UPDATE: SBS VICELAND will present a weekend marathon of Jeopardy! in honour of the show's legendary host, Alex Trebek. Catch 16 episodes back-to-back from midday, Saturday 14 November. Watch on TV or via the SBS Viceland 24x7 Live Stream at SBS On Demand.
The 1992 film White Men Can’t Jump isn’t particularly memorable. Starring Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes as basketball-playing street hustlers, it sits on no one’s must-rewatch list. Unless you’re a Jeopardy! fan, that is – because, as well as following its smart-talking central duo as they attempt to use their on-court skills to solve their respective financial woes, it also features everyone’s favourite game show, prominently.
Gloria Clemente (Rosie Perez), the girlfriend of Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson), has a different plan to take care of their gambling debts to mobsters. While Billy does his best with a ball, she studies day and night, convinced that she’ll win big while standing in front of Alex Trebek. And, in a climactic moment, she makes it onto the show, with viewers watching on as Trebek presents clues and awaits her responses (answering in the form of a question, of course).
With the film hitting the big screen eight years after the Trebek-hosted version of Jeopardy! first started airing – and nearly three decades since the original iteration of the show premiered back in 1964 – White Men Can’t Jump’s quiz-centric subplot doesn’t just improve an otherwise average movie. It also demonstrates how far and wide Jeopardy!’s influence had spread at the time, something that’s only continued in the almost 30 years since. Make no mistake: the competitive trivia series is an inescapable pop culture phenomenon, as it should be, and it has the resume to prove it.
A sitcom favourite
Before White Men Can’t Jump leapt on the Jeopardy! bandwagon, the program was already becoming a TV sitcom staple – and Trebek had already started notching up acting credits. In 1987, The Carol Burnett Show spin-off Mama’s Family sent its titular character (as played by Vicki Lawrence) to compete on the game show. Then, in 1990, an entire episode of Cheers revolved around bar regular Cliff Calvin’s (John Ratzenberger) quest to become a contestant, with Trebek even making an appearance at the central watering hole after Cliff’s showing. And, in a seventh-season instalment of The Golden Girls in 1992, Dorothy (Bea Arthur) both studies for the show’s auditions and dreams that she makes it to air. Her fantasy includes Trebek, naturally, because of course it does.
In the ’90s, sitcoms couldn’t get enough of Jeopardy! The Nanny’s Fran Fine (Fran Drescher) tried her luck on the show, as did The Simpsons’ Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner), while Blossom’s titular character (Mayim Bialik) and her brother Joey (Joey Lawrence) took on Albert Einstein – in a dream. George Costanza (Jason Alexander) played along from Jerry’s apartment in Seinfeld, while Trebek also made an appearance in Ned and Stacey.
Over the past two decades, Jeopardy! has also featured in Family Guy, while Trebek has played himself in How I Met Your Mother, Hot in Cleveland and Orange Is the New Black, too. And, in terms of merely earning a mention in a sitcom over the years, the list goes on, including everything from Night Court, Full House, Perfect Strangers, ALF, Beavis and Butthead, The Larry Sanders Show, Friends, Frasier, Married with Children, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Just Shoot Me! and Will & Grace to My Name Is Earl, The Office, Weeds, The Big Bang Theory, Entourage, Modern Family, Raising Hope, 2 Broke Girls, Arrested Development, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Community, Fresh Off the Boat, The Muppets, The Last Man on Earth and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
The truth is on Jeopardy! (and other TV dramas)
On TV, comedies aren’t the only shows demonstrating their love for Jeopardy! Television drama series have got in on the game, too. In one of the best examples – because both Trebek and FBI Special Agents Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) are dedicated to the truth, as we all know – the former appears as a ‘man in black’ in the third-season Jose Chung's From Outer Space episode, helping the sci-fi series parody itself and its genre with aplomb.
Elsewhere, Jeopardy! and Trebek have popped up in Beverly Hills, 90210, with Brandon (Jason Priestley), Andrea (Gabrielle Carteris) and Clare (Kathleen Robertson) vying for a spot on the college tournament. As so often proves the case, dreams about Trebek also feature.
And, add MacGyver, Melrose Place, Sliders, ER, Baywatch, Millennium, Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Gilmore Girls, Farscape, Queer as Folk, House, Nip/Tuck, Grey’s Anatomy, Boston Legal, NCIS, The Shield, Bones, Fringe, Homeland, Hannibal, 24, Breaking Bad, The Leftovers and GLOW to the ranks of series that have name-dropped or nodded to Jeopardy! as well. When The Sopranos did just that also, it had Anthony Jr (Robert Iler) hum the famous thinking music.
Those iconic SNL parodies
The above Jeopardy! references are all well and good; however, on TV, only one show comes second to the quiz program itself. That’d be Saturday Night Live and its two iconic parodies: Celebrity Jeopardy! (Will Ferrell’s Trebek impression one of his greatest creations during his run on the sketch comedy favourite); and Black Jeopardy! , in which Kenan Thompson poses answers to questions that only Black people could know.
A clip of the late Chadwick Boseman was shared widely upon news of his shock death from colon cancer. In it, the Black Panther star's SNL hosting debut demonstrates his comedy chops as he issued a warning to all Karens:
The best moment, obviously: when the real Trebek makes an appearance.
Jeopardy! on the big screen
As White Men Can’t Jump illustrated, cinema also adores Jeopardy! How could it not? And, it’s just as affectionate about Trebek, who has played himself in Robert Altman’s ensemble piece Short Cuts, the 2000 version of Charlie’s Angels and Gus Van Sant’s Finding Forrester, which stars the very real Sean Connery.
Other films to feature Jeopardy! references include Rain Man, The ‘Burbs, Dying Young, Predator 2, Drop Zone and Jury Duty, as well as The Peacemaker, Enemy of the State, She’s All That and American Psycho – plus Mr & Mrs Smith, The Fog remake and The Bucket List.
The highlight, though, is clearly Groundhog Day because, if anyone, including weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is going to relive the same day over and over and over again, it just has to include Jeopardy!
Jeopardy! airs weeknights at 7PM on SBS VICELAND.