Advertisement

‘Rock & Roll Jeopardy!’ Plugs In to Music Trivia

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Think you know your rock ‘n’ roll, do you?

Well, if you can name the Quebecoise vocalist who recorded “Unison” as her first album in English and the country that spawned Falco--and can remember to answer in the form of a question--VH1 may have the show for you.

“Rock & Roll Jeopardy!,” a spinoff of the original “Jeopardy!” quiz show, premieres Saturday on the cable music channel. Its producers think giving the popular syndicated game show a rock ‘n’ roll twist will be pure harmony, and they may be right. At last count, more than 70,000 people had applied to be contestants on the show, and the requests keep coming in, says Harry Friedman, producer for both the original “Jeopardy!” and “Rock & Roll Jeopardy!”

“People like it because it allows you to be knowledgeable and have fun at the same time,” he says.

Advertisement

Viewers will have little trouble distinguishing the buttoned-down version from its more free-spirited offspring. The angular set and flashy colored lighting is patterned after a concert stage, the familiar opening theme is played on electric guitar and the top prize is a mere $5,000.

“It’s cable, what can I say?” Jeffrey Gaspin, a VH1 vice president and executive producer of the show, says with a laugh.

Plugged-in theme and low budget notwithstanding, the rock ‘n’ roll version essentially remains true to “Jeopardy!,” which premiered on TV in 1964. The judges are still sticklers for accuracy and the furrowed brows of contestants in the program’s first two episodes betray a level of tension. But “Rock & Roll Jeopardy!” host Jeff Probst says the competition is all in good fun.

“With the rock ‘n’ roll format, the contestants are looser,” Probst says. “They’re not worried about world history, just INXS.”

Advertisement

Probst, who doubles as a correspondent on “Access Hollywood,” says it took some rehearsing to get used to the show’s upbeat tempo. He studied tapes of “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek and says that, after five or six takes, he finally got into the groove when taping started in June.

“It’s kind of an unfair thing, but I basically got to watch what [Trebek] has been doing for 15 years and just copied him,” he says. “There are a lot of little tricks that someone can steal.”

So far, 26 shows have been taped on Sound Stage 11 at Columbia TriStar’s studios in Culver City, including two celebrity installments: One features actors Yasmine Bleeth, David Alan Grier and Wallace Langham, and the other tests musicians Graham Nash, Joe Walsh and Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray.

Probst admits he fares better as moderator than he probably would as a contestant. “Give me late ‘70s, early ‘80s, Van Halen--I can smother,” he says. “But this is everything from Elvis and the Beatles to rap and R&B.; Even if you’re really good, it’s still a challenge.”

Like VH1, “Rock & Roll Jeopardy!” is aimed primarily at 25- to 34-year-olds, but, with plenty of questions from the ‘50s and ‘60s to the present rock scene, the show’s producers hope to appeal to a broader demographic. “If you watch this station, chances are you’re a music fan, so I think viewers will really be into it and excited,” Gaspin says.

Gaspin says “Rock & Roll Jeopardy!” won’t drown out “My Generation,” VH1’s other game show, adding that the cable channel may eventually put the two music trivia games in back-to-back time slots.

Creating a musical version of “Jeopardy!” has been a goal of Gaspin’s since he came to VH1 two years ago. He approached Columbia TriStar, which produces the syndicated game show, with the idea and was initially rejected, but a year later the studio reconsidered and approved the concept.

Producer Friedman says collaborating with VH1 was a natural progression. “VH1 knows their audience very, very well, and it wasn’t hard to figure out that music, more than anything, evokes memories,” he says.

Advertisement

While the VH1 version may strike a chord with trivia fans, don’t expect to see a “Jeopardy!” spinoff on another specialty cable station any time soon. While Friedman also produces a kids version of the game called “Jep!” for the Game Show network, he says there are currently no plans to develop other “Jeopardy!"-type shows.

* “Rock & Roll Jeopardy!” premieres at 8 p.m. Saturday on VH1.


Advertisement