Timeless TV Classic          

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.

Jeopardy trivia:

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














Rewind the Fifties and all related Pages copyright 1997 - 2008
Reproduction of content in whole or part is prohibited without permission.