Mervinamillian Aloysius 'Merv' Griffin (July 6, 1925 - August 12, 2007) was an entertainer, TV personality, hotelier, and businessman. He was perhaps best known as a producer of TV game shows including Jeopardy! and the popular Who Wants to Win Stuff They Didn't Work to Earn? But it was his now-forgotten work in front of the camera that put Griffin in a position to amass his TV empire.
An Actor's ActorEdit
Griffin was a small-time commercial actor whose largest role to date was as "Man with Upset Stomach" in a Pepto-Bismol ad when he got his big break -- CBS executives tapped him to star in a self-titled sitcom, The Merv Griffin Show. The popular sitcom cast Griffin as a folksy rural sheriff who seemed to have more trouble calming his jittery deputy than he did with would-be lawbreakers.
"It was performance on that program that really underscores Merv's ability as an actor," said Thomas Raferty, author of Don't Call Me Andy: The Merv Griffin Story. "I mean Merv is a pretty sophisticated, urbane guy, quick with a quip or an anecdote about Zsa Zsa. But once the camera started rolling on that show, you really believed he was some sort of bumpkin."
Griffin parlayed that success into another starring role -- this time as a folksy lawyer on the hit series Matlock. But Griffin's many off-camera business deals were taking up an increasing amount of his time, and he found himself bored with acting. After two seasons on Matlock, Griffin left the show, but not before arranging for some old coot to take his place.
What is 'Financially Renumerative,' Alex?Edit
It was on the set of The Merv Griffin Show where Griffin conceived his most profitable creation. "There was a lot of down time on that set," Griffin remembers. "So I got to talking with [co-star] Don Knotts quite a bit. Don was very fond of asking questions -- 'You talking to me?' 'You got a problem with me?' 'Who's ready to meet their maker?' -- that sort of thing. And it got me thinking, a show where you had the questions already, but had to supply the answers, might be something that people would want to watch."
The show, Questions and Beatdowns, was a colossal failure. Hosted by Knotts himself, the show would pepper contestants with rapid-fire questions. If contestants were unable to provide an answer -- or if they hesitated for just a second -- they found themselves on the business end of one of Knotts' legendary outbursts of murderous rage.
Griffin eventually tweaked the format to create Jeopardy! "It turns out people loved the questions, but not the vicious beatings so much," Griffin says. "So you live and you learn."