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Stephen Fry talks Jeopardy! revival

Stephen Fry / Photo by: Whisper North / Rachel Joseph

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Stephen Fry talks Jeopardy! revival

New Year’s Day sees the return of one of ITV’s best loved game shows, no not Chain Letters (sadly) its Jeopardy!

Hosted by broadcaster Stephen Fry, the weekday entertainment show will provide nostalgia for fans of the format, while introducing the family-friendly quiz show to a brand new audience. The twenty-episode series will see contestants play to win, using their best general knowledge to win rounds and a potentially life-changing amount of money… if they can stay on until the end. The reboot will allow participants to play an extra round compared to the original format, increasing the stakes for the players.

The American classic first appeared on our screens in the UK in the 1980s, and now Stephen will bring a modern twist to the cult classic.

Stephen Fry / Photo by: Whisper North / Rachel Joseph

Why is now the right time to bring Jeopardy! back to UK audiences? 

“It feels right” is probably the best I can suggest. The British addiction to quizzing is on a par with our addiction to ‘whodunnits’, to great detective series. Our delight in quizzing is greater now than it’s ever been. There are so many pub quizzes and quizzing leagues around Britain and so many professional quizzers. We enjoy shows that don’t shy away from fairly tough questions and areas of knowledge. We love to watch people who are good at something.”

You retired as the host of QI after many years in 2015. What was it about Jeopardy! that persuaded you to come back and do another quiz show?

“It’s such a different kind of a gig, really. After 13 seasons of QI, I wanted to leave halfway, before I felt too repetitive. Jeopardy! is a whole other kind of a show. Great and enthusiastic quizzers from around Britain who aren’t comics and for whom big money is almost as great a prize as the kudos that comes with being a great Jeopardy! champion.

In what ways will the UK version differ from the US version of the show? 

“It’s not very different at all. The set design and colours are the same and the wondrous old-style font, too. The only real difference is that the UK version is a little longer with an extra round. The signature Jeopardy! oddity of the questions being answers and the responses having to be given in the form of questions remains the same.

“It’s amazing how the contestants manage this, almost no slip-ups at all. I was fairly insistent from the outset that we shouldn’t compromise on the standard or dicker about with the rules and procedures which are time-honoured and proven. Fortunately,  ITV and Whisper, the production company behind the series, were in complete agreement.”

What will the jackpot be?

“Ahh, that’s the beauty of the show! It builds and builds for as long as the champion stays on. There is a winner in each show, and they will be there as champion for the next show. They will win more and more, until deposed. In theory, a really brilliant champion could win hundreds of thousands of pounds – or more. In America, the great Ken Jennings (now the presenter of the show) won 74 shows in a row, winning $2.52 million. Over the course of various follow-up shows, he raked in more than $4.5 million. So there’s always a wonderful tension.”

Are you a big fan of Jeopardy!?

“Huge! I count an evening in the US in which I haven’t caught the show as a bad evening. The key element of Jeopardy! is that one gets addicted to the fate of the current champion, so watching the next episode is a big part of what the show means. It’s also magnificent to see a mainstream quiz show in the US where the questions (clues) are genuinely challenging, either because they require really good knowledge, or because they are phrased in a tough way.”

How will your approach as the presenter differ from other shows you’ve done in the past?

“It’s about the contestants, not about me. While I hope to be friendly and authoritative, I’m not there to draw too much attention to myself. I hope I can be regarded as a fatherly and supportive guide, oracle and friend, if that doesn’t sound too fancy…”

Have you garnered any inspiration from previous Jeopardy! hosts, or are you hoping to bring a totally new feel to the classic game show?

“The show has been going in America since 1964, and there are those around who still remember the original host, Art Fleming. From 1984 until 2021 it was the great late Alex Trebek. Now, the duties are divided between the aforementioned Ken Jennings who hosts the daily weekday shows and Mayim Bialik who hosts at weekends for celebrity editions and other primetime specials. 

“Like most Jeopardy! fans, I grew up watching Alex Trebek and while I wouldn’t dare even think of imitating his style, his ability to be serious without being earnest struck me as ideal. For the contestants this is a huge deal, so taking it too lightly is an insult to them. For many, it will be one of the biggest days of their lives. That’s true in America where the show is such an institution and the prizes so life-changing, but as I quickly discovered, it’s true here too. All British quizzers who take the pastime seriously regard Jeopardy! as the pinnacle of quiz shows.

If you could be a contestant on any game show out now, what would it be?

“It would be quite fun to be a contestant on Jeopardy! In fact, I was an answer on the US show last year and to hear the contestant (the great Amy Schneider who is one of the all-time most successful champions) give the correct response, “Who is Stephen Fry?” made me wriggle with delight.  I was lucky enough to be on University Challenge as a student and a Who Wants To Be a Millionaire special, and I have my Celebrity Mastermind crystal winner’s bowl to polish, so I think all my ambitions have been achieved!”

It’s the answer-before-question, back-to-front format that is so unique. Is there anything you do back-to-front in your life off-air?

“I certainly don’t put my underpants on after my trousers or anything like that. Perhaps my whole life has been a journey from being earnest, adult and mature to being light-hearted, childlike and immature.”

There’s very little you haven’t achieved in your career. What do you have left to conquer when it comes to work or personal goals?

“Targets and goals are in my view utterly pernicious. All those grotesque and useless life coaching and self-help books that take up more than half of bookshops these days. They all force people to think in terms of goal orientation and steps towards targets. I think that just about always leads to disappointment, frustration and despair.”

Jeopardy! returns to ITV1, STV and ITVX / STV Player from Monday 1st January 2024

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