How Weird Al Resurrected Jeopardy
Whether it’s hosted by Ken Jennings, Mayim Bialik, or Levar Burton (we know, fans, we know), Jeopardy! has been a game-show Godzilla for decades. But don’t assume that was always the case. While Jeopardy! was one of the most popular choices for stay-at-home moms in the 1960s, the fickle tastes of swinging 1970s audiences led to the show’s cancellation by 1975. Most defunct shows from that era simply remained extinct. But in this case, let’s go to the categories and choose Revitalized Quiz Shows for $500.
The answer is: This comedy star is responsible for resurrecting Jeopardy! from the dead. Buzz in if you know the question:
Who is Weird Al Yankovic?
To understand how the rebirth happened, we need to take a small course in 1980s pop music. As everyone knows, Weird Al built a career by creating goofy song parodies, poking fun at the biggest pop stars of the day like Michael Jackson.
But not all 80s music stars were as huge as the King of Pop. And Weird Al had eleven stinking tracks to deliver for his sophomore effort, Weird Al Yankovic in 3D. So alongside the parodies of Jackson, the Police, and the B-52s, the accordion maestro also composed ditties making fun of lesser lights like Survivor, Men Without Hats, and the Greg Kihn Band.
“Jeopardy” was the Greg Kihn Band’s only top ten hit, making it an unlikely target for satire -- except for the fact that Weird Al grew up with the game show on his family TV every morning. Inspiration struck and “I Lost On Jeopardy” was born, with a video featuring cameos from not only Greg Kihn, Weird Al’s parents, and Dr. Demento but the game show’s original announcer and host.
“They were perfect sports about it,” Weird Al told Vulture. “(Host) Art Fleming showed up on the set and was more than happy to make goofy faces and play along, and (longtime SNL announcer) Don Pardo just killed it. So I was very fortunate that they were both so game about the whole thing.”
For a parody record in 1984, “I Lost on Jeopardy” definitely qualified as a hit, the third single from Weird Al Yankovic in 3D to break into Billboard’s Hot 100. And it may have sparked a revival of a TV classic.
“What a lot of people don’t realize, when I did ‘I Lost on Jeopardy,’ Jeopardy! was not on the air; that was a retro song about the game show that Merv Griffin had created that was popular in the ‘60s when I was a kid,” says Weird Al. “And the fact that I did that parody made Merv Griffin consider doing the show again.”
That story, often repeated by luminaries such as Ken Jennings himself, may be apocryphal -- while Jeopardy! was indeed still off the air when Yankovic’s song hit the charts, some form of revival was reportedly in the works. But Griffin embraced the parody, inviting Weird Al to perform the song on his popular talk show (which smartly promoted not only the song but the idea of a reboot). And Merv told Al and his at-home audience that the single’s great success was leading to a relaunch of the show, beginning the long and benevolent reign of our game show overlord, Alex Trebek.
And somehow, the song continues to resonate. In 2019, James Holzhauer went on a historic Jeopardy! run, winning 32 games in a row and chalking up more than $2.4 million in winnings. His epic streak ended on June 3, 2019, almost 35 years to the day of the release of Weird Al’s single. In other words, James lost on Jeopardy! on the anniversary of “I Lost on Jeopardy” -- and Holzhauer was well aware of the irony.
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