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We love writing about song royalties on Celebrity Net Worth. It’s probably our favorite topic of all time. Who wouldn’t want to get rich off song royalties? Write a hit song once, then earn direct deposits forever. It just seems like the best life ever. For example, did you know that for roughly two decades Sting earned an average of $2,000 per day in royalties thanks to “Every Breath You Take”? That’s $730,000 a year without getting out of bed. Before he sold his catalog for $300 million in late 2022, Sting earned at least $40 million in royalties off that one song.

But to all you aspiring Stings out there, if you want to get rich making music, you may want to spend less time writing pop hits for the radio and more time writing theme songs for game shows. Don’t believe me? Ask the heirs of television producer/songwriter Merv Griffin.

Merv Griffin not only created the television show “Jeopardy” (and “Wheel of Fortune”), but he also wrote the show’s now-iconic theme “Final Jeopardy” tune. You know the song. Da da da da, da da da, da da da da, da! da da da da… You’ve heard it a thousand times. And every time the song aired, Merv got paid.

Right before he died in 2007, Merv Griffin revealed exactly how much he earned just in royalties from the “Final Jeopardy” theme music. A song he cranked out in under 30 seconds…

(Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images.)

Creating Jeopardy

Merv Griffin created Jeopardy for the television network NBC in 1964. His wife Julann actually came up with the show’s concept on a flight from Minnesota to New York. Once the plane landed, Merv headed straight for NBC, where network executives bought the show on the spot, without a script or a pilot. The first version of Jeopardy was actually broadcast in the mornings and early afternoons before becoming the internationally syndicated nighttime game show that we are all familiar with today. During its 50-year run, the show has aired over 9,000 episodes and has spawned 30 international adaptations around the globe.

The version of Jeopardy we are familiar with today, with Alex Trebek at the helm, premiered in 1984. This most recent iteration has won 30 daytime Emmys and averages 25 million viewers each week. And we haven’t even talked about re-runs, which air continuously throughout the world on dozens of channels, 24 hours a day – 365 days a year.

Merv Griffin

Merv Griffin Net Worth /Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Final Jeopardy Theme Song

Over the last five decades, Jeopardy has used a few different songs for its main theme music, but the tune that’s played during Final Jeopardy has always been the same. That tune is a song called “Think.”

Merv wrote “Think” in 1963 as a lullaby to help his five-year-old son Tony fall asleep. The song’s original title was actually “A Time for Tony,” and, according to Merv, it only took around 30 seconds to write. Since 1984, re-worked renditions of “Think” have been used both for Final Jeopardy and as the show’s main theme music.

Merv sold his company “Merv Griffin Enterprises” to Coca-Cola in 1986 for $250 million. That’s the same as $700 million in today’s dollars.

The sale included both Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, but Merv retained ownership of “Think.” Just like a pop song, Merv got paid every time the song was used commercially. In other words, every time an episode of Jeopardy airs around the world, including re-runs and foreign adaptations, Merv got paid. He also got paid any time the song was played publicly, like during a sporting event or in a movie. Technically his estate gets paid now since Merv died in 2007 at the age of 82. So, how much had Merv earned in royalties up until that point? Luckily, in a 2005 interview with the New York Times, a reporter asked Merv this exact question. His reply:

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. A game show theme song that has never topped the Billboard charts and has probably never even been played on the radio or sold as a single at a record store. And in the years since that interview took place, it’s safe to assume the total royalty income for the song “Think” has grown to $100 million+.

The most famous Jeopardy contestant of all time, Ken Jennings, earned $2.5 million off his record-setting 74 game winning streak. In order for Ken Jennings to make $80 million, he would have to win 2,368 games in a row. That would require Jennings to win every episode of Jeopardy for ten years straight. Vanna White is the co-host of Merv’s other famous show, “Wheel of Fortune.” Vanna White’s salary is $10 million per year. She has to perform on 200 shows a year to earn her salary. So she would need to work for eight years, 1,600 show tapings, to earn what Merv made without having to lift a finger.

Oh, and one more thing about Merv Griffin: In the 80s and 90s, Merv used his Coca-Cola money to invest in real estate in a major way. 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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