Longtime associate director Clay Jacobsen has officially been named Jeopardy!’s new director following the recent retirement of Kevin McCarthy. While sitting in the director’s chair may seem daunting, it isn’t Clay’s first rodeo. Since graduating from Oral Roberts University, Clay has had a wide-ranging career in the television world, racking up directing credits like “Entertainment Tonight,” “The Florence Henderson Show,” “Dennis Miller,” “American Idol Extra,” and “Disney’s Christmas Parade.” He’s even worked with some of Hollywood’s biggest icons, like Merv Griffin and Jerry Lewis. Get to know a little more about the guy now sitting in the first chair of the production booth, and then watch a sneak peek of him directing the premiere show of Season 35.
How long have you been with Jeopardy!? What roles have you had throughout your time with the show?
Way back when, I filled in as the technical director in the late ’80s, early ’90s. I had a long history with the Merv Griffin people. I used to be a cameraman and technical director on “The Merv Griffin Show,” so I knew the producers and Merv from all those years ago. So they called me every once in a while to fill in. About 12 or 13 years ago, one of the associate directors went on leave and I was asked to fill in for three months. I was in between directing jobs, so I said, “Sure!” Well, he didn’t come back, so they asked me to stay. For 12 years, I had that role. When Kevin McCarthy retired, I was fortunate enough to have Harry Friedman ask me to take over.
How did you get into television?
I went to a game show at ABC when I was 15 and I said, “Whatever that is, I want to do that!” I went to Oral Roberts University and got a degree in telecommunications, knowing that the students at that school did Oral’s TV show. He had a Sunday morning broadcast and nationwide quarterly specials. So it was one of the few places you could get a degree in television and have a résumé in television when you graduated.
What would you say was your “big break”?
My biggest break came when I was technical director for “The Dating Game.” The director wasn’t available for a week of production, so the producers asked me to jump in. They loved it so much that they asked me to take over the show for the following season. And I think right after that, Jerry Lewis called my house and said, “I want you to direct the telethon this year.”
How did you become pals with Jerry Lewis?
I had run camera for the Jerry Lewis telethon – technical supervisor, technical director – and I just got to know Jerry. He just took a liking to me. He said, “Someday you’re going to direct my show, kid!” And I was like, “Yeah, right. We’ll see.” And one day he called. There was no way I had the credits at that point. The producer was like, “No, no, I got all these people. I want you to use them.” And Jerry was like, “No! I want Clay to direct my telethon.” And so I directed it for six years.
Give us a fun fact about yourself.
I’m an author. I’ve written four Christian-themed thrillers that were published and one nonfiction book. It’s not my focus, but I’m hoping during my time off that I’ll get to writing again.
Are there new things you plan to do as director of Jeopardy!? Is there anything unique you think you’ll bring to the show?
I’ve directed sports, game shows, talk shows; I think talk shows are probably what you’d see the most on my résumé. So I think I can bring a bit more expertise to the interview segment. Find ways to put a little more life into it. I hope so, anyway. And there may be some other subtle things that might make the show look a little bit different.
But as far as the game, no. The Jeopardy! game is the game, and that’s just what you flow with. You might see a little more of Alex in interviews – see a few more angles on him as he’s talking. But the game is pretty much going to be the game. And it should stay that way.