Ken Jennings Once Described How Merv Griffin Came Up with the ‘Jeopardy!’ Question-Answer Format

by Keeli Parkey
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Have you ever wondered why “Jeopardy!” is played the way it is? Why do contestants have to give their answers in the form of a question? Well, Ken Jennings once offered some answers.

In March 2014, the”Jeopardy!” champion and guest host penned an article about the history of the famous quiz show for SmithsonianMag.com. The article recounts how a conversation between Merv Griffin, the creator of “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune,” and his spouse led to the quiz show’s unique format.

Jennings starts his article with a look back in 1963. That year, Griffin and his wife, Julann, were on a flight from Michigan to New York City. While in the air she asked him if the information he was reviewing involved “one of the knowledge-based games” that she enjoyed.

Griffin told her that due to the scandal surrounding “The $64,000 Question,” such shows were no longer being produced. According to Jennings’ article, viewers thought producers of such shows believed contestants were receiving the solutions to the questions.

Well, Julann had the solution to that problem. “Well, why don’t you give them the answers? And make people come up with the questions?” she asks her husband, according to Ken Jennings.

At first, Griffin was confused. So, Julann gives him two examples of what she means. The first is, “OK, the answer is ‘5,280,’” Jennings wrote. After running this through his mind, Griffin reportedly responds with: “The question is, ‘How many feet in a mile?'”

Julann then gave her husband another example. This time, according to Ken Jennings’ article, the answer was “79 Wistful Vista.” The answer Griffin gave was “Where did Fibber McGee and Molly live?”

Merv Griffin’s Wife Helped Develop Format for Famous Quiz Show

According to Ken Jennings, what Julann Griffin suggested on that flight from Michigan to New York City helped create “Jeopardy!” as we know it today.

In an interview with Jennings,” Julann reportedly told him that “Jeopardy!” was first titled “What’s the Question?” Even though executives at NBC felt the show was too difficult, they still decided to produce it. It was later renamed “Jeopardy!” and premiered on March 30, 1964, according to Jennings. It went on to be the most popular show in its time slot during the daytime ever. He also reported that the first host of the show was Art Fleming.

Alex Trebek became the host of the show in 1984.

Ken Jennings Expresses Love for ‘Jeopardy!’ in 2014 Article

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched “Jeopardy!” that Ken Jennings has a special place in his heart for the show. It made him rich and famous, after all. However, based on what he wrote in 2014, he loves it for other reasons.

“In short, ‘Jeopardy!’ is an oddity, beamed into your home every night from an eggheaded, alternate-reality America where television never dumbed down. It’s a reassuring sign, I think, that ten million people, according to Nielsen figures, watch the show every week—most of whom, I can say anecdotally, seem to plan their evenings around it,” Jennings wrote. “The show’s timelessness is its secret, Alex Trebek tells me. ‘It’s a quality program, the kind that you never have to apologize for admitting that you watch. It’s a good show, Ken. You know that.'”

Outsider.com