Who was Art Fleming?
by Felice Prager
If I had been playing Jeopardy! when I typed the title, because I
answered in the form of a question, which is the key to the
uniqueness of the world that made the game of Jeopardy! a popular
household name, I might have gotten some money for the effort. The
clue/answer could have been " He was the first host of Jeopardy!"
and we would be assuming I rang in first.
Long before Alex Trebek took over, Merv Griffin's successful game
show was hosted by Arthur Fleming Frazzin, Though this was not his
career goal, it gave him a place in the history of television game shows.
My memories of Art Fleming included watching Jeopardy! when there
was a school vacation or when I was too sick to go to school but not
sick enough to have to stay in bed all day knocked out by
antibiotics. I watched Jeopardy! as my dad, who worked evenings, and
our housekeeper, Viola, ate lunch with me. Since my mother worked
full time, long before it became more acceptable and fashionable for
women to pursue careers, a woman was hired to help my mom with
housekeeping and to keep an eye on my brother and me after school. I
thought of Viola as family since there were days when I saw more of
her than my own mother, though as an adult I learned that the
feelings weren't mutual. I learned later that, to her, working for
my parents was a job and that was the extent of it. This was an
unsettling reality that I learned as I grew up. At my wedding, to
which Viola, her husband, and her son were invited, I overheard her
whisper to another guest, "I don't know why they invited me? I am
just their maid."
As we sat eating Campbell's Chicken Noodle or Tomato Soup and
grilled cheese sandwiches that my dad made on his cast iron skillet
that had been passed down by his dad, the answers were given, and we
tried to provide the correct "answer in the form of a question.
Without exaggeration, Viola knew the most answers. She was so smart.
I learned other things about Viola when I became an adult. I learned
that she had attended two years of college but never got a degree
because she could not afford it and had to drop out when her son was
born. She was also a voracious reader. These were the early Sixties,
and being the housekeeper for a middle-income family was her fate. I
learned that there was resentment on her part because my mother's
education was the same as hers - two years of college then she got
married and had us. Unlike Vi, my mother had a chance to pursue a
career. The differences were racial. I could never deny or confirm
that. My parents were very generous with her, in my estimation, and
Viola turned nothing down, but there was undeniable resentment.
With Jeopardy!, Art Fleming, who had a radio career and acting
credits, didn't originally want the job. Merv Griffin saw Fleming on
commercials on TV and thought he was "authoritative, yet warm and
interesting" which led him to an audition. According to TV quiz show
history, Fleming's agent had to convince him to "act like a game
show host" at his audition. This ultimately won Fleming the job and
fame. He hosted Jeopardy! from 1964 until 1975 and then again in a
short revival from 1978 until 1979. As the show's host, he won two
Emmy Award nominations. While the host for the show, Fleming never
missed a single taping. He hosted 2,753 daytime episodes and then
113 episodes in its unsuccessful revival. Added to Alex Trebek's
statistics with over 5200 syndicated episodes, Jeopardy! has had
over 8000 episodes to date.
Most people know the Jeopardy! theme song. As a teacher, I used to
humorously, I thought, hum the song when I called on someone who
didn't know an answer. The entire class hummed along with me. What
many people don't know is that Merv Griffin wrote the theme song,
which has an actual title: "Think!" According to Wikipedia, Merv
Griffin estimated the song, which was originally written as a
lullaby for his son, earned him over $70 million in royalties. There
was some controversy when the original theme song was changed in the
revival of the show, but the changes were slight, and people must
have adjusted because the show has always ranked at the top of the
polls for game shows. In fact, TV Guide ranked it #2 among the 50
Greatest Game Shows of All Time. It was also ranked #2 by Game Show
Network's list. It holds the record for the number of Emmy Awards in
the Best Game Show with 11 wins.
Jeopardy! has tried many variations of prizes through its various
runs. Since its original incarnation, the stakes have grown
considerably. For instance, the Jeopardy! round clues were
originally worth $10, $20, $30, $40, and $50. In the current
version, the values are worth $200, $400, $600, $800 and $1000. They
double in Double Jeopardy! For the first six seasons, winnings were
kept by all contestants with a cap at $75,000. That cap was
increased over time. The cap was eliminated in Season 20. Until
Season 20, there was also a rule where a contestant who won five
days in a row would retire undefeated with a guaranteed spot on the
Tournament of Champions. During some seasons, retired champions were
also awarded a car or a truck. At the beginning of the 20th Season,
the show changed the rules so there were no winnings limits and a
champion could continue playing indefinitely. This change allowed
Ken Jennings a remarkable run that set many records including the
greatest number of appearances and the regular season highest dollar
amount won. There are now Tournaments of Champions, Teen Weekss,
Kids Weeks, Celebrity/Charity Weeks, and College Weeks to add a bit
of variation to the day-to-day format.
To commemorate Alex Trebek's 4000th episode, in May 2002, the show
asked fifteen champions to play for a $1 million bonus. This
tournament lasted two weeks and was taped at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
Over the years the set has changed many times as has the method for
ringing in. Before 1985, contestants could ring in at any time after
the clue was revealed. Using the assumption that all the players
knew the answer, the method was changed. In order to give each
contestant a fair chance, at the clue, players had to wait until the
host finished reading the clue and the lights surround the board was
illuminated before ringing in. If a contestant rang in too soon,
they were locked out for a quarter of a second.
Personally, I have always impressed my family with the ability to
get the right questions. My husband has always had to rephrase his
answer in the form of the question. My sons asked me why I never
tried out for the show. The best I could answer was that I would be
too nervous and get everything wrong, although now that the first
test is online, I am tempted. I'm also not sure how fast my hand-eye
coordination would be when it came to clicking the button. These
days, I'd be lucky if I could remember enough trivia to even get a
question correct. At least that's the statement I'm sticking with.
The right questions are stuck in the recesses of my mind.
1. In the Trebek syndicated version of the show, there has never
been a situation when all three contestants finished Double Jeopardy
with $0. This would normally disqualify all contestants from
competing in Final Jeopardy! It happened at least once during the
Fleming daytime version.
2. If no one finishes Final Jeopardy! with a positive total of at
least $1, three new contestants appear on the next show.
3. A three-way tie only occurred once during the Trebek era.
4. Only one contestant in the Trebek era has won a game with only $1.
5. During the 1987 through 1995 production years, there were ten
Seniors Tournaments for contestants over the age of 50. It was discontinued.
6. There are versions of the show in over twenty-five other countries.
7. There have been parodies of the show on Saturday Night Live.
8. In a Cheers episode, trivia buff Cliff Clavin appeared as a
contestant on Jeopardy! He did not win.
9. "Weird Al" Yankovic wrote a parody of the song called "I Lost on Jeopardy."
10. Jeopardy! has been marketed as a video game, an Internet game, a
board game, a classroom version, a DVD, slot machines, and as
Day-to-day calendars sold annually.
11. According to Wikipedia, the theoretical maximum one-day winnings
is $566,400. It was $28,320 from 1964-1975 and $283,200 from
1984-2001. This is based on one player answering all questions
correctly, betting the maximum as the last questions revealed in
each round in Daily Doubles, and betting the maximum in Final Jeopardy!
12. Art Fleming was the first announcer to deliver the then-popular
slogan, "Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should."
More articles by Felice Prager
Write Funny! - http://www.writefunny.com
Felice Prager - http://www.feliceprager.com