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" Jeopardy!, Dreamworks Bring This Unconventional Category to Life"

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by Billy Wisse, Jeopardy! Head Writer

I was intrigued by the opportunity to work with the DreamWorks team on a "Kung Fu Panda" category. The original movie is treasured in my family (it’s surprising how useful the line “We do not wash our pits in the Pool of Sacred Tears” can be) and established Po's unique personality – boastful yet genuinely valiant, egotistical but always infectiously enthusiastic – about the greatness around him. It would make for a memorable category if we could channel that voice to bring some Jeopardy!-style information to life.

The panda's passion for the legacy of kung fu was a natural subject. My first attempt at a script for him was a category about some famous martial artists of history and legend. But our senior producer Lisa Broffman rightly felt the category should be broader. When I thought harder about what makes Po unique, the phrase “unconventional warrior” came to mind. The second and more successful effort used the panda’s voice to read a historical category about people who made a difference in warfare despite not being everyone’s idea of a dashing soldier. Like Po himself.

When bringing in an outside character or real person to present a category, we try to find a balance between having them present a subject too close to, and too far from, their actual interests. It's interesting to have some space between what they're known for and what they're talking about. To have Albert Einstein read a physics category wouldn't take advantage of the fun of having him on the show. Yet to have Einstein read a category about pasta would just be weird and confusing. We need to find a balance, and we felt that giving clues about military history to the Kung Fu Panda would strike the right note.

It was great to see the contestants, studio audience, and even Alex (who hadn’t seen the finished clues until he read them onstage) react to the energy of Jack Black’s reading and the vibrancy his movements gave as Po “read” the clues. It was a reminder that as we put our heads down and grind out the material for next week’s and next month’s shows, there is a whole world of new ways to make clues on academic subjects vivid, enjoyable, and memorable.