‘Jeopardy!’ Bosses Answer 8 Burning Questions About the Game Show

Alex Trebek Jeopardy
Jeopardy Inc.

On June 8, the quiz-show staple Jeopardy! kicks off its last five new episodes before summer hiatus, so let’s answer your burning questions about where the week’s 65 categories and 305 clues come from.

How are categories chosen?

Per exec producer Mike Richards, each game is designed to balance four areas: academic knowledge (for example, “World Capital Rivers”), lifestyles (“What’s My Airline?”), pop culture (“Movie Villain Quotes”) and wordplay (“Before & After”). Categories must also “provide maximum interest to the audience and maximum fairness to the contestants,” he adds.

Are any categories in regular rotation?

Nope. While fans love to see certain headings pop up (raise a glass to “Potent Potables”!), variety is key. Notes Richards: “We have a pretty good nose for ‘We’ve gone heavy on Shakespeare lately.'”

Who creates the clues?

The show’s eight full-time writers.

Do they specialize?

Yes and no. “Though we all have our favorites, each writer covers every topic,” co–head writer Billy Wisse says.


(Credit: Jeopardy Inc.)

What makes a good clue?

“We love a fact that makes the viewer say, ‘I didn’t know I knew that’ or ‘I should have known that’ or even ‘I’m glad I learned that!'” Wisse reveals.

What’s the process?

Typically, “A writer learns an interesting fact that makes for a great clue and writes a category around it. Or they think of a clever/funny category title,” explains co–head writer Michele Loud. She or Wisse will approve a writer’s work, order the clues from easiest to most difficult and assign the category to a round (Jeopardy! or Double Jeopardy!).

What doesn’t make the cut?

Any facts that a researcher can’t double-source, or anything deemed too difficult during the writers’ roundtabling process. “If there’s a clue no one could answer correctly except the one who wrote it,” Richards says, “it will get tossed out at that point.”

Does Alex Trebek weigh in?

Every shoot day, five episodes’ worth of questions must pass one more test: the host. Not only does Trebek evaluate how a clue will sound when he reads it, Loud says, but “he’s very knowledgeable, so he may question a fact or two.” Does anything get past that guy?

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