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'Jeopardy' Serves Up Answers and Questions for 50 Years

The popular game show "Jeopardy" is turning 50, but it’s not the same as when it first aired.

Answer: This is the popular television game show celebrating its 50th year on-air.

Question: What is “Jeopardy”?

That’s correct.

The trivia game that bills itself as “America’s favorite quiz show” turns 50 today. Alex Trebek hosts the current iteration of the nationally syndicated answer-question show, which averages 25 million viewers weekly. But when the show began on March 30, 1964 on NBC, it aired in the daytime.

The late media mogul Merv Griffin created the television show, which tests contestants’general trivia knowledge and requires their responses to be phrased in the form of a question.

“When Jeopardy first came on the air in 1964, there had not been any trivia quiz shows on since the 1950's because of the quiz show scandal,” said TV Guide business editor Stephen Battaglio. “Contestants then had been given the answers and they were fake. Networks stayed away from them and the viewers probably didn't trust them.”

But Griffin revived the genre after his wife came up with the idea during a flight from Minnesota to New York, according to Battaglio.

Jeopardy instantly differentiated itself among the competition. The original host, Art Fleming, had never hosted a game show before. They also didn’t have celebrity panels, stunts or gags like so many others did at the time.

Up until then “there wasn't a show that depended on a contestant being intelligent,” Battaglio said.

And in those days, the questions were only worth $10 and $20 and not the hundred-dollar denominations we know today.

Kim Elam was a contestant during the show’s first run from March 1964 until January 1975.

In 1974 Elam was a “very poor student in a very large, expensive city” and looking to earn some extra income.

So, she tried out for “Jeopardy.”

“I took a test and after the test,” she said. “Within hours … the whole thing was done and lo and behold a few weeks later I was assigned a time to be on the show.”

Elam had watched the show for years with her family before herself becoming a contestant.

“What I remember most is picking out that horrid outfit of a plaid jacket and yellow shirt with the pointy collar and thinking I looked pretty darn good at the time,” she said, “And being absolutely petrified because throwing out an answer at home when you're sitting on your sofa is entirely different than pushing the button during the game.”

A 22-year-old Elam ended up winning about $500 -- and an encyclopedia set.

“I was really lucky I was able to sell the encyclopedias to a family friend and so I ended up with a little over $1,000 cash, which was truly remarkable for a student at that time,” said Elam, who now is graphic design teacher and writer.

She says she still watches “Jeopardy” today but the show she knew isn't the same one that exists currently.

NBC ran the show with Fleming until 1975. Then the show moved to a weekly syndicated version from 1974-1975 and "The All-New Jeopardy" aired from 1978-1979. The show didn't truly become popular again until 1984 when it reemerged with host Alex Trebek.

The game also has had several changes, with the most obvious being the technology. But one of the biggest tweaks paved the wave for much more drama on the show.

When “Jeopardy” began allowing champions to play for more than five days in 2003, it helped build sagas like the one of Ken Jennings. He still holds the record for the longest winning streak on “Jeopardy,” which is an astonishing 74 games.

After rule changes, network changes and syndication, “Jeopardy” finds itself a pop-culture icon and ever popular television game show.

“The reason ‘Jeopardy’ is so durable is that the game is really very simple. It's the one game show that you can play at home,” Battaglio said.