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Here's What The Very First Episode Of Jeopardy! Was Like

For modern TV viewers, Jeopardy! is synonymous with the late Alex Trebek, but the quiz show actually predates the iconic host's 1984 debut by two decades. The first episode of Jeopardy! aired March 30, 1964 with Art Fleming as the host and Don Pardo taking on the announcer role. And while the stakes were much lower, and the rules far less stringent, the game show's general format hasn't changed much in the past 50 plus years.

Sadly, footage from the show's first episode is scarce, but David Schwartz, the co-author of The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows does have an audio recording of the premiere, and in December 2020, he shared a few soundbites with Greensboro, North Carolina's News and Record for the newspaper's interview with first-ever Jeopardy! winner Mary Cabell Carlan Eubanks. Among other things, the clips reveal that the gameplay was far more relaxed in the show's early days.

While modern Jeopardy! contestants aren't allowed so much as a mispronunciation, the first trio of players were allowed to be inexact with their answers which led to them forming some unwieldy "questions" in response to the clues. In one instance, Eubanks can be heard answering the clue "007" with the question "what is James Bond's number?" — which Fleming deemed an acceptable response in a category devoted to identifying fictional characters. That certainly wouldn't fly now, but the free for all vibe in the first episode is a reminder of just how far Jeopardy! has come over the years.

The first episode of Jeopardy! established the show's familiar format

A game of Jeopardy! always consists of three parts: the Jeopardy! round, Double Jeopardy!, and Final Jeopardy!. And interestingly, all three rounds were established in the very first episode, as reported by Emmy Magazine. That means the show hasn't tinkered with its core formula since its debut more than 50 years ago.

One thing that has changed is the value of the questions. In the show's first episode, the easiest questions were worth just $10, while the hardest questions were valued at $50. Additionally, no one walked away from the first episode of the show empty-handed. Each contestant took home the total amount of money they had at the end of the episode, which, in the case of Eubanks, was a grand total of $345.

Another key detail that has evolved since the premiere is how the categories are presented. Trebek's era of the show has almost exclusively featured the categories on computer monitors of some sort, but in the show's early days, stagehands pulled away cards to reveal the answers to contestants and the audience.

Did the first episode of Jeopardy! include the show's famous think music?

When you think about Jeopardy! you likely think of Trebek and the "think music" that plays while contestants answer the Final Jeopardy! question. And while Trebek wasn't the show's first host, the "think music" has been part of the series since the very beginning. The theme, which is officially called "Think!", was composed by series creator Merv Griffin as a lullaby for his son, Tony, and it took him less than a minute to put together (via Mental Floss). That was certainly a minute well spent, since the tune is now synonymous with the struggle to quickly come up with an answer to a difficult question.

Thanks to Schwartz's audio recording, Jeopardy! fans can hear the first time the music was ever played on TV way back in 1964. The theme can be heard as the original three contestants write down their response to the first ever Final Jeopardy! category "Famous Quotes." The answer? "'Good night, sweet prince' was originally said to him," to which the correct question was, "Who is Hamlet?"

Mary Cabell Carlan Eubanks thinks her Southern accent helped her make Jeopardy! history

In her interview with News and Record, Eubanks revealed that she was standing in line with her friend to audition for The Price Is Right when a man approached her about auditioning for a new game show called Jeopardy! instead. She said yes, and ended up auditioning in front of a room full of producers, as well as Fleming, who she believes wanted her on the show because of her Southern accent.

According to Eubanks, Fleming mimicked and pointed out her accent throughout the episode, noting to the audience that his wife was from Georgia. The audience seemed to be equally enamored with the contestant's drawl. "They clapped when I answered anything," the North Carolina native told the paper. "They laughed when I pronounced things a Southern way."

Ultimately, Eubanks — who was introduced as a "housewife from North Carolina" — beat out the competition, a nurse from Connecticut and an ex-teacher from Iran. She went on to tape a second episode, but she missed the final question about silent movie stars. Still, the 82-year-old looks back fondly on filming the first episode of Jeopardy!. "I never thought it would last forever and be as popular as it is," she said. "That makes it special to people ... It was very special to me and it's preserved in memory."

Since its first episode, Jeopardy! has gone on to become one of TV's most popular and toughest game shows ever, which only makes the casualness of the first outing all the more charming.