“For the first time in 36 years, we have managed to gather, on our stage, the three most successful contestants to ever play Jeopardy!” Alex Trebek said at the start of the Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time Tournament.
And ABC managed to gather, on Jeopardy’s game board, several advertisements for its parent company, the Walt Disney Company. Jeopardy! is one of the few things in Hollywood left that’s not owned by Disney—it’s a syndicated show produced by Sony and distributed by CBS—but you might not have known that watching the first prime-time GOAT episode, thanks to all the product placement.
When Alex Trebek announced that”American Idols” and then “Toy Story” were categories in the second game of last night’s Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time Tournament, I laughed at how brazen the product placement had become, and that was before Ryan Seacrest and the show’s judges showed up, in video form, to deliver clues that focused on themselves.
By that point, there’d already been a number of Disney properties that showed up. The very first category was National Geographic: Atlas of the National Parks, which happens to be a $65 book you can buy.
(I should disclose here that I benefit financially if you click those links, because I’m an Amazon affiliate, but also because I own a few shares of Disney stock. When I was a Disney theme park-obsessed kid, my grandmother got them for me as a Christmas present. Who knew that one day I’d end up owning a tiny, almost invisible fraction of the network that broadcasts The Bachelor?)
Despite the ads, it was a terrific hour of Jeopardy!, and a great idea for a tournament. The first round had no wrong answers: that’s how good these three players are. They did start missing answers in later rounds, but after the first two games, the difference between winning and losing this first round came down to just 200 points.
Jeopardy!’s Disney and ABC-themed categories
The first episode of the tournament had two games, and of those four rounds, only one didn’t have any Disney ads: the second game’s Double Jeopardy. That is, unless you count “All in the Family: Government Edition,” but connecting that to ABC’s Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons seemed like a stretch.
So out of 26 categories (13 per show: six in each round, plus Final Jeopardy), we had six Disney-themed categories:
- National Geographic: Atlas of the National Parks (owned by Disney)
- The Oscars (ABC owns the broadcast rights until 2028)
- Dancing with Czars (a reference to an ABC reality show)
- David Muir Covers the World (Muir anchors ABC’s World News Tonight, and ABC News is owned by Disney)
- American Idols (a show now broadcast by ABC, a Disney network)
- Toy Story (Pixar, also owned by Disney)
That’s a total of 23 percent. If you exclude Final Jeopardy, it’s 25 percent: one quarter of the categories.
The categories weren’t the only ads for Disney, but the clues in some categories were also structured in a way that sounded like they included promotional copy. Here’s one, from the Oscars category: “Nearly 44 million people were watching the Oscars on ABC in 2014 when this film about Solomon Northup won best picture.”
“David Muir Covers the World” had some clues given by the ABC News personality, and all of them just promoted his work.
The “American Idols” category had had clues given by current American Idol judges Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and two from host Ryan Seacrest. They had nothing to do with American Idol, but were framed in a way to center the Idol/ABC/Disney star
Round two started with two ABC categories: Dancing with Czars, a category that wasn’t about Dancing with the Stars but still required the contestants to say the show’s name over and over again, which was at least clever.
And of course, slipping in a bunch of corporate synergy and advertising into Jeopardy! clues is also clever and smart, because why not take advantage of the massive audience that was watching?
It’s also not something ABC forced upon Jeopardy!, which has been including products and brands into its questions for some time. Sony even used it to advertise for Ghostbusters. I’m sure we’ll see more cateogries and clues for Disney—and ABC, and Pixar, and maybe Marvel and FX, or NatGeo and EPSN, plus Star Wars, et cetera—in the coming episodes.