Sunday, October 25, 2009

The 12-year "J-culum"

In being a fan of the game show Jeopardy! (which I will shorten to J! throughout this blog post) and being familiar with William Strauss and Neil Howe's works, I noticed that the show appears to follow a cycle of about 12 years with each turning being about 3 years long similar to how our society follows an approximately 80 year cycle with 4 turnings each about 20 years long. I haved named this cycle the "J-culum" (a spinoff on S&H's use of the term "saeculum").

First-turning J!: After all the major workings changes and record-setting contestant runs and tournaments of the 4T, the show returns to a more balanced state with fewer record-conquering contestants and the basic "answers and questions" that the show is known for. Towards the end of a 1T, the show experiences a staleness with regards to its "quirks" which have remained largely unchanged since the last 2T and starts a new one. The most recent High on J! was from right after the Ultimate Tournament of Champions in 2005 until sometime in the mid-late part of the 2007-08 season (sometime between when Dan Pawson broke the streak of no 6+ game winners and the changes to the theme and think music at the start of the 2008-09 season). The previous High was between sometime in the 1992-93 season and about midway through the 1995-96 season (more on that cutoff in the 2T description below).

Second-turning J!: The show experiences a "bells and whistles" overhaul during this time, and the material reaches its most "dumbed down" point. The show is in a 2T at this time, and was likewise in one from sometime in the 1995-96 season (the first International Tournament and the discontinuation of the Seniors Tournament kicked off that 2T) until partway through the 1998-99 season. Unlike 4T special tournaments, ones during a 2T are more oriented towards showing past contestants rather than playing for big prizes (e.g. the Kid's Reunion Tournament in September 2008 and the Teen Reunion Tournament in November 1998). Celebrity Jeopardy! tends to be a common feature of J! Awakenings, such as the tournament going on this season and the CJ! games peppered throughout the season during the 1997-98 and 1998-99 ones. This is the least contestant-friendly and most hands-off contestant rearing time of the J-culum: witness how Jeff Kirby snuck back on after previously appearing about 10 years earlier (the rules say that you're not allowed to try out again after appearing on the Trebek version), the inconvienience put on the contestants with the very late-in-the-day tapings at the 2009 Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas, and the emphasis on pop culture material during the last 2T. During this Awakening and the last one there was a change in the theme and Think! music, a set change, and other traditions of the show being shunned (such as when the "pop in" sound was eliminated at the start of the 2008-09 season).

Third-turning J!: Eventually the producers want the show to return to being more contestant-friendly, less dumbed-down material, and like at the start of a 1T a more "normal" feel. However, during a J! Unraveling the perception of the show is opposite that of a High: the quirks are fresh but the strengths of the contestants aren't (few records and the like set since the last 4T). The last Unraveling started probably sometime in the latter half of the 1998-99 season and ended when the clue values were doubled in November 2001. The show is due to start another 3T sometime in the 2010-11 season.

Fourth-turning J!: This is when the show sees overhauls that enable the contestants to perform bigger than before, and when the contestant selection process is most geared to selecting the best ones. The last 4T has been described above: it began with the doubling of the clue values (a 4T reform) in November 2001 and ended with the Ultimate Tournament of Champions (a 4T-style "big bucks" and "best of the best" tournament) in February-May 2005. The doubling of the clue values enabled contestants to win more money than previously (and set a few new "records"), as did the removal of the 5-game limit at the start of the 2003-04 season). In addition to the UToC, the Million Dollar Masters tournament in May 2002 was another 4T-style one. Before that 4T the previous one began sometime in the 1989-90 season (likely with Bob Blake's record-setting for the time appearance) and ended sometime in the 1992-93 season. This appears to be when the J-culum really began to start evolving. Like the most recent 4T this one featured some other record-setting contestants (such as Frank Spangenberg and Jerome Vered) as well as a big tournament (Super Jeopardy!). Unlike the "Crisis" of the social 4T, J! fans actually may somewhat look forward to 4Ts on the show. The next one will likely come around about the time the show is celebrating its 30th anniversary (and the 50th anniversary since the original introduction of the Art Fleming version); maybe that's when we'll have the next Ken Jennings or UToC2. Like during a 2T, there is usually a set change during a 4T.

I don't know what makes this 12-year cycle work (maybe the show is ruled by the life cycle of dogs, maybe it follows a cycle like the Chinese Year one, maybe it's the average turnaround of people in charge of the show, maybe it's the length of the time for viewers to tire of the show going one way and tiring the other way and going back again). This post mentioned my observations and theory on this cycle.

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