This past weekend, “Jeopardy!” executive producer Harry Friedman was looking forward to Monday, when millions of viewers would eagerly tune in to see if phenom James Holzhauer would break champion Ken Jennings' record winnings. Holzhauer only needed about $59,000, so it seemed like a distinct possibility.
Then, Sunday afternoon, Friedman and his fellow producers received disturbing news. Somehow, someone had “pirated” the feed of the episode and a clip leaked on the internet that showed Holzhauer losing in dramatic fashion, as he fell just short of the $2.5 million that Jennings won over 74 games in 2004.
“Somebody alerted us that they had seen it on YouTube. By the time we saw it, it already had 2,000 views,” Friedman said in an interview. The footage quickly spread to other social media sites.
“I feel bad for the viewers. It's not fair,” he continued. “I'm not sure what's gained by doing something like that, other than some malicious intent. It doesn't really benefit anybody.”
As the clip circulated, headlines about possible “Jeopardy!” spoilers started popping up on various websites and blogs on Sunday – although producers wouldn't verify if the footage was accurate. Late Monday morning, after the show's first broadcast aired in Montgomery, Alabama, outlets including the Washington Post and New York Times published stories, with carefully crafted headlines and “spoiler” warnings, confirming Holzhauer had lost.
While Friedman said he “can't say at this point” who posted the footage, producers have a good idea of what happened. “We think we know where and who and how,” he said, adding that the show will take “very, very, very appropriate” action against those responsible.
Nonetheless, Friedman was happy to see the excited response Monday from fans who were captivated by Holzhauer's astonishing run. As a professional sports gambler, his hardball tactics of vacuuming up the highest-value clues and wagering huge amounts on Daily Double and Final Jeopardy became must-see TV.
“I think it reinforces that excellence really has no limit, and that there are different ways to play the game,” Friedman said. “But your strategy is only as good as your ability to come up with the correct response once you hit that signaling button.”
Holzhauer typically had no problem with either the buzzer or knowing the answers, though he was bested on the episode broadcast Monday by Emma Boettcher, a University of Chicago librarian who won by nearly $22,000. Friedman, who has been executive producer of since 1999, described Holzhauer as a bit “shell shocked” that his “Jeopardy!” run was finally over.
Seeing him leave was an emotional experience, Friedman said, as the crew all got to know him over the weeks on the show. Even host Alex Trebek got choked up at the end of the episode.
“We were pleased and surprised that nothing leaked out before this past weekend. I think that speaks for the respect that people in studio audience have for the show,” Friedman said.