‘Jeopardy!’ reportedly considering recycling old clues, prompting contestants to ‘strike’ and say they won’t appear on TOC until Hollywood strikes end

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Some of the biggest “Jeopardy!” winners from its current season have informed the show they won’t compete in the upcoming Tournament of Champions unless the WGA strike is resolved.

Ray Lalonde, who is a scenic designer in Canada by trade, led the charge, posting online that he has informed the show he wouldn’t appear in the tournament if the strike continues.

“I am and will always be grateful for the experience I had on the show and the opportunity to participate in the TOC is beyond a dream come true for me. That being said, I believe that the show’s writers are a vital part of the show and they are justified in taking their job action to secure a fair contract for themselves and their fellow WGA members,” he wrote in a Reddit post. “As a supporter of the trade union movement, a union member’s son and a proud union member myself, I have informed the show’s producers that if the strike remains unresolved I will not cross a picket line to play in the tournament of champions.”

Lalonde is a member of IATSE, a trade union that represents a variety of design, technical and other workers in television and theatre. His work has appeared on Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

IATSE is not on strike against the powerful Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, though it does have a film and TV contract with the trade group representing major studios. The union has also publicly voiced its support of the WGA-SAG-AFTRA strike.

Lalonde’s announcement triggered a series of other champs eligible to play in the TOC saying they would not participate either. So far the season’s top four winners as well as one additional contestant have all said they’re out if the strike isn’t resolved.

There had been unconfirmed reports that “Jeopardy!” was planning to move forward with its 40th season using “recycled” clues — including ones that have appeared on episodes in the past, though the show did not comment on those reports.

“Jeopardy!” employs a full-time staff of writers whose job it is to create the 61-plus clues the show uses each day.

Technically, 73 clues are produced because the show writes an additional clue for each category as a backup in the event of a technical issue during taping; in the past those clues could be repurposed either as “real” clues or stand in as backups for other categories down the road, but the show has since switched to making them available online as a bonus feature for fans. It’s not clear if this means the clue can’t be used in the future since it was potentially made publically available.

Either way, “Jeopardy!” relies heavily on its writers — requiring somewhere in the neighborhood of 16,790 clues per season (this doesn’t count the additional primetime specials the show has been producing for ABC).

“Jeopardy!” writers are members of the WGA and both Sony, the show’s owner, and ABC are part of the AMPTP contract, meaning the show doesn’t currently have a writing team available.

The alleged plan to recycle old material could have been a workaround because it did not involve creating new material — and having staffers help assemble old clues into new games could be considered outside the contract.

“Jeopardy!” is actually currently airing the tail end of its 39th season, which runs through Friday, July 28, 2023.

Mayim Bialik, one of the show’s two hosts, sat out shows taped in May that are airing now in solidarity with the WGA strike. Bialik is a SAG-AFTRA member, though this is largely from her acting roles on TV sitcoms. Jennings is not a SAG-AFTRA member.

She was technically not required to stop working because SAG-AFTRA was not on strike at the time.

“Jeopardy!” is also not covered under the SAG-AFTRA deal with AMPTP, but rather the Network Television Broadcasting Agreement, which is not part of the current dispute. This means that both Bialik and Jennings could continue to work and not be in violation of the union contract, though either code chose not to out of principle and per their individual contracts with the show.

The WGA also has different rules that bars members from working on projects that fall under its motion pictures, television or new media categories even if the show is produced by an organization outside the AMPTP unless those productions are subject to a separate agreement that is not affected by the strike (this includes many TV news programs, for example), while SAG-AFTRA members can continue working in certain cases.

Recycling old material from past seasons could be prove challenging for “Jeopardy!” for reasons outside labor concerns.

For example, could using an old clue affect the outcome of a game if a contestant somewhere remembered the clue?

Of course, there is a finite amount of basic responses that any quiz show can ask of its contestants — and shows such as “Jeopardy!” have, in fact, asked basic question such as “What makes the sky blue?” (by way of example) hundreds or thousands of times.

However, the originality comes in thanks to how the clue is written — which often removes any direct reference to, in this example, directly asking who the first president was. For example, a different way to ask essentially the same clue could be “What part of the spectrum is the shortest?” This clue requires the contestant to understand that blue skies are cause by light, that color is caused by a spectrum found in sunlight, that the shortest color the spectrum is blue and that gases in the atmosphere interact with light to cause the sky to be blue.

Reusing old material could also potentially require consulting with a show’s standards and practices department, which typically serve as a way to ensure that game shows are fair to all contestants.

“Jeopardy!” could also establish its own guidelines by saying that it would only recycling material that aired, for example, five years ago or more. This could, in turn, causes issues with creating material that’s tilted toward more general knowledge because it couldn’t include clues about more recent events and might also need to eliminate outdated clues.