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What Is... Cliff Clavin?

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"What Is... Cliff Clavin?"
Cheers episode
Cliff Clavin in Jeopardy.png
Cliff Clavin bets all $22,000 winnings and loses all in the final round of Jeopardy!
Episode no.Season 8
Episode 14
Directed byAndy Ackerman
Written byDan O'Shannon
Tom Anderson
Production code182[1]
Original air dateJanuary 18, 1990 (U.S.)[2]
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
← Previous
"Sammy and the Professor"
Next →
"Finally! Part 1"
Cheers (season 8)
List of Cheers episodes

"What Is... Cliff Clavin?" is the fourteenth episode of the eighth season of the American television sitcom Cheers, co-written by Dan O'Shannon and Tom Anderson, and directed by Andy Ackerman rather than James Burrows, who directed most of other episodes of the series. It originally aired on January 18, 1990 on NBC.[2] In this episode, Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) appears on the game show Jeopardy! and game show host Alex Trebek guest stars as himself. Cliff racks up an insurmountable lead during the game, only to lose it all in the final round. The episode received praise from critics for its concept and its guest star.


Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) competes on the television game show Jeopardy!, which has temporarily moved taping to Boston for a special occasion, and amasses $22,000 by the end of the Double Jeopardy! round, more than twice the score of the second place contestant, theoretically ensuring a win. For the Final Jeopardy! clue of "Archibald Leach, Bernard Schwartz and Lucille LeSueur" in the category of "Movies", Cliff responds incorrectly with "Who are 3 people who've never been in my kitchen?" Having wagered his entire score, Cliff loses all of his winnings.[3] Cliff objects and argues, demanding that his answer be accepted. The show's host, Alex Trebek, later arrives at Cheers, tells Cliff that his response should have been accepted earlier, and announces his resignation as the host of Jeopardy!. However, Cliff convinces Trebek to remain as host by telling him how much the show and Trebek mean to him. After Cliff shares the news with others, Norm Peterson (George Wendt) praises Trebek for doing this just to make Cliff feel better. However, Trebek says that he did not realize that Cliff was at the bar and that meeting him had been a coincidence. Trebek says that Cliff scares him and that the story about quitting the show was a fabrication to placate him.

Meanwhile, Sam Malone (Ted Danson) receives telephone calls from women whom he previously dated; they are angry with him for making dates and not arriving. He eventually discovers that his "little black book" has been stolen and enrolls the help of bar patrons to find it. Through their detective work, Sam discovers that the thief has called Sam's women alphabetically and that Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley) is the next recipient on the list. Carla uses her bluff to blackmail the reluctant Rebecca into helping Sam capture the thief. Sam and Rebecca find the thief to be a teenage boy named Timmy (Greg E. Davis), who wants to become a "babe hound" like Sam. To let Timmy go, Sam tells him to start as a "babe pup" and to call girls around his age, and gives him $25 for a haircut and a tip for a shampoo girl.


Dan O'Shannon and Tom Anderson co-wrote "What Is... Cliff Clavin?", and Andy Ackerman directed the episode.[3] Bernard Kuby portrays Earl,[3] a bar patron in the cold opening returning to Cheers for the first time since he moved to Alaska in the 1960s and explaining the bar's interior differences between 1960s and 1980s. Jeopardy! announcer Johnny Gilbert also made a guest appearance as himself[3] announcing the game show. William A. Porter portrays one of Jeopardy! contestants Milford Reynolds,[3] a doctor of neurosurgery. Audrey Lowell portrays another contestant Agnes Borsic,[3] a lawyer who eventually becomes the top winner after Cliff wagered and then lost all of his winnings. Peter Schreiner and Steven Rotblatt are credited for their background appearances.[3]


