What Is Categorically Just As Dynamic at 30?

CBS Television Distribution's Jeopardy! has been on the air since 1984, but a winning contestant can still grab top headlines today.

In March, Arthur Chu won for 12 straight days, ultimately taking home $297,200 to become the player who lasted the third-longest in the game’s history, behind only Ken Jennings with 74 consecutive wins and Dave Madden with 19.

Despite its advanced TV age, Jeopardy! remains an iconic media force. Chu garnered tons of media attention—with everyone from Slate, NPR, Good Morning America and Live With Kelly and Michael doing interviews and stories on him—for his unorthodox game play, jumping all over the board hunting for Daily Doubles and big money. While some argued that Jeopardy! is a game that’s meant to be won by any method possible, others said Chu’s style was unsportsmanlike. After all, Jennings won his 74 days of games by making orderly progress through the categories’ columns.

“Chu was all business,” says Harry Friedman, who has executive produced the Sony Television Picturesproduced game show since 1999. “He employed his own strategy, but ultimately if the players don’t know the correct response to the clue, it doesn’t matter.”

“He was feisty and he had an attitude,” show host Alex Trebek says of Chu. “He said, ‘I’m here to compete and I’m here to win.’ If you are in a competition, that’s a good attitude to have.”

Friedman and Trebek know from strategy, having seen a combined 45 years of Jeopardy! players come and go. Friedman is credited with keeping the 30-year-old series fresh and new, making such important changes over the years as doubling the questions’ values and adding video clues via The Clue Crew in 2001, removing the five-game limit in 2003 and, together with the other show Friedman executive produces, CTD’s Wheel of Fortune, becoming the first syndicated show to air in high-definition in 2006.

“The show is ever-changing, even though the format remains the same,” says Friedman. “We’re constantly broadening our realm and the world of our categories. We seem to be attracting a lot more diversity in our contestant pool—people from different races, cultures and occupations, people from big cities and small towns. That really is a credit to the online testing that we implemented in 2006.”

Best of the Best

To celebrate its 30th season, Jeopardy! is hosting three weeks of “Decades” tournaments, one week each of fan favorites and big winners from the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s. In terms of scheduling, “2000s Week” airs this week (March 31-April 4) and features Jennings, Tournament of Champions winner Colby Burnett and single-day winnings leader Roger Craig.

Each tourney week features 15 contestants who are whittled down to five winners. Those final 15 will play quarterfinals, semifinals and a two-day final “Battle of the Decades Tournament” airing May 5-16.

“We might end up answering the question, ‘Who was the greatest Jeopardy! player of all time?’” says Friedman. While he no longer has the opportunity to win a “best-ever Jeopardy! player” title, one of the show’s biggest fans is CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves, who says he records the show and watches it almost every day. During Chu’s run, Moonves was like any fan who was annoyed when the show dinged Chu for not pronouncing the name of actress Frances McDormand correctly. “They took away a Daily Double,” protests Moonves. “That was a $5,000 swing!”

In pure Moonves style, he doesn’t hold back when praising the program: “I think it’s the greatest game show in the history of the world.”

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for more than 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for The Global Entertainment Marketing Academy of Arts & Sciences (G.E.M.A.). She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997 - September 2002.