Jeopardy! has been airing for 58 years. As popular as the show is, we’ve never seen the original episode. The pilot, the proof of concept for the show, was filmed and never aired. To celebrate the show’s 58th anniversary, NBC has—at long last—uploaded the unaired pilot to its YouTube channel.
Watching the 1964 pilot, it’s incredible how little has changed. The basics of the show are all there. Original host Art Flemming mugs for the camera while leading three contestants through the pressure or answering trivia in the form of a question. Even the music for final Jeopardy! is the same.
Watching the episode was as good as watching any modern episode of the show. I rolled my eyes at the contest “Jesse” when he said he was an artist who did plumbing as a hobby. I yelled at my monitor when none of the contestants knew that Mary Shelly wrote Franekenstein. The Final Jeopardy!, in particular, was excruciating to watch in the best ways.
It’s shocking then, to learn that this pilot was probably scripted. Contestant Grace is introduced as a returning champion, despite this being a pilot for a game show being played for the first time. “It was scripted to show what the game would be like with a returning champion,” the Jeopardy! YouTube account explained.
Even the final moments of the show, where people give bizarre answers to an easy question, appear to be scripted in advance. “While we're not sure, it feels like the contestants may have been briefed to come up with incorrect responses to Final Jeopardy!,” the YouTube account explained. “The obviously incorrect responses of William Penn, and the ‘not specific’ answer of ‘famous monster’ felt like a way for the production to show how Final Jeopardy! could play out in various scenarios. It’s also interesting that Art didn't ‘pay off’ the Dracula response until well after the game play was finished.”
Jeopardy! would change its formula in small ways in the coming decades. Contestants would stand instead of sit, the rules around buzzing in would change, and technology would make the question board digital. But the fundamentals of the show are here and this scripted pilot is as watchable and enjoyable as any episode filmed in 2022.