At Smithsonian mag, Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings (wiki) delves into what gives the virtually unchanged game show its lasting power.
In 1963, television host and erstwhile actor Merv Griffin was flying back to New York City with his wife Julann, after a weekend visiting her parents in Michigan. Merv was looking at notes for a new game show, and Julann asked if it was one of the knowledge-based games she liked.
“Since ‘The $64,000 Question,’ the network won’t let you do those anymore,” replied Merv. The rigging scandals of the 1950s had killed off American quiz shows, seemingly for good. “They suspect you of giving them the answers.”
“Well, why don’t you give them the answers? And make people come up with the questions?”
Merv didn’t know what she meant.
“OK, the answer is ‘5,280.’”
He thought a moment. “The question is, ‘How many feet in a mile?’”
“The answer is ‘79 Wistful Vista.’”
“‘Where did Fibber McGee and Molly live?’”
Those two simple questions changed TV history.
“We kept going,” Julann Griffin remembers today, “and I kept throwing him answers and he kept coming up with questions. By the time we landed, we had an idea for a show.”