Ken Jennings


July 19, 2006

Dear Jeopardy!,

Hey, I hope you remember me. It’s been a while since we talked. We were a bit of an item a couple years back, in all the papers, but I think we both know that was just a summer thing. The last time we saw each other…well, the magic just wasn’t there. That’s why I don’t mind when I see you with a new special someone. Or two. Nearly every night! … I’m sorry, is this sounding passive-aggressive? I don’t mean to badger you. I remember that, when we were together, it seems like all I ever did was nag you with questions.

Let me start again. What I really wanted to talk to you about was your image. You’ve got a good twenty years on you now, and that’s Trebek-era alone. Times have changed since your debut, but when I watch you, it’s the same-old same-old: the same format, the same patter, the same fonts, the same everything as when I first crushed out on you in fourth grade. You’re like the Dorian Gray of syndication. You seem to think “change” means replacing a blue polyethylene backdrop with a slightly different shade of blue polyethylene backdrop every presidential election or so. Would you mind a few suggestions on how you might really freshen up your act a bit?

First up, the categories. Maybe when Art Fleming was alive, America just couldn’t get enough clues about “Botany” and “Ballet” and “The Renaissance,” but come on. Does every freaking category have to be some effete left-coast crap nobody’s heard of, like “Opera,” or, um, “U.S. History” or whatever? I mean, wake me up when you come up with something that middle America actually cares about. I think it would rule if, just one time, Alex had to read off a board like:

  • PlayStation
  • The Arby’s 5-for-$5.95 Value Menu
  • Reality TV
  • Men’s Magazines
  • Skanks from Reality TV Who Got Naked in Men’s Magazines
  • Potpourri

Second, the “Clue Crew.” See, this is what I’m talking about. You want to hip up the show, and Trebek’s not getting any younger, so why not have five attractive young people reading some of the clues instead? I’ll tell you why not: because they look like they beamed in from some 1970s PBS show. The van from Big Blue Marble got frozen in a glacier and suddenly here are these five wholesome, now-getting-creepily-old “youngsters” in 2006, driving around in a van solving mysteries and yammering on about Fort Sumter or the canals of freaking Venice. You know what would be awesome? Suddenly the Clue Crew is reporting from some dark forest. The “Brain Bus” or whatever ran out of gas and they’re looking wan and emaciated. Then, one show, one of them disappears (I’m thinking Jon, but we should discuss) and the other four are looking a little better-fed. The clues they read are now like, “This rugged, isolated forest stretches for miles somewhere in the eastern United States, with little game or fresh water.” And then she looks at the camera and adds, “No really! We don’t know where we are! Alex, for the love of God, send help!” Then the tape cuts out. It’s Blair Witch, only, unlike Blair Witch, it’s not a hoax. You really drive them out somewhere and leave them.

Third, that damn electric blue everywhere in your decor. Was that hip in 1984? Was that the only electronic-age color that Solid Gold wasn’t using in their set that season? Why do you want your show to remind me of my TV screen when there’s no tape in the VCR? Here’s what I’m seeing instead: bright fire-engine red behind all the clues. If you start to get viewer letters (median age of Jeopardy!‘s viewership: 91) telling you that the new red clues “angry up the blood” then you have done well. If the same viewers are also outraged that Crankshaft has been replaced with The Boondocks, do not be alarmed. They have confused you with the comics page editor of their local newspaper.

Fourth, why are there no physical challenges? It doesn’t have to be Nickelodeon déclassé, buckets of green ooze falling from the ceiling. It could be tasteful and restrained. Like, if you know the answer, you have to run from your podium to the gameboard, jump up to touch the clue in question, and give the answer. “What is an Arby-Q?” Then you run back to your podium to select again. Some of these contestants, frankly, could use the exercise. Oh, also, there are angry bees.

Fifth, this might seem like a minor detail, but why the exclamation point in Jeopardy! ? It just seems like you’re trying too hard. Face it, it’s a sixties relic. Sure, all my parents’ favorite movies end with an exclamation point: Oliver! Hatari! Support Your Local Sheriff! But this is a subtler time. Do you really think that, today, Best Picture Oscars would have gone to Million Dollar Baby! and Crash! ? Certainly not. Change the punctuation and suddenly they look like Blake Edwards movies.

Finally, Alex. I know, I know, the old folks love him. Nobody knows he died in that fiery truck crash a few years back and was immediately replaced with the Trebektron 4000 (I see your engineers still can’t get the mustache right, by the way.) But that’s beside the point: “Alex” is the franchise. You can’t just bring in Ryan Seacrest without warning, more’s the pity. But I think a few little host tweaks would do a lot of good.

  1. On Price Is Right, Bob Barker ends every show with a plug for his personal favorite cause. “Spay or neuter your pet!” or whatever. Something like this would humanize Trebek. I propose a new sign-off, along the lines of, “Can our returning champion do it again on tomorrow’s show? Tune in and find out, everybody. Legalize cannabis. Good night.”
  2. You know how Trebek likes to read foreign words in these thick, strained accents, thinking he’s being muy auténtico? He should continue to do this, but instead of delivering them himself, he needs to have a little ventriloquist’s dummy with a sombrero to pipe in with those words. (The sombrero can be switched with a beret for French words.)
  3. Whenever Alex says “Correct!” to a contestant, he should do the two-index-finger point, like Isaac in the Love Boat credits.

You and I have a lot of history, Jeopardy! You know I think the world of you…you’re putting my kids through college, for crying out loud! So I think I can be open with you in a way that others just can’t. I hope you take this advice in the spirit in which it was offered. Remember, I only criticize because I…




Posted by Ken at 1:40 pm