General Norman Schwarzkopf said this was the funniest episode of Cheers.[4] Don Leighton from Superior Telegram called this episode the greatest and said the Final Jeopardy! moment was hilarious.[5] Jeffrey Robinson from DVD Talk said the category topics – specifically "Civil Servants", "Stamps from Around the World", "Mothers and Sons", "Beer", "Bar Trivia", and "Celibacy" from the first round of Jeopardy! – and the concept of the episode were a riot.[6] Hot Springs Village Voice called Cliff's Final Jeopardy! moment a classic example of his mishaps caused by his own "know-it-all nature".[7] Andrew Razeghi, in his book Hope, called this episode "one of the most memorable episodes" of Cheers, found Cliff's response to the Final Jeopardy! clue neither right nor wrong and an example of divergent thinking, and called Cliff a poster child of Joy Paul Guilford.[1] Former Jeopardy! contestant Ken Jennings, in his book Brainiac, noted that Jeopardy!-related sitcom episodes had become common at the time.[8]

In popular culture[edit]

On the first episode of Jeopardy! season 31, which aired on September 15, 2014, Jeopardy! champion Elizabeth Williams echoed Cliff Clavin's answer in her response to the Final Jeopardy clue. Williams's $600 wager combined with her opponents' incorrect responses allowed Williams to triumph that day, nonetheless.[9]

The episode inspired the term "Clavin's Rule" in reference to maximizing all the winnings at the final round and losing them all.[10][11] Trebek himself "ma[de] several references to contestants pulling 'a Cliff Clavin' " since the episode originally aired.[12] Cameron Martin of The Atlantic magazine,[13] Ashley Burns of Uproxx[14] Tim Graham of ESPN blog,[15] and Christopher Hair of an SBNation blog Five for Howling[16] have also used the phrase "pull a Cliff Clavin," coined as a "practice".[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Razeghi 2006, "The Psychobiology of Cliff Clavin", p. 34.
  2. ^ a b Richmond 2004, p. 80.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Bjorklund, Dennis A. Cheers TV Show: A Comprehensive Reference. pp. 399–400. The source erroneously uses "Agent" instead of "Agnes" for the given name of one of fictional Jeopardy! contestants. Prior 1997 release: ISBN 9780899509624
  4. ^ Lipton, Michael A. (May 24, 1993). "Lights Out at Sam's Place". People. 39 (20). Retrieved October 13, 2011.
  5. ^ "Spartans win". Superior Telegram. Superior, Wisconsin. July 23, 2010. Retrieved May 5, 2012.
  6. ^ Robinson, Jeffrey (June 18, 2006). "Cheers - The Complete Eighth Season". DVD Talk. Retrieved May 5, 2012.
  7. ^ "Cheers star John Ratzenberger to be marshal at St. Patrick's Day parade". Hot Springs Village Voice. December 3, 2008. Archived from the original on January 3, 2013. Retrieved May 5, 2012.
  8. ^ Jennings, Ken (2006). "What Is Audition?". Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. New York: Villard—Random – via Google Books.
  9. ^ Bradley, Bill (September 18, 2014). "This Jeopardy! Contestant's 'Cheers' Reference Is The Best Fail Ever". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  10. ^ Allaire, Franklin (2012). "Cliff Lost on Jeopardy!, Baby". In Shaun P. Young. Jeopardy! and Philosophy: What Is Knowledge in the Form of a Question?. Chicago: Open Court. p. 40. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  11. ^ Chu, Arthur (February 25, 2014). "Jeopardy champ Arthur Chu: the game is about intimidation, not trivia". The Guardian. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  12. ^ Leise, Cindy (July 14, 2004). "Pop Culture Mentions of Jeopardy!". The Chronicle-Telegram. Elyria, Ohio. p. A2 – via
  13. ^ Martin, Cameron (February 14, 2011). "Jeopardy! Man vs. Machine: Who (or What) Should You Root For?". The Atlantic. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  14. ^ Burns, Ashley (March 12, 2015). "'Final Jeopardy' Was Very Lonely for This Contestant". Uproxx. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  15. ^ Graham, Tim (December 14, 2009). "Do You Think Moss Mailbagged It?". ESPN. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  16. ^ Hair, Christopher (September 3, 2014). "Shane Doan and the 1995 NHL Draft Class". Five for Howling. Retrieved January 21, 2019 – via SBNation.
  17. ^ "Watch: The funniest Cliff episode of Cheers also inspired Jeopardy! in real life". MeTV. April 23, 2018. Retrieved January 21, 2019.


External links[edit]