Behind the Clues: A Look at the Research and Writing Behind Jeopardy!
Behind the Clues: A Look at the Research and Writing Behind Jeopardy!
Jeopardy! is a game show that has become a staple of American television. It features three contestants who compete in various categories to answer questions posed in the form of an answer.
The show is divided into three rounds: Jeopardy! Round, the Double Jeopardy! Round, and the Final Jeopardy! Round.
In each round, the contestants are presented with clues in various categories and must respond with a question in the same category. In this article, we will delve deeper into the show's format and look at the research and writing that goes into creating Jeopardy! clues.
What are Jeopardy! Clues?
Jeopardy! Clues are “answers.” This is because, as opposed to most trivia games, in Jeopardy! the answers are provided instead of questions, and the contestants must respond with the correct question to the clue provided.
For instance, if the clue is "this author of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' wrote a sequel titled 'Go Set a Watchman'," the correct question would be "Who is Harper Lee?"
What are the Categories on Jeopardy!?
Jeopardy! categories cover a wide range of topics, including history, literature, science, pop culture, sports, and more. The categories are chosen by the show's producers and writers, who take into consideration factors such as the relevance and popularity of the topics, the diversity of the categories, and the difficulty level.
Each Jeopardy! game board has six categories with five clues each, ranging from easier clues worth $200 to more difficult clues worth $1,000. The categories often have puns or wordplay in their titles to make them more memorable and engaging for viewers and contestants.
In addition to the main Jeopardy! categories, the show sometimes features special categories related to holidays, current events, or other themes. These categories are also chosen by the show's producers and writers based on their relevance and appeal to the audience.
Who is behind choosing categories and writing on Jeopardy!?
Billy Wisse - Head Writer - Source McGill News
Jeopardy! clue writers are a team of researchers, writers, and editors who work together to create the clues that make up each episode of the show. Billy Wisse leads the clue writing team.
He oversees the writing process and ensures the clues are accurate, challenging, and entertaining. The clue writers come from various backgrounds and have expertise in many areas, including literature, science, history, and pop culture.
The Process of Research and Writing behind Jeopardy! Revealed
In an Interview, Billy Wisse and Michelle Loud broke down the process writers follow to develop games daily, from brainstorming to editions, meetings, and roundtables. So let’s dive in.
Writers are challenged to write 2 categories daily; this can be extremely taxing over time as they are expected to write 52 weeks a year. For this a Jeopardy! writer definitely needs a system to get the creative juice flowing.
In his interview, Wisse said there are two basic ways for him: “You either come up with a cute title, like UNIVERSAL PICTURES and try to find something to fit that category; or you say, ‘I haven’t written ART in a while, I’ll see if I can think of a new angle,” Wisse says.
”For me, it (inspiration) either comes from the title or the subject.” - Billy Wisse
However, this doesn’t always work for all writers, another Jeopardy! writer said that for her, sometimes is easier to get inspired with a reverse process, meaning, when she has a clue or a fact she wants to use, she then comes up with the category around it.
Old-fashion inspiration also plays a good part in their creative process, as Michelle Loud shares in her interview the story of how she was driving her car around the time Apollo 13 was coming out and a Whitney Houston song came up on the radio, that is when she told herself “Whitney Houston, we have a problem” and wrote it the next day for the “Before & After” category.
Once writers have completed the categories, then they proceed to send their work to Wisse for approval.
He is to ensure the entries have the right level of difficulty, that the tone is right for the show, and that the category’s subject is not being overused.
Once he has organized all clues from lowest to most difficult, which translates into dollar lower value to tho the highest is when the researchers start to work.
Researchers are responsible for fact-checking the clues from reputable sources; the most common sources are an encyclopedia, dictionary, or another type of appropriate source material.
When the clue is approved, the researcher has to come up with all possible answers (questions) to the clue. If no other answers exist, the clue is labeled as “pinned.”
If the clues do not pass, they are sent back to the writers as often as necessary until the research team approves them.
