Here’s a television rarity. It’s the unaired 1964 pilot for “Jeopardy!”
It was shot in one of the NBC studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, with Art Fleming as the host and Don Pardo as the announcer. It looks and feels essentially the way it did when my mother appeared on the show three years later, complete with the kooky letters in the design of the “Jeopardy!” logo.
It’s quite different from the modern version of “Jeopardy!” in several ways:
- Contestants could buzz in before the answer was fully read by Fleming (who was introduced as “the star,” not “host,” of “Jeopardy!”).
- The dollar values were much lower, starting at $10 (they’re now twenty times higher).
- The questions formed by the contestants had to be a bit more precise because the answers were more vague.
- There were more commercial breaks, but they probably only lasted one minute each.
- Contestants were seated instead of standing.
- The Daily Double appeared after a contestant gave a correct response, giving them a bonus clue.
- There were no video screens or special effects.
- Contestants had to write their Final Jeopardy answers on slates, from which Fleming read aloud.
- Contestants wrote the amount they were wagering on flip cards with asterisks on them. The asterisks were later put to better use on the set of Mike Douglas’ daytime talk show. I don’t know if “Jeopardy!” creator Merv Griffin got royalties on the punctuation.
Notice how a single camera zooms in on the chosen clues. That’s not easy and did not always go smoothly — though I’m sure the crew got better at everything the longer the show was on the air — but that’s why you shoot practice shows and pilots, to get all the technical aspects fine tuned.
Each time a contestant chose a category and value, Fleming always repeated it, probably for two reasons. One was so he could find it on the layout in front of him, and the other was so the stage hands behind the board — how many were there? — could do the same.
Instead of having Fleming say, “less than a minute remaining” in a round, Pardo’s booming voice made the announcement from the booth. I flinched at home when I heard it, but no one on the set seemed surprised at all.
As consolation prizes, the losing male contestant was told he’d get a color television set, while the female loser would receive “a bundle of prizes.” I’m guessing nobody bothered to make up a script for what those might be. And there was no mention of the “Jeopardy!” home game, which wouldn’t have existed yet. I wonder in which season that became a standard thanks-for-playing reward. Nor did any of the contestants get a complete set of Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia, as my mother did in 1967 upon being eliminated after four days on the show. You can read more about here experience here.
If you’re going to watch this, do it soon, as the video will disappear from YouTube after Wednesday (4/6/22).