U.K.’s in Jeopardy! — baby — just — for one month?

The most recent version of the United Kingdom’s version of “Jeopardy!” has concluded its most recent series (“season” in American terms) after nearly one month.

If ITV commissions another series, I’ve got ideas for improvements. But first, let’s look at the positives.

As the old saying goes, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. The U.K.’s “Jeopardy!” bore a very striking resemblance to ours here in the U.S. The theme music is about one generation old, the opening animation is about the same (with a noticeable emphasis on the host, more about him in a bit), and the game board is nearly the same (props to the U.K. writers for making full uses of the widescreen when writing answers; American scribes are still adhering to the 15-character-per-line rule, instituted since J! returned to the air in 1984). You’d almost think the British invaded Culver City, California to tape the season on American soil — but they didn’t.

The host is Stephen Fry. I confess — I don’t know a lot about him. I’ve seen him on the British “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and I’ve heard about his work on “Quite Interesting” — but that’s about it. From the episodes of “Jeopardy!” I saw, he handled the game well — however — we’ll get to the negatives eventually.

Knowing what I know about British game shows, their hosts have gained just about as much rock star status as, say, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, etc. There is very little syndication in the U.K. So once a game show is commissioned (“sold” in American terms), it goes national rather quickly and can find an audience just about as fast. That is why you saw a lot of Stephen in the opening animation.

So, some notes on gameplay. Since “Jeopardy!” in the U.K. ran for an hour each weekday (try saying that three times fast), they played three rounds before Final Jeopardy! Much to the surprise of a couple of podcasters in the U.K., they don’t play regular Jeopardy!, Double Jeopardy! and Triple Jeopardy! like we do on “Celebrity Jeopardy!” here in the U.S. In the U.K., there were two rounds of Jeopardy! and a Double Jeopardy!

The “cash amounts,” using Stephen’s terminology, below each category, to be honest, bore some resemblance to the first reboot of “Jeopardy!” here in the States. The one that started in 1984 with Alex Trebek at the helm and continues to the present day with Ken Jennings is the second reboot.

True story: The first “Jeopardy!” reboot debuted in 1978 on NBC the day after Geof was born. No wonder I mistakenly called it “Geofardy!”

In any event, below each category in the U.K. are answers worth £25, £50, £75, £100, and £150; double those amounts, naturally, for Double Jeopardy! In the ’78 reboot, the answer values were $25, $50, $75, $100, and $125 (again, the stakes doubled in DJ!) — two and a half times the original series’ amounts.

Lowball, you say? I agree. But, again, knowing what I know about British game shows, U.K. residents aren’t greedy by nature. They play more for pride than anything else. Yes, I know, this is the nation that gave the rest of the world “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and has at least one other million-pound game show in production. But still, from what I’ve seen, many U.K. games are played for modest stakes.

Geof, once upon a time, was eyeing a move to the U.K. If those plans came to fruition, I told him he should try out for “Countdown” — a long-running game show of letters and numbers. Geof was really good at Scrabble and, given his passion for engineering and science, can be really great at math. I did note a daily winner claimed a custom-made teapot for the show with the overall tournament of champions winner receiving a leatherbound Oxford English Dictionary, which had a value of about £4000 at the time.

So, as I saw it near the end of 2023, U.K. champions on “Jeopardy!” in the month of January would average about £5000 per victory. Eh — I’m not too bad off.

Okay — I’ve held off the negatives enough. Podcasters in the U.K. picked up on this. My fellow Americans picked up on this.

The… pacing… of… the… United… Kingdom’s… latest… version… of… “Jeopardy!”… is… too… durn… slow.

Here in the U.S., a player picks a category and an amount, the host reads the answer, a player buzzes in hopefully with the right question, the moment the host says the questioner’s correct, the questioner picks the next category and amount, lather, rinse, repeat at a rather blazing speed — only to slow down just a smidge when the controlling player finds a magical daily double. The same can be said in just about every foreign version I’ve seen — including at least two previous U.K. “Jeopardy!” incarnations only played for points with the top winner assured of no less than £500.

Same can be said for “Rock & Roll Jeopardy!” on VH1 here in the U.S., which I was quite good at. “Sports Jeopardy!” on Crackle, with one less answer per category in each of the first two rounds, was a little slower in pace to allow for an opening monologue from host Dan Patrick, more chatting with players midway through the show plus a post-game wrap-up. Not too slow, though.

Over in the U.K., a player picks a category and an amount, the host reads the answer, a player buzzes in hopefully with the right question, and the moment the host says the questioner’s correct, the host — then — likely — explains why the question and answer “match” each other — on darn near every answer and question. Think of it as an extra “Jeopardy! Clue for You” — seemingly too many extras just to fill the hour. Commercial breaks, for the curious, are fewer and further between in the U.K. — so that’s why America’s “Celebrity Jeopardy!” plays at the speed of, well, “Jeopardy!”

With memories of 1978’s “Jeopardy!” somewhat fresh, the biggest thing I can think of to help the U.K. “Jeopardy!” going forward is — a bonus round. Don’t groan too loudly, my fellow Americans.

If ITV commissions another series of “Jeopardy!” as an hourlong format, I can see Stephen presiding over three rounds of competition (hopefully a regular J!, Double Jeopardy! and Triple Jeopardy!) with the game-deciding Final Jeopardy! to crown the champion. Along the way — cut down on the jibba-jabba, to use Mr. T’s terminology.

That should save more than enough time for — Super Jeopardy!

Doug’s Place Flashback: This YouTube video shows you how Super Jeopardy! worked in the 1978 reboot. Think of it as five-in-a-line American-style bingo before making three mistakes.

From what I’ve been able to gather, the U.K. uses just one giant monitor to display answers as opposed to a 6×5 display of monitors. So I’d argue they can pull off their own Super Jeopardy!

Further, they wouldn’t have to limit it to five categories with five “level numbers”. They could have 25 categories on the board — with an answer behind each one. Then place a green marker to indicate a correct question or a “life lost” (our strike) for an incorrect question.

Another thing I’ve noticed about British game shows: They prefer the term “lives lost” — something akin to 1980s video arcade games. They’ve used that terminology on “Family Fortunes” (our “Family Feud”) and “Cash Cab”.

If the U.K.’s recent, and just as well-done, adaptation of “Wheel of Fortune” is any indication, Super Jeopardy! in the U.K. doesn’t necessarily have to be played for more money. It can be played for shopping sprees at certain businesses or “a lovely holiday” (in American terms, a nice vacation).

Bottom line: If I were an expatriate American living in the U.K., I’d still watch — but I’d want to watch a fast-paced quiz I’ve grown up with.

Some hope: Stephen will be hosting “Jeopardy!” for Australian television with expatriate Aussies competing on the U.K. set. Don’t know much beyond what’s been reported in the Australian press.

ADDENDUM 6/10/24: I’m just now getting around to seeing an episode of “Jeopardy! Australia” — which plays just like the most recent U.K. version. The cash amounts are $50, $100, $150, $200, and $300 — in Australian funds, naturally — in each of the first two Jeopardy! rounds with the values doubled in Double Jeopardy! Also, just like the U.K. version, Stephen adds in extra info after just about every answer and question.

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