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'Jeopardy!’s Got Game

As this TV season comes to a close, CBS Television Distribution’s Jeopardy! has been quietly creeping up on CTD’s long-standing game leader, Wheel of Fortune.

While Jeopardy! has yet to tie Wheel in household ratings this season—that hasn’t happened since May 2005, when Jeopardy! aired its “Ultimate Tournament of Champions” and crowned Brad Rutter the winner—it’s come close several times.

In the week ended May 11, Jeopardy! came within one-tenth of a ratings point of Wheel, scoring a 6.3 to Wheel’s 6.4. Jeopardy! had been in the final weeks of its “Battle of the Decades” tournament, which Rutter also won (taking home $1 million) on May 16. Ratings for that week of shows will be released this week.

Jeopardy! also has had other factors working in its favor this season. In March, Arthur Chu became a sensation by jumping all over the board and keeping his opponents offguard. Chu eventually won 11 straight games and nearly $300,000.

Julia Collins, with 12 wins under he belt, recently became the winningest woman in the show’s history. At press time last week, she had won $245,610 and was still playing.

“You can’t really plan on contestants breaking out,” says Harry Friedman, executive producer of both Wheel and Jeopardy!

“When Ken Jennings went on his 74-game streak 10 years ago, social media wasn’t even in the lexicon,” Friedman says. “Now, thanks to social media, we are really picking up the pace in terms of generating buzz. Whether people agree or disagree with our contestant selections or whether they like or dislike a particular strategy, people are talking about the show and watching it.”

All of that has made a difference for Jeopardy! this season, the show’s 30th. Last year at this time, Jeopardy! was averaging a 5.8 in households season-to-date, compared to Wheel’s 6.3, Family Feud’s 4.5 and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’s 2.4.

Both Wheel and Jeopardy! are produced by Sony Pictures Television. Next season, a sports-only version of Jeopardy!, hosted by sportscaster Dan Patrick, will premiere on Sony’s streaming video service, Crackle.

Harvey Brings Women to Feud

While Wheel and Jeopardy! battle it out for household dominance, Debmar-Mercury’s Family Feud is beating both shows in the key female demographics of women 18-49 and women 25-54, and it’s nipping at Jeopardy!’s heels among young women 18-34.

Family Feud is a game show that plays like a comedy, and comedies play younger than game shows,” says Ira Bernstein, copresident of Debmar-Mercury. Family Feud also airs in access time periods in nearly 80% of its markets, time periods in which more people are available to watch.

Feud, produced by FremantleMedia North America, has been hosted by Steve Harvey since September 2010, and it has been steadily rising since Harvey’s arrival. Year-to-year, Family Feud has gained 9% to a 5.2 in households season-to-date, according to Nielsen, while Wheel is flat at a 7.0 and Jeopardy! is up 3% to a 5.2.

Meanwhile, the fourth show in the genre, Disney-ABC’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, is struggling to keep up. At a 2.2, Millionaire is the only game to be down year-toyear, losing 8% this year compared to last. This fall, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Terry Crews will replace Cedric the Entertainer as host.