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The king of games lives on

What gameshow has won a Peabody Award, several Daytime Emmys and will soon be inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame?

What is Jeopardy!, Alex?

You got it.  After 34 years, the gameshow with an exclamation mark in its title still gets 23 million viewers every week.  And its host, Alex Trebek, has personally won five Daytime Emmys and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for his role on the show.

Of course, everybody loves Alex Trebek.  What’s not to love?  He’s handsome but not pretty.  He’s intelligent but doesn’t make us feel stupid.  He’s only missed one show in his tenure as part of an April Fool’s Day switch-up with Wheel of Fortune’s Pat Sajak.  And he’s Canadian.

In fact, Trebek only falls behind Dick Clark and Bob Barker in lists of the most popular game show hosts, beating out the handsome Jeff Probst, the charming Chuck Woolery, or even the flirtatious Richard Dawson.  And that’s despite a rather inauspicious moustache that has popped up again and again over the years.

But it’s the game show that has me stumped.  I’ll be the first to admit, Jeopardy! is downright addictive.  It’s fast moving and tests your knowledge.  Most of the time, the people playing are just regular folk who apparently studied encyclopaedias as children.  (For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “encyclopaedias” were like paper versions of Wikipedia except that the information was always accurate.)

Now, on a good day, most of us could answer twenty to fifty percent of the questions.  Of course, we usually parrot the answer or nod as if that’s exactly what we were going to say.  Oddly enough, we don’t feel stupid for the answers we get wrong.  Instead, we are strangely pleased when we get one that those genius players missed.

And unlike Wheel of Fortune, in which pure nitwits can lose and still walk away with twenty thousand dollars, or NBC’s newest gameshow The Wall, which has up to twelve million dollars on the line, Jeopardy! prizes are often comparatively small.

So why is it so popular?  Game shows have seen an ebb and flow over the decades.  In the 60’s, producers were caught fixing the games for popular contestants to improve viewer ratings.  So the U.S. government considered outlawing them altogether.

Then during the 70’s and 80’s, a rash of new shows popped up covering everything from dating to cards to wordplay.  Of course, what people really loved were the growing cash prizes.

Ironically, during that same period Canada too joined the gameshow genre with Definition.  However, its top prizes included a sheep-skin coat, a refrigerator or a trip to “beautiful downtown Toronto.”

But Jeopardy! has stayed true to its course with tough questions and moderate cash prizes.  It’s one of the few times we know that people on television have really earned their money.

And maybe that’s why it’s still so popular.  Well, that and Alex Trebek.