H-SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Feb 7, 2012 11:02 PM by Nancy Chen

Behind the scenes of 'Jeopardy!': KSBY sits down with Alex Trebek

Your only clue: it has an average of nine million Americans shouting answers to the television each evening, and the show and its catchy theme song have been a part of pop culture for almost 30 years now.

No? What is 'Jeopardy!'--and don't forget the exclamation mark.

KSBY News got full access to the set during the show's renowned annual College Championship tournament, when fifteen students compete for $100,000.

Taped at Sony Studios in Culver City, each episode is 22 minutes long and filmed in real time, minus any re-dos during breaks if host Alex Trebek needs to correct anything or if there are technical issues. Shows are taped back-to-back, with two weeks worth of episodes taped in two days.

The fifteen contestants are chosen from campuses nationwide out of a pool of 12,000 entries. As the show's contestant producer, Maggie Speak spends almost a year crafting who appears on set.

"Do they make you want to watch and play the game?" she asked. "Do you want to root for them? Do you feel something about them while they're playing the game? And that makes a big difference."

The personalities make it interesting, but the questions are what keep viewers tuned in, at times shouting answers at the screen. Ever wonder where they all came from?

Billy Weiss leads a team of eight as head writer. As tough as the material may be at times, he says the goal isn't to "get" contestants.

"We want to do things we haven't done before, but we certainly don't want three people staring into the camera for five seconds," he said. "That's not good television."

And with the College Championship, it was only fitting to write for college students.

"There's kind of a hole," he said. "They know history that's in books, and they know stuff that's happening right now. But there's a little bit of a gap in things that might have happened fifteen or so years ago that hasn't made it into the textbooks yet, but they were too young to remember."

Weiss says they work on questions constantly, scouring newspapers and books. But the show still doesn't always go as planned, like when contestants buzz in with answers that are correct-just not the ones they prepared for.

"Answers we didn't expect are the bane of our existence," he said. "It's one of the reasons we have a whole bunch of judges here on stage. We have a whole research staff that spends a lot of time looking for all possible alternate answers, but it still happens all the time."

With questions ready, the contestants all come out on set for rehearsal, signing their names, practicing with the buzzer and playing a few rounds with a stand-in host to get used to the set. Then they're rounded back up, taken into the green room to relax and prepare, far from prying eyes. And while the contestants are getting ready, audience members file in.

Finally, with the audience seated, lights adjusted, and buzzers ready, it's time to introduce Alex Trebek.

KSBY News caught up with him after the show. Here are some snippets from Nancy Chen's interview:

Alex: Nancy, welcome to ‘Jeopardy!'...I watch you guys all the time when I go up to my summer house at Lake Nacimiento.
Nancy: So you have Central Coast ties.
Alex: Yes, indeed.
Nancy: I understand that you used to own a ranch in Creston as well.
Alex: A horse farm, yes.
Nancy: What do you like about the Central Coast?
Alex: It's a lot slower than Los Angeles, a lot easier to get around. There isn't as much traffic. And when you consider the quality of the restaurants and the wineries in the area, it's just a fabulous place to be.

Nancy: You talk about a champion here. What do you think are the
characteristics?
Alex: Well, first of all, they have to be well read. They have to be very bright, and most of them are good students.

Nancy: A lot of people want to know about your pre-show ritual. What do you do to prepare?
Alex (joking): I meditate. I think about the world. I think about life. No, I just come in, and I review all the games we're going to be shooting. We do five games a day.

Five games a day--and Trebek has been doing it almost thirty years. Long enough, in fact, that this year's college contestants have never known a world without ‘Jeopardy!'

And he keeps on going.

To watch Nancy's full, unedited interview with Alex Trebek, click here.

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