We knew that we were going to see small changes to Jeopardy! under Mike Richards. However, I’m very concerned about the direction the show is headed, if the early part of Season 37 is to be believed.
At the time of this writing, we are seven episodes into Season 37, and there have been two unusual happenstances (at least by recent standards) by the show in Final Jeopardy!.
Firstly, we have last Tuesday’s ruling on Berry Gordy vs. Barry Gordy, where “Berry” and “Barry” are homophonic for 57% of the American population. It’s a ruling where my most charitable interpretation is that the show applied the wrong rule to the situation. It’s the sort of ruling that sets an uncomfortable precedent going forward and will likely lead to the show getting extra viewer mail unnecessarily when a contestant inevitably spells a response “Steven Crane” and “Katherine Hepburn”. (As, after all, “Steven” is a different name from “Stephen” and “Katherine” is a different name from “Katharine”; just ask the U.S. Social Security Administration when they detail baby names.)
Then, the September 22nd Final Jeopardy! references two books about different Asian countries with an identical title, a problem that should have been seen in the writer’s room, and would have been seen had anyone on the show done a cursory Internet search. Not only that, a contestant gave the name of the wrong one of the countries, a mistake which cost ultimately cost that player the game.
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One “gotcha” moment I can understand; mistakes do happen. Two in Final Jeopardy! in seven episodes, though? This feels incomprehensible to me. These actions seem to be consistent with playing to a thought that being persnickety is going to be the order of the day going forward, and that “ooh, sorry, this hinges on a tiny thing that nobody should be expected to know” is going to become the norm. Even though Jeopardy! has had a reputation in the past about “you could be expected to know about every small minute detail, no matter how minute”, it has done a very good job of keeping its canon to things that a viewer with a solid, well-rounded education would be expected to know. That is why Jeopardy! has been as successful as it has since 1984.
Why am I concerned? This is going to make for a significantly worse product if the show continues down this path. This is going to put doubt in the minds of contestants when they’re already in a stressful situation. Stressed and doubting contestants do not make for an entertaining program, as it leads to more stand-and-stare moments and dead air, as the doubt of “If the show told me I was wrong about a topic I thought I knew a lot about, what exactly do I know?” kicks in. (Former contestants have vocalized these exact concerns on the #JeopardyLivePanel podcast when confronted with problematic in-game clues in past seasons.)
Thus, I have to ask you: stop being so persnickety, Mike Richards. Your viewers are counting on you. Your future contestants are counting on you. The ultimate future of the show is counting on you.
Do you agree, fellow Jeopardy! fans? Or am I way off-base here? Make sure to leave a comment!
Contestant photo credit: jeopardy.com
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