being one of the few game show producers ever to receive a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
As the most accomplished producer of U.S. game shows, he’s made quite a name for himself in the industry. He’s produced more than 6,270 hours of game shows and over 12,000 episodes.
“The ‘Jeopardy!’ format is pretty much the same as it was when the show first went on the air in the daytime in 1964 on the NBC network,” Friedman added. “And ‘Wheel of Fortune’ is also essentially the same as it was when the show was a pilot when I first saw it in 1974. The longevity of the shows has demonstrated that the formats are pretty forgiving.”
Despite unlocking the code to game show success, Friedman says it hasn’t kept them from attempting to reinvent “the Wheel” every so often. They’ve added in shows such as the “Greatest of All Time” tournament on “Jeopardy!,” which featured three “Jeopardy!” all-stars: Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, and James Holzhauer.
“We’ve added a lot of little different things to the shows, especially with Wheel,” Friedman said. “Certain risks and rewards. But our audience has always embraced the changes.”
‘Jeopardy!’ & ‘Wheel’ Bring Together Viewers of All Generations
In addition, Friedman says that the shows have brought together the die-hard fans (mostly older generations) with the younger millennials. For instance, Friedman says that many millennials have been watching both shows “with their grandparents.”
“I think a lot of that is thanks to our growing social media footprint,” he said. “Our ‘Wheel Watchers’ club is very active, and at Jeopardy.com there are all kind of ways to interact with the brand. We have a feature called the J! Effect, where people talk about the show has affected them, whether as a viewer or a contestant.”
In May, after spending two decades at the helm, Friedman plans to retire to spend more time with his family. Even though he looks forward to life after game shows, he’ll miss being able to help loyal viewers continue to have a special bond with the shows.
“The staff on both shows understand that there is a special bond between us and the audience,” he confessed. “They rely on us to deliver good, solid family programming that’s fun, challenging and reliable .. .but never predictable.”