Every night at 7, “Jeopardy!” airs on KABC in Los Angeles and with it comes a sincere hope that the episode will have a movie category. In fact, it seems to be the only reason nowadays that I watch it closely. However, going through a new first for “Jeopardy!”, its own DVD, I realize once again that the power of this revered game show comes through its attraction in not only watching people pick through their brains for forgotten bits of knowledge and winning or losing, but also new topics we may find of some interest.
With Alex Trebek’s incarnation on the air for 21 years, each season in its own set is a waste because the games eventually wear out. What excitement could there be with the same Ken Jennings episodes played over and over? It’s why only his 75th episode—which led to a huge gasp from the audience when he lost—is on here. The premiere episode from 1984 is also here, showing the “Jeopardy!” of another decade as one rule was definitely in play, that of anyone being allowed to buzz in when they knew the answer, even as Trebek was reading the question.
The obvious ploy in including three “Ultimate Tournament episodes” is Jennings, but these episodes don’t contain much excitement. Contestant Brad Rutter simply gains an iron-clad hold on the buzzer and does what Jennings did in all those games. Impressive, but hardly a reason to have them, at least not for this release. And in fact, the lost opportunities show up in extra features which prove the worth of this release. Not going to Culver City, California any time soon? Grab this DVD.
First, Alex Trebek gamely hosts almost all the separate documentaries and naturally, participates in the interviews. It’s all about the past, present, and contestants of “Jeopardy!” here. Merv Griffin knows how to tell a good story in “21 Years of Questions & Answers” when he discusses the genesis of the show, crediting it to his wife while they were on a plane. The game show scandals of the ‘50s had done enough to scar the format and were iffy programming at that time, but giving the answers and having the contestants answer in the form of question was a novel idea. Enter Art Fleming and of course Merv Griffin’s famous theme song, which also serves as the music for Final Jeopardy. Trebek arrived in 1984, but, balking at the salary afforded him as host, also took on a producer position for three years. The detail is impeccable, and if watched by once-in-a-while viewers of “Jeopardy!”, this may turn them into full-time viewers, faithful every evening
Plus, it gets much better. “Jeopardy! Behind the Answers” is rightfully introduced by Trebek as being the first time cameras have been allowed into the secret crevices of what makes “Jeopardy!” work every evening. This includes the extensive library of books which are referred to by writers and researchers quite often, and some moments with Trebek sitting at the head of the writer’s table, looking over the clues that have been submitted for his approval. As told by one writer, he never rejects any questions presented, and when he does question some, it’s for other reasons.
Where the episode portion of “Jeopardy!: An Inside Look” goes wrong is right here, in “What Does It Take to Get a Clue?” Having the premiere and Jennings final episode were fine, but interviewed here are Frank Spangenberg, and Eddie Timanus, two unique contestants in the show’s history. Spangenberg was the first player to reach over $100,000 in a span of the five-game limit at the time. Some of that was sheared off for charity, due to the $75,000 cap. Eddie Timanus was the first blind contestant on Jeopardy!, with special accommodations made for him, including a Braille card handed to him which contained the categories that would be featured for whichever round they were on, as well as a keyboard for him to type in his “Final Jeopardy” answer. There’s some lack of logic here as to why they’re not included.
Then there’s another first for Jeopardy! besides the DVD; five camera angles in which viewers can watch selected minutes from the third Ultimate Tournament of Champions episode and even though only four are featured, one of them moves from behind Alex’s podium to in front of the contestants’ area. This and everything else featured, gives Jeopardy! even more respectability. There are no secrets to harbor in how the game is made and it’s worth it just for that.