The overnight ratings of King World Productions' Jeopardy! have skyrocketed since contestant Ken Jennings started his winning streak June 2. Jennings has stayed hot for 30 games in a row, winning slightly more than $1 million as of Tuesday.
Last September, King World decided to change the rules so that there would be no limit on how long Jeopardy champions can stay on the show. Previously, they had only five days to win as much as they could. Now, as long as they are winning, they can keep appearing.
The biggest concern was that a long-term winner would be a contestant that viewers didn't like. "But we did a lot of research into this," Friedman said at the time, "and we found that viewers sometimes want someone they can root against as much as they want people they can root for."
Either way, the strategy has paid off handsomely, for KW as well as Jennings.
Weighted metered-market averages for the show have gone up each week Jennings has been on the air, starting with a 6.8 rating/13 share for the week of June 7 to a 7.7/15, an 8.3/16, an 8.9/17, a 9.0/18 and finally an 11.1/21 for the week of July 12. That's an increase of 63% over the five-week period.
For the national ratings in the holiday week ending July 4, Jeopardy! was the only game show in the top-five to improve week-to-week, tying King World's Wheel of Fortune for the number-one spot for the first time this season.
Although many shows were hurt by approximately 30 hours of Wimbledon tennis coverage on NBC, Jeopardy! rose to a 7.9, up 5% for the week and up 36% from last year at this time to its highest ratings since February.
Wheel of Fortune, meanwhile, ticked down 1% to a 7.9. In third place, Buena Vista's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was down 6% to a 3.4, while Tribune's Family Feud lost 17% to a 1.9.
Elsewhere, dating shows did well despite a few preemptions. NBC Universal's Blind Date, up 7% to a 1.5, was the leader for the 13th straight week . Warner Bros.' Elimi-Date was up 8% to a 1.4.
Talk shows were especially hard hit, with King World's Oprah Winfrey Show--in repeats--plunging 20%, the biggest decline in the talk genre to a new season low of 5.2.
King World's Dr. Phil held steady at a 4.0 in second place. Buena Vista's Live With Regis & Kelly was down 18% to a 2.7, its lowest rating since August 2001, and fell into a tie with NBC Universal's Maury for third place. Maury was down 7% to a 2.7. NBC Universal's The Jerry Springer Show dipped 4% to a 2.2, while Paramount's Montel Williams slipped 13% to a series low 2.0.
The biggest talk-show increase was Twentieth's On Air With Ryan Seacrest, which gained 13% to a 0.9.