What is "one of the coolest gigs you could ever hope to land?"
April 28, 2015 3:49 AM   Subscribe

What's it like to be one of the Jeopardy! clue writers? The A.V. Club interviews Billy Wisse, who has worked at Jeopardy! as researcher, proofreader, and writer since 1990, and as head writer since 2011.
posted by DevilsAdvocate (23 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Jeopardy is a nightly ritual for us. We watch/play during dinner. I got hooked on the show when I was a kid, wayyyyyyy back in the Art Fleming era.

If I were to change anything about Jeopardy, I would stop with the inane little clues that are so often tacked-on to the revealed answer. It just seems like such a crutch, and you can often solve the question without really knowing anything about it, thanks to the clue. But, I imagine the producers would prefer not having too many questions go unanswered, for the sake of the entertainment value.

I also wish the writer had asked what's up with so many Ayn Rand questions on the show?
posted by Thorzdad at 4:57 AM on April 28, 2015


"I also wish the writer had asked what's up with so many Ayn Rand questions on the show?"

I haven't watched Jeopardy in a few years but are there a lot of Ayn Rand questions? I don't think I've ever seen one when I was watching.
posted by I-baLL at 5:03 AM on April 28, 2015


I also wish the writer had asked what's up with so many Ayn Rand questions on the show?

I don't watch as regularly as I used to, but hadn't noticed this. (And it would certainly annoy me if I had.)

I agree with you about the annoying extra hints they build into some answers. I do think this is one of the ways they adjust the difficulty level for different groups of players, since I have noticed there are many fewer of those sorts of cheeky superfluous hints when the contestants are a particularly-knowledgeable group.
posted by aught at 5:51 AM on April 28, 2015


I haven't watched Jeopardy in a few years but are there a lot of Ayn Rand questions?

Looks like just one so far this year, but there was a two-month period in 2014 (October-November) where she appeared four times, so that would probably stand out to an everyday watcher. I watch maybe 2 or 3 times a week and didn't notice.

(The search function there appears to use implicit AND, as well as partial word matching, so there's a few false hits such as "In Mexico, what we call the Rio Grande is called this, also the title of a John Wayne movie," but most are valid.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:28 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pretty cool, but I still mainly want to be a QI elf.
posted by Segundus at 6:31 AM on April 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


But what about the puzzle writers for Wheel of Fortune?

So what inspired this clue?

Well, see, it's a What Are You Doing? Prize Puzzle for a trip to a Sandals resort, so naturally I thought, "Sitting on a beach." We used "Snorkling in a reef" and "Soaking up the sun" later in the week. We're really hoping to get a new sponsor someday.
posted by yeti at 7:14 AM on April 28, 2015


I don't know why I bother to watch Jeopardy every night. Few activities I participate in so frequently remind me of all of the regrets and missteps I've made with my life. Is the category about a totally frivolous topic, like TV shows or baseball, where knowledge of the subject serves little practical purpose outside of answering Jeopardy questions from my couch? Chances are I will run the category. Is the category something that indicates specialized knowledge with potentially lucrative professional benefits, like science or math? I'm lucky to get the $200 clue right.
posted by The Gooch at 7:26 AM on April 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


I know there are a few MeFis who tackled Jeopardy in the past - Any of you get what happens with me? I hear the Jeopardy theme music and my heart rate elevates right back to the levels it was at on stage. Makes watching the show difficult!
posted by drewbage1847 at 7:28 AM on April 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


That was a great interview. I want that job SO MUCH.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:33 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Having had a tv trivia show writing job, I can confirm that it is the best thing ever. It finally put use to 30 years of accumulated factoids. Oh you'll bang your head against the keyboard when inspiration is lacking, but then you'll be able to cite Urban Dictionary for a question on the meaning of tl;dr and it'll all be worth it. I never would have left, and I was in mourning for at least a year when we had to shut down.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:21 AM on April 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


I wish the author had asked about the inane personal stories or anecdotes the contestants tell after the first break. Obviously, it appears as if the contestant was prompted to write 5 "funny" or unusual stories about themselves in 25 words or less. It seems like such a struggle from both Alex's standpoint and the contestants. Maybe it is just me, but I find them cringe worthy.
posted by AugustWest at 8:35 AM on April 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I wish the author had asked about the inane personal stories or anecdotes the contestants tell after the first break. Obviously, it appears as if the contestant was prompted to write 5 "funny" or unusual stories about themselves in 25 words or less. It seems like such a struggle from both Alex's standpoint and the contestants. Maybe it is just me, but I find them cringe worthy.

