How Did 'Jeopardy!' First Begin? Ken Jennings Knows

The history of "Jeopardy!" for $1000, please!

"Jeopardy!" was created over 50 years ago, and this year, the game show is celebrating its 30th anniversary under host Alex Trebek.

To mark the occasion, past winners from the '80s, '90s, and '00s have been competing in a "Decades of Champions" tournament. Uber-champ Ken Jennings, who holds the title for most wins and will compete in a few weeks, interviewed Julann Griffin, who co-created "Jeopardy!" with then-husband Merv Griffin back in 1964.

Here are five things we learned about how "Jeopardy!" came to be from their chat, which is published in Smithsonian magazine:

1. The very first "Jeopardy!" clue was 5,280.

When Merv and Julann first began to bounce around the idea of a new knowledge-based game show, she suggested starting with an answer instead of a question. And the first one she posed was the number 5,280. Merv replied, "The question is, 'How many feet in a mile?'"

[Related: How Controversial 'Jeopardy!' Champion Arthur Chu Finally Lost]

2. The idea came together on one plane ride.

The couple was returning from a trip to Ironwood, Michigan to visit Julann's family. There, Merv played games with her sisters, while Julann merely observed. "So I could see the structure better than they could, because I wasn't trying," she said.

3. The show was a family affair.

Julann's game-loving sisters, Sally and Maureen, helped write clues in the beginning.

4. "Jeopardy!" was too hard, at first.

"When we first went to NBC with the idea, they said it was too difficult, so we had to dumb it down a little so the big men at NBC could play it," Julann recalled.

[Related: What It's Really Like to Play 'Hollywood Game Night': A Game Show Aficionado Recounts Her Tale of Luck and Loss]

5. But they made it harder as more people watched.

"Jeopardy!" began as a daytime show, so college students were tuning in. Apparently, so did President Richard Nixon from the White House. The network felt they could make the show a bit harder, and the first Tournament of Champions winner ended up being a taxi driver from Chicago.

While the game has evolved over the last five decades, Julann credited one thing with its continued success: good writing.

"There are just so many rivers and countries that you can put on 'Jeopardy!,' unless we go to the moon and get some more, so the writing is intriguing," she said. "They have to find another way around it to make it interesting."