The Jeopardy Theme Song: How a 30 Second Baby Lullaby Turned Into $70 Million Dollars
Can you imagine receiving $70 million dollars for something that took you 30 seconds? That's what happened to Merv Griffin in the early 1960's when he came up with a short lullaby for his son Tony. It was originally called "A Time for Tony" but was later changed to "Think!" and debuted as the theme music for the long-running TV game show "Jeopardy" in 1964. Merv Griffin was the show's creator, as well as the creator of the equally famous game show "Wheel of Fortune." He later sold both shows for $250 million dollars to Columbia Pictures in 1986 and at that time it was the largest acquisition of an entertainment production company in history.
Merv Griffin had a very eclectic background. In his early 20's he was a professional singer and had the number one song in America with 1950's "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts!" which sold 3 million copies. He was then signed to a contract to the big Hollywood studio Warner Brothers as an actor but after a few films he actually bought out the remainder of his contract to pursue what he felt was a brighter future in television. Oh, how right he was, eventually hitting it big as one of the biggest television hosts of all time with "The Merv Griffin Show" and of course his famous game shows. He was a hard working, creative force that earned more than Johnny Carson, and after the sale of his production company in 1986, was named "The Richest Performer in Hollywood History" by Forbes.
It doesn't surprise one that such a giant entertainment figure became so wealthy and successful, but it does surprise someone when you consider the impact and worth of his 30 second piece of music "Think!" It is absolutely amazing that such a short tune with no lyrics has become such a part of popular culture. Think about how many times you've heard the music outside of the Jeopardy TV show. It plays in giant sports arenas during time outs while the audience is entertained with short trivia questions. It appears in TV commercials and movies. Perhaps the most interesting use of the music is amongst people in everyday conversations. When someone is waiting for an answer, instead of quietly waiting, they may start humming the Jeopardy theme.
When someone tells me there is no opportunity for financial success being an artist because they don't have the time to invest creating art, I will now have the Jeopardy music playing in my head, thinking, "you don't have 30 seconds?" Your whole life can change in an instant if you're willing to look outside what people often give as barriers. Sure, Merv Griffin did thousands of other things leading up to his millions in earnings, but it starts with something. Next time you're humming a tune or find a spare few seconds, instead of spending it on your usual fixations, try to come up with some new idea for a song, a movie, a book, a TV show, or something the world has never heard of. You may just get the world singing your tune.
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I'm David Carus. From overcoming one of the most dangerous cities in the country and graduating from one of the most prestigious colleges in America to leading an educational movement as a teacher and running for Congress at the age of 25, I decided the best hope our world has is through art.