Originally created 05/25/05

'Jeopardy!' ace to star in new game show



NEW YORK - More than pride, a cottage industry may be at stake when "Jeopardy!" ace Ken Jennings takes on two challengers in the game show's $2 million challenge that airs this week.

Comedy Central said Monday it has signed Jennings to be the central figure in a new game show the channel is developing with Michael Davies, the producer behind "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

That goes along with the upcoming board game "Can You Beat Ken?" and the "Quizzology" CD trivia game that he's behind. Oh, and the book Jennings is writing that's due out next year.

So it would probably help if he keeps the mystique going this week.

"We're hoping that he does as well as he's done in the past," said Lauren Corrao, chief of development at Comedy Central.

Jennings won more than $2.5 million last year during his 74-game winning streak, dispatching opponents with a machine-like efficiency before minting his own "Jeopardy" trivia question:

A: The California real estate agent who beat Jennings and quickly slipped back into obscurity.

Q: Who is Nancy Zerg.

"Jeopardy!" invited dozens of its past champions back for a tournament that has aired the past several weeks. Two contestants, Brad Rutter and Jerome Vered, won the right to take on Jennings in a three-day match that airs starting Monday.

The winner gets $2 million. Second place earns $500,000 and third place $250,000, in what "Jeopardy!" says will be the largest single-day payout in game show history.

The chance to take a crack at Ken proved irresistible to the old champions, said "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek.

"They were attracted by the challenge of becoming the greatest quiz show champion ever, which is kind of a fallacy because there's so much luck involved," Trebek said.

Jennings' run proved a ratings boon to "Jeopardy!" and left Trebek feeling a little lost when Jennings was defeated.

"We were like Martin and Lewis," he said. "It was a routine. All of a sudden Ken is gone. What do I do now?"

"Jeopardy!" won a Daytime Emmy award on Friday as best game show for the period encompassing Jennings' run. The only surprise was executive producer Harry Friedman's failure to mention him upon accepting the award.

"I would have mentioned Ken had I won," said Trebek, who was beaten out by Meredith Vieira of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" for the best game show host award.

Now "Jeopardy!" and Jennings may soon be competitors. Comedy Central is looking to air its new game show in the early evening hours, where most television stations now show "Jeopardy!" The show will likely debut this coming fall or winter.

Corrao wouldn't give a name or concept for the show, worried about competitors stealing an idea that is "really straightforward and simple," she said. Besides Jennings, the show will have a comedic host, she said.

Comedy Central hasn't aired a game show since "Win Ben Stein's Money" stopped in 2003. In that show, the former speechwriter for President Nixon matched up against challengers who thought they were smarter.

"I guarantee it will feel very, very different," Corrao said.