What is a primetime TV hit years in the making? Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time tournament, featuring the three highest-earning Jeopardy! contestants, Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, and James Holzhauer, has dominated ratings this week. With the trio taking primetime by storm, it may not be the last time we see them together on ABC when a GOAT winner is crowned next week, the network’s head of alternative Robert Mills told Deadline at TCA.
“Whether it’s something with Jeopardy! or not, certainly I would argue these three guys are the biggest stars in primetime right now. Is there a different game? I don’t know,” Mills said of a possible followup program headlined by Jennings, Rutter and Holzhauer. “But you can’t look at this and not acknowledge the impact that they have had over the 20 years and this past week without saying, ‘OK. how do we tap into it’.”
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There have been no formal conversations but “when you look at (the success of the primetime specials), you say, we have got to do something, something that taps into what these guys are.”
While the success of Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time is not surprising, it is surprising that it took ABC so long to bring the Alex Trebek-hosted venerable syndicated quiz show to primetime. It was not for the lack of trying, Mills said.
“We have been talking with (Jeopardy! executive producer) Harry Friedman literally for years, we basically had offered a series of primetime Jeopardy! for years, and Harry, to his credit, and Alex too, were the keepers of the flame and the brand. They always said, ‘we are not doing anything until it feels right’. And then a funny thing happened. Last April, James Holzhauer started going on this run.”
Holzhauer’s winning streak captivated the nation and broke ratings records for Jeopardy!.
Around that time, Mills was at a Shark Tank party with Jeff Frost, President of Sony Pictures TV, which produces both Shark Tank for ABC and Jeopardy! in syndication, with the ABC stations as the core group. Mills floated the idea with Ross and Sony TV head of alternative Holly Jacobs about doing “something” with Holzhauer, Jennings and Rutter.
“We talked to Harry and he said, ‘This is exactly the right time to do this’,” Mills said. “With Friedman retorting from Jeopardy! at the end of the 2019-20 season and Trebek “probably closer to the end than to the beginning” of his tenure on the show, “it was one of the few times when the stars alined perfectly,” Mills added.
The special came together very quickly, with Friedman coming up with the seven-night format. The tournament continued next week, Match 4 airs Jan. 14.
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