”Boards need to be balanced” Wisse says. The team uses a color code for topics to develop good gameboards. Academic Subjects: Blue, Pop Culture: Pink, Wordplay: Yellow, Lifestyle: Green; to name a few.
It is extremely important to have a good mix; if when adding the clues the board seems out of balance, then he lets writers know about the category that is lacking so they can come up with the clues needed.
Since the contestants come from various backgrounds, it is crucial to have enough clues to ensure all of them have a chance to win.
Imagine having to come up with 230 games and 14,030 clues per season. This is what the teams of writers and researchers face and this is why meeting periodically is essential for the team.
In these meetings, the team comes ready to explore clues for clarity and level of difficulty. They are also careful not to make the clues too difficult since it will not be good for the show to have contestants baffle and unable to answer correctly.
Since there is a limit to the number of characters in each clue, rewording often takes place to ensure the clues are the right length.
When it comes to clues with more than one correct response, is good to find ways to be able to pin it, and for this, suggestions from the team on how to accomplish this are vital, although some of the suggestions may spark a debate…
In these meetings, the options for DailyDouble are also addressed, being the goal that contestants complete a two-step process to answer correctly, and the same process is required for the Final Jeopardy!
The difficulty level for DailyDoubles is based on the dollar amount of the clue, and sometimes removing or adding one word is what makes the difference.
After the meeting, writers go back to edit their clues based on the suggestions and decisions made during the meeting.
When the clues have passed the researchers’ requirements, it is a matter of time before they have to start the process again for the next show.
15 Jeopardy! FunFacts
- The categories in Jeopardy! are chosen by the writers, who base them on current events, popular culture, and general knowledge topics.
- The writers always look for ways to make the clues challenging, but not impossible. They aim to strike a balance between providing enough information for contestants to answer correctly and requiring them to use their knowledge and quick thinking.
- The clues are written in a specific format: a statement instead of a question. For example, instead of saying, "Who is Albert Einstein?" the clue would be, "This famous scientist discovered the theory of relativity."
- Jeopardy! clues can be about anything from history and literature to science and pop culture. The writers try to cover a wide range of topics to make the game interesting for viewers.
- The clues are often written with puns or wordplay to make them more challenging and fun. For example, a clue about a famous painter might be, "This artist's 'Starry Night' is out of this world."
- The writers use a database of previous clues to ensure they don't repeat questions. This helps keep the game fresh and challenging for returning contestants and viewers.
- The writers determine the dollar values for each clue based on the difficulty level — the more difficult the clue, the higher the value.
- The writers also try to make the clues timely by including recent news events or pop culture references. This helps keep the game relevant and interesting for viewers.
- The clues are read by the host, who is given a script that includes the correct pronunciation of each word. This is to ensure that the clues are read accurately and fairly.
- The writers sometimes include "Daily Doubles" in the game, which allows contestants to wager a certain amount of money on their ability to answer a clue correctly. This adds an extra layer of excitement and strategy to the game.
- The writers are constantly updating their database of clues to keep up with current events and changing trends. They also take feedback from viewers and contestants to improve the game.
- The writers sometimes include "audio clues" in the game, which require contestants to identify a song or sound effect. These clues add a fun and unique element to the game.
- The writers sometimes include "visual clues" in the game, which require contestants to identify a picture or video clip. These clues add a visual element to the game and can be especially challenging.
- The writers carefully avoid controversial or offensive topics in the clues and work closely with a team of lawyers to ensure the game is fair and appropriate.
- The writers are proud of their work and take their job seriously, knowing that their clues can significantly impact the game and the contestants who play it.
The research and writing process behind Jeopardy! clues are crucial to the success of the game.
The writers strive to create challenging and interesting clues covering a wide range of topics while avoiding controversial or offensive subjects. They use their knowledge and creativity to create puns and wordplay that make the clues fun and engaging.
The constant updates and feedback help to keep the game fresh and exciting. Overall, the writers' and researchers' hard work and dedication make Jeopardy! one of the most beloved and enduring game shows on television.
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