Who was Art Fleming?

by Felice Prager
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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."

Write Funny! - http://www.writefunny.com

Felice Prager - http://www.feliceprager.com

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