Merv Griffin Earned A Fortune Off The Jeopardy Theme Song Royalties

Singers and artists are earning huge amounts from song royalties. They write a hit song once and then earn direct deposits forever. That seems like a great plan ever.

For instance, did you know that for nearly 20 years Sting earned an average of $2,000 per day in royalties from his song “Every Breath You Take”? That amount translates to a nice $730,000 a year without working. Before selling his catalog for $300 million in late 2022, Sting earned around $40 million in royalties off this one song.

But for all aspiring musicians out there, in case they want to get rich making music, they may want to spend less time writing different pop hits for the radio and more time writing theme songs for game shows. If you do not believe it, check out the heirs of television producer/songwriter Merv Griffin.

Merv Griffin not only conceived the television game show “Jeopardy” (alongside “Wheel of Fortune”), but he also composed the show’s iconic theme music for “Final Jeopardy.” You’re familiar with the tune—it goes da da da da, da da da, da da da da, da! da da da da… It’s been heard countless times, and each time it played, Merv received royalties.

Just before his passing in 2007, Merv Griffin disclosed the staggering amount he earned solely from royalties for the “Final Jeopardy” theme music—a tune he crafted in under 30 seconds.

Creating Jeopardy

Merv Griffin conceived Jeopardy for NBC in 1964, with the initial concept coming from his wife Julann during a flight from Minnesota to New York. Upon landing, Merv immediately pitched the idea to NBC executives, who promptly purchased the show without a script or pilot. Initially aired in morning and early afternoon slots, Jeopardy later transitioned to its globally syndicated nighttime format.

Over its 50-year history, Jeopardy has broadcasted more than 9,000 episodes and inspired 30 international adaptations worldwide. The version we recognize today, hosted by Alex Trebek, premiered in 1984. This iteration has garnered 30 daytime Emmys and attracts an average of 25 million viewers weekly. Additionally, Jeopardy reruns air continuously across numerous channels globally, providing round-the-clock entertainment every day of the year.

Merv Griffin

Final Jeopardy Theme Song

Over the past five decades, Jeopardy has employed various main theme music, but the enduring tune played during Final Jeopardy has remained consistent: “Think.”

Merv Griffin composed “Think” in 1963 as a lullaby for his five-year-old son, Tony, originally titled “A Time for Tony.” Remarkably, Merv crafted the melody in just around 30 seconds. Since 1984, revised versions of “Think” have served as both Final Jeopardy’s music and the show’s main theme.

In 1986, Merv sold his company, “Merv Griffin Enterprises,” to Coca-Cola for $250 million, equivalent to $700 million today. This deal included Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, but Merv retained ownership of “Think.” Like a chart-topping hit, Merv earned royalties every time the song was used commercially, including in Jeopardy episodes worldwide, reruns, foreign adaptations, and public events like sports games or movies. Since Merv’s passing in 2007 at age 82, his estate continues to receive these royalties.

In a 2005 interview with the New York Times, Merv revealed the substantial earnings he had accrued in royalties up to that point.

He responded:

“You don’t want to know…That little 30 seconds has made me a fortune, millions!… Probably $70-80 million.”

$70-80 Million

From a game show theme song, he earned that amount. A game show theme song that has never topped the Billboard charts and has maybe never even been played on the radio or sold as a single at a record store. In the years since that interview happened, it is safe to state that the total royalty income for the song “Think” has grown to exceed $100 million.

The most famous jeopardy contestant of all time, Ken Jennings, earned $2.5 million off his record-setting 74-game winning streak. For Ken Jennings to make $80 million, he would need to win 2,368 games in a row. It would need Jennings to win each episode of Jeopardy for ten consecutive years.

Notably, Vanna White is the co-host of Merv’s other renowned show, “Wheel of Fortune.” Vanna White earns an annual salary of $10 million. To meet her salary, she must appear in 200 shows each year. Therefore, it would take her eight years and 1,600 show tapings to accumulate the amount that Merv earned effortlessly.

One last thing about Merv Griffin: In the 80s and 90s, Merv utilized his Coca-Cola money to invest in real estate massively. At one point, he even owned the world-famous Beverly Hilton Hotel. When Merv died in 2007, his net worth was $1.3 billion. Not bad for a former talk show host.

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