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Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer, Brad Rutter
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
The three greatest Jeopardy players of all time.
REVENGE OF THE NERDS

The “Jeopardy: Greatest of All Time” tournament is bigger than most American sports

Adam Epstein
By Adam Epstein

Entertainment reporter

From our Obsession

The Third Age of TV

First came broadcast, then cable, now streaming.

The latest Jeopardy! tournament is a TV ratings juggernaut, proving itself more popular with viewers than every major American sports league outside the NFL.

Jeopardy: Greatest of all Time, which pits the venerable quiz show’s three all-time winningest contestants against each other in a battle for nerd supremacy, is averaging 15 million viewers in the US through its first three nights. That’s more than the averages of last year’s NBA Finals, World Series, Stanley Cup, and MLS Cup:

In fact, last week’s third round of the Jeopardy! tournament would have been the 18th most-watched single-network US broadcast of 2019, about on par with the FIFA Women’s World Cup final, the NCAA Men’s Final Four, and the final round of the Masters. It would have far surpassed all other game shows, as well as every scripted show except for the Big Bang Theory series finale.

The NFL accounted for nearly 75% of the most-watched US TV broadcasts last year, according to Nielsen. And, of course, the league’s championship game—the Super Bowl—is in a category of its own.

The Jeopardy! tournament will continue tonight for at least one more match, until one of the three participants—Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer, or Brad Rutter—wins three times. Jennings is on the verge of clinching victory, having already won twice. Holzhauer has one win, while Rutter has yet to get on the scoreboard. There can be up to seven matches, if necessary.

The Jan. 9 ABC broadcast of the tournament more than doubled the viewers of each of its primetime TV competition on CBS, NBC, and Fox, respectively. Tonight’s fourth round could reach even further heights, as more viewers will likely tune in to watch the possibility of Jennings clinch the title, in the same way the ratings for major sports championships typically increase each game as a team comes closer to clinching the series.

A perfect blend of nerdy fun and intense competition, the “Greatest of All Time” concept was always destined for success. Jeopardy! was already a highly rated TV show, while the three contestants each bring a unique style that makes for even more entertaining viewing.

Jeopardy! may never be as popular football, but it doesn’t need to be. By one metric, at least, it’s already the second most-popular sport in America.

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