What always cracks me up is when there is a multiple day winner who has clearly run out of amusing anecdotes to tell and is totally grasping at straws for any possible story to share. Yesterday's show was a great example of this, where the champion's story essentially amounted to, "I almost missed a bus one time".
posted by The Gooch at 8:41 AM on April 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


AugustWest: My remote has a skip 30 seconds button, some say it was invented for commercials, I believe it was invented for the contestant anecdotes.
posted by Cosine at 8:43 AM on April 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I wish the author had asked about the inane personal stories or anecdotes the contestants tell after the first break

Bob Harris has an anecdote about this in Prisoner of Trebekistan. If I remember, he couldn't think of anything to say for the fifth story, so he just wrote that he liked squirrels. And so on the first episode, Trebek introduced him to the nation viewing audience as a man who was obsessed with squirrels.
posted by bibliowench at 9:03 AM on April 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


If I were to appear on Jeopardy! my one consolation (besides the Turtle Wax) for losing on the first day would be that once I used up the story about being stuck in a restroom with a group of (what I would later learn to be) barbershop singers, I don't have any interesting anecdotes.
posted by dances with hamsters at 9:06 AM on April 28, 2015


I love the awkward contestant chat segment! Lately, Alex seems to need to add a jokey button at the end of each anecdote and he is sometimes awful at it. Some contestants are poor story-tellers (although sometimes Alex's questions or framing screw up their anecdotes and it is not their fault). I particularly enjoy when a contestant tells some story that clearly is very funny to them and they try to go for a laugh line and they just bomb.

Even though I know people who have been on Jeopardy and were misrepresented on Twitter and other social media and I intellectually understand that you can't get a real sense of someone's personality from a short anecdote and their posture and speaking voice, I am so mean and judgmental and hypercritical about Jeopardy contestants. If someone doesn't know a question I think is easy, they are automatically a moron, or, if they make a suboptimal wager, they are an idiot, or if they have an unflattering outfit on, they are a slob. I only act like this when I watch Jeopardy - I don't know what about the show brings out this mean streak. Thankfully, the only audience for my outbursts is my wife, who is suitably appalled by my behavior. Is it just me or does anyone else get uncharacteristically cruel watching Jeopardy?
posted by Falconetti at 9:22 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Only toward Trebek.
posted by umberto at 10:00 AM on April 28, 2015


I had gone to McGill University in Montreal, which the head writer at the time had a very high opinion of—it’s a good school, but he might’ve had a little bit of an inflated idea of the quality of a McGill education. That helped me out, which was lucky for me.

SHHHHHH.... Stop talking. The secret will get out!

I'll take "Harvard of the North" for 500$, Alex!
posted by cacofonie at 10:03 AM on April 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I will take this opportunity to recommend the jeopardy drinking game!

You must answer every clue, and every clue you get wrong you drink! When playing with multiple people, it's honor system as to whether, if someone says the correct answer first, you would have got it right on your own or not.

This is a hell of a fun way to start a night, as depending on the difficulty/categories, you can be forced to drink quite a lot within those 25 minutes.
posted by wyndham at 10:24 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Now there's a job you'd want to keep for 25 years (probably more job satisfaction than writing for David Letterman for 25 years). And, considering it's television, very unlikely to last that long. ("Yes, I was head writer for [obscure show] for its entire run... 13 weeks.")
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:16 PM on April 28, 2015


I also wish the writer had asked what's up with so many Ayn Rand questions on the show?

Hollywood legend says that if a contestant ever answers a clue with "Who is John Galt?" Alex Trebek will immediately launch, Manchurian Candidate-like, into a three-hour long droning monologue all about the tyranny of selflessness, the folly of brother-morality, and the Objective Good of Greed and betting it all on the Daily Double.
posted by Atom Eyes at 4:55 PM on April 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was sort of gauchely hoping that the salary might have been revealed.
posted by bz at 9:37 PM on April 29, 2015


Hollywood legend says that if a contestant ever answers a clue with "Who is John Galt?" Alex Trebek will immediately launch, Manchurian Candidate-like, into a three-hour long droning monologue all about the tyranny of selflessness, the folly of brother-morality, and the Objective Good of Greed and betting it all on the Daily Double.

omg a billion favorites!
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 6:07 PM on April 30, 2015


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