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How ‘Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time’ Became Broadcast’s Ratings Champ

Variety — Will Thorne

If Ken Jennings wins tonight’s game of “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time,” the tournament will be over. ABC likely hopes that doesn’t happen.

Through three rounds of intense quizzing between Jennings, Brad Rutter and recent favorite James Holzhauer, “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” has not only provided a platform for an outpouring of affection toward host Alex Trebek, who was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in March 2019, but also a massive ratings boost for ABC.

The first installment kicked things off with 14.4 million total viewers and a 2.4 rating in the key 18-49 demographic, before episode 2 grew 3.5% to 14.9 million viewers, and episode 3 saw a similar jump to 15.5 million viewers. Those numbers represent the second, third and fourth biggest totals for any broadcast so far this season, behind only the Golden Globes which drew 18.3 million viewers earlier this month. For comparison, ABC’s two other big events so far this season, “The Little Mermaid Live” and “Live in Front of a Studio Audience,” drew just under 9 million and 5.8 million total viewers respectively.

On its first night, the tournament was competing with the viewership juggernaut that is “NCIS,” and managed to top the CBS procedural by more than 4 million viewers on the night and more than doubled its 18-49 rating. On its second night, it almost doubled the viewership of its closest competitor, “Chicago Fire” on NBC, and it more than doubled “Young Sheldon” on night three.

While the viewership has grown each episode, the 18-49 rating has remained pretty steady at a 2.4, a 2.4 and a 2.2. The growth of “Jeopardy! GOAT” has come primarily in the 50-plus demographic. According to Nielsen figures, part one scored a whopping 9.6 rating in the older demo, followed by steady growth to a 10.0 and a 10.7 in the second and third part, mirroring the total viewership numbers.

The episodes haven’t performed as strongly in the younger-skewing demos. In the 18-34 demo, the three parts scored a 1.6, a 1.6 and a 1.4. Perhaps unsurprisingly, teens haven’t been glued as closely to the quizzing action as older viewers, with the 12-17 demo scoring a 0.9 rating, a 0.6 rating and a 0.7 rating across each episode. In the 25-54 demo, the show remained consistently strong, averaging a 3.1.

It could certainly be argued that the writing for  “Jeopardy! GOAT” to put up such big numbers was on the wall given the recent totals that regular “Jeopardy!” and its “Tournament of Champions” have been putting up in syndication. The final episode of Holzhauer’s record breaking run in 2019, for instance, was viewed by a massive 14.5 million viewers in live-plus-same-day, which represents the most watched episode of “Jeopardy!” since November 30, 2004.

All three episodes have also shown solid growth after three days of delayed viewing, which is perhaps surprising given that competition series don’t tend to perform as strongly in delayed viewing. Episode 1 grew to 16.1 million viewers, after three days of TV playback, episode 2 grew to 16.5 million viewers, and episode 3 grew to 17 million viewers among adults 18-49. Those numbers put the show up there near the top of the L+3 rankings for this season to date, only behind the Globes and “Sunday Night Football.”

The “Jeopardy! GOAT” effect has also seeped over into the scripted shows which have followed it on each night thus far. After part one, “Mixed-ish” scored a series high 1.1 rating and 4.8 million total viewers, and “Black-ish” followed that up with a 0.8 rating and 3.2 million viewers, its highest tally in both metrics since the season six premiere. The “Jeopardy!” success helped lift “Modern Family” to a two-year viewership high after part two, drawing 6.4 million viewers, while part three was followed by ABC’s “Truth and Lies” special on Jeffrey Epstein which came second on the night behind “Jeopardy!” with 6.2 million viewers.

ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke announced a couple months ago that the network is no longer using live-plus-same day figures to measure the performance of its shows, with the exception of live programming. Given the huge success of “Jeopardy! GOAT” and the ratings boost it has provided ABC’s scripted fare, it seems only a matter of time before more iterations of “Jeoaprdy!,” and perhaps other game shows, are brought over from syndication into the main stream.

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