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The Ken Jennings Reign - November 24

If you have been paying attention to this column, first off, THANK YOU. I need the love :). Second off, you may have noticed that Jeopardy!, while still laying claim to the mantle of "America's Favorite Quiz Show" (and so far, the only one on DVD), isn't the monster that it used to be. Not a testament to its staying power. After all, you must be doing something right to last 21 years. But the reason I say this is all on the shoulders of one person... a software engineer from Salt Lake City, Utah, Ken Jennings.

It all started one day when I got word from a Congress conference call (Gordon is one of the higher-ups at the Game Show Congress) of a person that will completely change the game as we know it. That person, as he informed me while I was at dinner, began his run in the beginning of June. While other game shows had taken off to the pool or the beach or to wherever the devil people go on summer break nowadays, Jeopardy! was offering new episode after new episode, all with the same champion. And the people came to see one out of three things...

1) Who is this guy?
2) How good is he?
3) When will he lose?

Eventually, after his 38th win, Ken Jennings, now a millionaire 1.3 times over, was forced into sabbatical. After all, even Jeopardy! must take periodic breaks now and then. The numbers dropped from figures that, according to one person at another GSC conference call, "was more popular than CSI reruns" to the usual summer doldrum levels.

That September, Ken Jennings returned... and so did America. Unfortunately, they already had the answer to the question that was on everyone's mind... "November 30, 2004, after 74 victories."

What is when Ken Jennings loses?

Thanks to an overzealous undercaring media (at least we carried a spoiler alert), there wasn't an eye that was glued to the set that night. Ken Jennings, having taken Sony for $2.5 million in funds that WERE going to the Playstation (no, I can't prove that before you start with the e-mails), graciously ceded his podium to Nancy Zerg.

Fast forward one year, past the Teen Tournament, past the Ultimate Championship, and past the clip of Alex without any pants on. Twenty-one percent of the audience that saw Ken Jennings lose is finding entertainment elsewhere nowadays. The last week of shows scored up from the previous week, to a 6.6. Last week with the beginning of the College Championship, it was a 6.3.

Still, it's not as bad as it used to be. Last week alone, it was a year-to-year drop of 32 percent, this year's College Prelims versus last year's College Finals, segueing into the tail-end of the Jennings run.

The week before that, a 6.4, when we saw the beginning of what Alex, in what, at its worst, could amount to an obvious ratings ploy, called "the female Ken Jennings" in Maria Wenglinsky (she stopped at 6 games, on par with third-place streak holder Tom Walsh, but a far cry from Jennings or 20-game streaker David Madden). Last year, 26 percent more.

Is there a reason to panic? Of course not! After all, there is a gigantic core of Jeop-heads and non-Jeop-heads alike that will tune in every night to phrase their response in the form of a question, and it's still a boon for some of the networks that lead into programming from that. And the positive response from the J! DVD only reinforces that fact.

We had a good time watching. Then we had a good time watching other people watch, up to about 10 million of us all watching together (better than most summer fare, I must say). Now it's business as usual, as the world waits for another champ to capture the imaginations of the populace.

And our world just waits until Wheel of Fortune ends. Depending on what time J! airs in your area, of course.


In this time of Thanksgiving, I have prepared a list of things that I am thankful for.

- You, the readers, the fans, that keep this site alive and kicking every day. We do this for you, and we do it because of you.

- Gordon, Jason B., Jason E., JD, Joe, Mike, Julie, Rachel, Doughnut, Eric, Travis S., Travis E., Vickers, Wolvie, Johnny, Alex, Brian, Seidelman, and every member of the Game Show Newsnet family, past and present, for bringing this site into existence and propelling this experiment along the grand scheme of things.

- GSN, for recognizing that the big move from game shows to everything else was a giant failure.

- NBC, for finally giving us Deal or No Deal... now we wait for them to admit the truth about "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart". No more spin, NBC. Just say you made a mistake and move on.

- Sony, for giving us the Wheel in NOLA week.

- Discovery Channel, for giving Cash Cab a chance.

- All the creators, emcees, and producers, who work day and night so that we can enjoy countless hours of mindless distraction.

- Those reality writers at the convention for standing their ground.

- The legends, the OGs of the game show world that honed their craft and passed their knowledge on to the next generation in hopes of keeping the genre alive. "In faith there is virtue, in virtue there is knowledge." For every Monty Hall, there is a Michael Davies waiting in the wings. For every Ralph Edwards, there's a Bob Barker. For every Richard Whiteley, there's a Des Lynam.

- Finally, for the four years at Carolina, the two years at the Achordants, the three years at BJ making a steady wage, and the seven days in LA over this past summer. Just goes to show you that you may have a good time. You may have a bad time. But you always learn something.

I learned, as always, that people may say one thing or another, but the numbers never lie. May you all have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, wherever the holiday may take you.

Chico Alexander is immune to tryptophan, after having been exposed to it at and college football at an early age. E-mail him at chico@gameshownewsnet.com.


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