If you’ve ever wondered how they come up with all those questions and categories on “Jeopardy!”, head writer Billy Wisse broke it up into seven basic steps for Vulture.com. Here we go.
1. A writer chooses a category. A category idea can come from anywhere. Maybe the writer heard an interesting fact and decided to build a category around it. Or they just came up with a cool name for a category. Or, as Wisse says, “It could just be Friday afternoon and you really should write one more for the week, and you don’t have any better ideas than ‘Spanish History’ or something like that.”
2. The writer then writes SEVEN clues and submits the category to Wisse. As you probably know, there are only FIVE clues per category on the show. Submitting seven gives Wisse the flexibility to trash one, and keep another as an extra. You need an extra in case there’s a conflict, like if one of the clues is about a subject that was just covered recently.
3. The category gets sent to the researchers. Their job is to make sure all the facts are correct, and there’s only ONE correct answer for each clue.
4. The head writer puts each game together. There are four basic categories: Academic, Lifestyle, Pop Culture, and Workplace. And there are a bunch of subcategories within those. The trick is to BALANCE each show so there’s content that can interest all kinds of viewers, and so that it’s fair to all contestants. If you’re heavy on one type of material that one contestant is really strong in, that could give him or her an advantage.
5. The writers check the categories and clues one last time. This is where they all get together to shore everything up. They make sure all the wording is good, that the clues are in the best order, and that the material hasn’t been used too much or too recently.
6. Last-minute tweaks from the bosses. Both the executive producer and Alex Trebek himself look everything over and give notes.
7. The Final Jeopardy and Daily Double questions are formed. All the writers bring in a batch of Final Jeopardy questions every few weeks and they go over them. For a clue to make it on-air, at least one other writer has to be able to answer it, or else it’s considered too hard. In choosing Daily Doubles, they’re looking for clues that have an extra hint in the wording that helps you figure it out. Wisse says, “Daily Doubles are supposed to involve a two-step process, since you have a little more time.”