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What Is...Cliff Clavin?]]
Season 8, Episode 14
Air date 18 January 1990
Written by Dan O'Shannon and Tom Anderson
Directed by Andy Ackerman
Episode guide
Sammy And The Professor
Finally! - Part 1

"What is... Cliff Clavin?" is an eighth season episode of the American television series Cheers. The episode has become notable for its focus on know-it-all character Cliff Clavin's appearance on the American game show Jeopardy! The episode's name is a reference to the Jeopardy! rule that all contestants' responses must be phrased in the form of a question. Coincidentally, both series are now distributed by CBS Television Distribution (though another company owns ancillary rights to Jeopardy!).

This episode is somewhat unique in that a bulk of the plot takes place outside the bar. It was also directed by Andy Ackerman rather than James Burrows, who directed 243 of Cheers' 273 episodes.

[edit] Plot outline[]

Cliff Clavin qualifies to appear on a special episode of Jeopardy! taping in Boston, Massachusetts. As a large trivia fan, this has been Cliff's dream for years.

The categories in the Jeopardy! round (CIVIL SERVANTS, STAMPS FROM AROUND THE WORLD, MOTHERS AND SONS, BEER, BAR TRIVIA, and CELIBACY) were described by Woody as Cliff's "dream board." (The identical categories were used much later in a May 10, 2005 episode of the Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions.)[1][2]

After a presumably successful first round (given the board) and Cliff's high score by the time Final Jeopardy comes around, Cliff gains some confidence and begins acting cocky. Entering Final Jeopardy, Cliff has amassed $22,000, with his closest competitor having only $3,300. However, under a category of "MOVIES", Cliff foolishly wagers his entire $22,000 and is stumped by the clue of "Archibald Leach, Bernard Schwartz and Lucille LeSueur". Cliff's response of "Who are three people who've never been in my kitchen?"[3] is deemed humorous, but incorrect. (The correct response was "What were the real names of Cary Grant, Tony Curtis and Joan Crawford?")[3] Cliff loses all of his money and a contestant with only a $400 total is crowned Jeopardy! champion, as Cliff launches into an angry tirade, protesting that his response should be accepted.

Later at the bar, Cliff is embarrassed by and despondent over his performance on the show. Trebek arrives at the bar. Carla greets Alex telling him that he's even cuter in person than on Jeopardy. Alex is flattered and thanks her for the compliment. Carla asks Alex, "Do all you famous gameshow hosts know each other?" Alex can see what Carla is getting at and tells her that the answer is no, he doesn't know Vanna White all that well. Carla says then he'll believe that she's better in bed than Vanna White. Alex, now a bit uncomfortable, excuses himself and attempts to console Cliff by saying that he can sympathize with Cliff's argument about the correctness of his response. Trebek says that he is now so upset by the whole matter that he intends to quit his job as the host of Jeopardy! and move to Tibet. Since Cliff regards the show, with Trebek as the host, as an American institution, he is alarmed by this prospect and implores Trebek to remain. When Trebek agrees, Cliff is no longer upset over his performance, but instead believes that he has "saved" Jeopardy! by talking Trebek into staying with the show.

After Cliff rushes out to share the news, Norm talks with Trebek and tells him that it's admirable that Trebek would come all the way over to the bar just to try to make Cliff feel better. Trebek then reveals that he had no idea Cliff was at the bar, and that running into him had only been a coincidence. Trebek says that once he saw Cliff, he cooked up the story about quitting as improvisation to placate Cliff because "he scares me." Norm then says to Alex, "You too, huh?"[1]

While the Jeopardy! story is the main plot of the episode (Woody and Norm attend the taping), there is another plotline at the bar. Sam begins getting calls from women he used to date, angry with him for making dates and never showing up. He eventually discovers that someone has taken his little black book, and he enrolls the help of men around the bar to track down his book. Through their detective work he discovers the caller is working through the book alphabetically, and Rebecca Howe is the next on the list. The thief turns out to be a teenaged boy who wants to become a "babe hound" like Sam himself.

An early Jeopardy! reference to the Cheers episode happened during the May 18, 1990 airing of the final round of the Jeopardy! College Championship. Soon-to-be champion Michael Thayer of Rutgers College bet $0 and wrote "Who was someone I never met?" as his response in Final Jeopardy. When the contestants' wagers and responses were revealed, Trebek commented, "Michael, looks like you were watching that episode of Cheers."[4]

Over a decade later, on the Jeopardy! episode airing June 6, 2000, contestant Gene Newmier didn't know the correct response to the following Daily Double: Hedda Tesman, Helen Alving, Knut Brovik. Newmier's response was "Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen?"[5] On that occasion, the category was "Who Created 'Em?", making Newmier's response more explicitly incorrect than was Cliff's. (The correct response was "Who is Henrik Ibsen?", as the three names are those of characters from plays penned by the Norwegian dramatist.)

In the Jeopardy! fan community, the episode gave rise to what is known as "Clavin's Rule", a rule of thumb that states that a player should not wager enough to endanger a "lock" or "runaway" game (one where the first-place player has more than twice the score of the second-place player), no matter how tempting the category.[6]