1. The original name of the show was What’s the Question? After pitching it to the network brass, Merv Griffin decided to change the name to the catchier one we know today. The reason? One of the execs thought that the game was a great idea, but that the game needed more jeopardies. NBC ended up buying the show without even seeing a pilot.
2. The winner with the smallest amount of earnings at the end of the game managed to triumph over the other two contestants by keeping a mere dollar. On January 19, 1993, Air Force Lt. Col. Daryl Scott cleverly bid just enough to keep him afloat. The other contestants got the question wrong and lost everything. No one else has ever won by keeping a single George Washington. The answer? “His books ‘No Easy Walk to Freedom’ and ‘The Struggle is My Life’ were published during his imprisonment.” The question? “Who is Nelson Mandela.”
3. The infamous Final Jeopardy music has a name - it’s called “Time for Tony” and it was written by Merv Griffin as a lullaby for his son. If you’re familiar with the song, no doubt it’s not much of a lullaby to you - it serves more as a reminder that time is running out and you’d better hurry. It was tweaked a little bit and renamed “Think!” Over the years, Griffin estimated that royalties from the theme song earned him roughly $70 million.
4. The record for the largest one-day total ever belongs to Ken Jennings, of course. He’s the only contestant to surpass $52,000 in one day, and he surpassed it by a landslide with $75,000. Jennings actually holds 11 of the top 15 earnings spots. One of these top 15 spots was actually earned during Jeopardy! Kids Week by a 12-year-old from Virginia named Kunle Demuren, whose knowledge and quick buzzer finger earned him $49,000. Photo from Moore's Lore.
5. Back in the pre-Trebek era when Art Fleming was the host, contestants could start the audition process by just giving the office in New York a call. They would pass preliminary tests over the phone and then set up a date and time to audition in person if the were eligible. Once they made it to the actual office, potential contestants went through a written test and a faux game. These days, the audition process often starts on the Internet during designated testing times. Sometimes a “Brain Bus” also roams the country and tests Ken Jennings-wannabes. If you think you have what it takes, one of the online testing periods is coming up soon - January 26-28 for adults.
6. In the show’s entire history, a three-way tie has only happened once. It happened fairly recently too - on March 16, 2007, every single contestant ended Final Jeopardy with $16,000. They all returned the following week to play again. You can see it happen here - Alex Trebek seems quite pleased.
7. “I Lost on Jeopardy” was released by Weird Al Yankovic in 1984. Original host Art Fleming has a cameo as himself and original announcer Don Pardo shows up to tell Yankovic all of the fabulous prizes he failed to win. The funny thing is, Weird Al was actually on Rock & Roll Jeopardy and lost to Gary Dell’Abate, better known as Howard Stern’s sidekick Baba Booey.
8. Julann Griffin, Merv's wife, was integral to the development of the show. She helped him develop the unique answer-and-question format when they were on a plane ride to New York in the early '60s. From 1964-1975, a piece Julann composed served as the theme to the show. It was called "Take Ten."
9. If Alex Trebek seems a little condescending when he corrects players with wrong answers, as if he would know the answers himself even without his cheat sheet, well... he just might. Trebek is pretty brainy. Time magazine once asked him if there was an easy question that he ever didn't know the answer to, and this was Trebek's response:
We were doing some shows at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, and during the commercial breaks I'd go out and talk to the people in the audience. And a little boy stood up and asked, When was the Magna Carta signed? I said 1216. I was off by a year. I know a lot about the Magna Carta, but unfortunately I got the date wrong in front of 6,000 people.
He admits that he probably wouldn't do too well if he actually had to participate on the show, though, due to his slow reflexes.
Read more of that interview at Time.