40 Years Ago Today: Jeopardy! Gets Canceled, TV History Forever Changed
For most people, January 3 is just another ordinary day. However, the third day of the year is one of the most important in television history--a day whose events continue to shape the landscape of the broadcasting industry today.
On this date in 1975, NBC canceled the original Jeopardy! series. The game show, hosted by former commercial spokesman Art Fleming, premiered nearly 11 years earlier in March 1964. The show was one of NBC's strongest daytime programs; in fact, the show set viewership records for daytime television during its run.
In 1974, though, NBC daytime head Lin Bolen moved the show out of its Noon Eastern/11 a.m. Central slot to an earlier time in an attempt to boost ratings among women. The result was a significant drop in ratings for the show, leading NBC to cancel Merv Griffin's signature answer-and-question quiz show.
The final episode, seen below, ran on January 3, 1975--40 years ago today.
Because NBC was contractually obligated to run Jeopardy! through 1976, Griffin was given the option to present another game show to NBC to fulfill the remaining year on the deal. Griffin went to the drawing board and came up with an idea called Shopper's Bazaar.
That show seems vaguely familiar, doesn't it? NBC sent the idea back to Griffin and told him to refine it. He did, and on January 6, 1975--two days after the original Jeopardy! aired its last episode--Wheel of Fortune premiered on the Peacock. Chuck Woolery (yes, THAT Chuck Woolery), who you saw in the clip above, was the program's original host. Susan Stafford was the original letter-turner.
The clip below is from March 1979.The daytime success of Wheel prompted NBC to order a Jeopardy! revival in 1978. The show featured a number of differences. First, the show was moved from NBC's New York headquarters to the network's Burbank studios. More glaringly, the contestants with the lowest score at the end of the "Jeopardy! and "Double Jeopardy!" rounds were eliminated, leaving one contestant as the champion. The champion would play a new end game called "Super Jeopardy" for a chance to win a progressive pot starting at $5,000." There was one major problem with the changes. NBC made them without notifying Griffin, who was incensed when he learned about them. Griffin was so bitter that he demanded that NBC cancel the show. The network complied. Here's a November 1978 episode of the revival.
Fast forward to 1983. Wheel is a cultural phenomenon thanks to Griffin putting the show, now hosted by Pat Sajak and Vanna White, into syndication. The popularity of the show inspired him to start production on a new Jeopardy! The new series, following the format of the 1964-75 version and with Alex Trebek at the helm, slowly but surely built a following. By the end of 1985, Wheel and Jeopardy! were the number-one and number-two rated shows in syndication--positions they have held consistently since then.
Here's a clip from the current Jeopardy!'s inaugural season.
So, one has to ask: If the original Jeopardy! hadn't been canceled, would there be a Wheel of Fortune today? Would Pat Sajak, Vanna White, and Alex Trebek be the pop culture icons they are today? Would either show be on the air today? Who knows. One thing's for certain, though, and that's television wouldn't be the same without the events that took place 40 years ago this weekend.