When Wayne native Brendan Roach lost on Jeopardy! Monday night, his friends in Massachusetts found out a half-hour later than his family in the Philadelphia area.
That’s because Jeopardy! airs at 7:30 p.m. on WBZ4, Boston’s CBS affiliate, while it airs on 6ABC here in Philadelphia at 7 p.m.
Prior to James Holzhauer’s 33-game run on the popular game show, not many people were aware that Jeopardy! actually airs at different times across the country. That became an issue when Holzhauer’s loss to Paoli native Emma Boettcher last week leaked, leading to a scramble to verify the viral video that showed the outcome.
The first confirmed reports of Holzhauer’s defeat began showing up around 11 a.m. because WAKA, a CBS affiliate in Selma, Ala., airs Jeopardy! at 9:30 a.m. Central Time Zone. The New York Times hired a freelancer in Montgomery to watch the show, FaceTiming reporter Julia Jacobs so she could watch through her phone.
While Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune generally air back-to-back in most East Coast markets, though the order can vary, the show’s start time fluctuates widely in the Central Time Zone. Many markets air Jeopardy! at 11 a.m. local time, while the ABC affiliate in Houston — the seventh-largest television market in the country — airs the show locally at 1 p.m.
The difference is due to what networks call prime access, the time between the end of the local news and the beginning of network prime time. On the East Coast, prime access is a full hour from 7 to 8 p.m. But in the Central Time Zone, that window is just 30 minutes, forcing station managers to choose between Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune at 6:30 p.m. local time.
Sample East Coast schedule (all times local):
Sample Central Time schedule (all times local):
Mark Brooks, the general manager of ABC affiliate WBBJ in Jackson, Tenn., has worked in the market for 43 years, and said Jeopardy! has aired at 11 a.m. as far as he can remember. Over that time, he’s only ever received one phone call about the program. And it wasn’t about the air time.
“He felt like the Jeopardy! judges gave the wrong answer about silver being a conductor of electricity,” Brooks said. “He said gold is a conductor of electricity and wanted me to call the folks at Jeopardy! and put them straight.”
While Wheel of Fortune may be more popular in many markets, in Philadelphia, Jeopardy! is the clear ratings winner. In May, during Holzhauer’s historic run, Jeopardy! delivered an 11.6 household rating on 6ABC (about 326,000 households), while Wheel of Fortune drew a 7.9 (about 222,000 households).
Episodes of Jeopardy! are filmed months before they air, at the blistering pace of five episodes a day. While the contestants are forced to sign nondisclosure agreements, the show is filmed before a studio audience that is only asked to keep the results of the show under wraps before they air.
In Chicago, the largest market in the country not to air Jeopardy! in the evening, the popular game show airs at 3:30 p.m. Central time on the city’s ABC affiliate.
“Jeopardy! has been a staple of ABC 7’s daytime lineup for the better part of 35 years and is still going strong at 3:30 p.m.,” said Jayme Nicholds, a spokesperson for the station. “People in Chicago have made Jeopardy! a viewing tradition in that time period.”
That certainly made things interesting for Boettcher during her three-game run last week. Boettcher lives and works in Chicago, but most of her family resides in the Philadelphia area, meaning her friends found out the results several hours before many of her family members.
“It’s wild,” Boettcher told The Inquirer.
The day the episode during which he defeated Boettcher was scheduled to air, Roach said, he was surprised to receive a call during the afternoon from a friend living in Des Moines, Iowa, where Jeopardy! airs locally at 3:30 p.m. on NBC affiliate WHO.
“I had to urge him not to spoil anything for those of us who had to wait another couple of hours to watch,” Roach said.