On March 2, Coca-Cola was a $200 clue on Jeopardy! in the category of Food & Drink Brands. But it wasn’t the brand’s first appearance on the hit TV quiz show; the company has been featured more than 200 times on Jeopardy! throughout its 33-season run.

“We try to present clues that are fresh and interesting, and yet about material familiar and accessible to our audience,” explains Billy Wisse, Jeopardy! head writer. “Coke is part of the fabric of American life in culture, the wartime experience and many other areas. So it’s natural that it would turn up in many Jeopardy! clues about a variety of subjects.”

Coca-Cola clues over the years have run the gamut from pop culture references and classic advertising, to business milestones and leadership.

“Coke is a brand everyone feels part of, so it naturally plays into a game show like Jeopardy! and provides never-ending possibilities for clues,” said retired Coca-Cola Archivist Phil Mooney. “It gives them a lot of room to maneuver.”

Mooney was even featured on the show in the late-‘80s. “They decided to do a category called ‘Thanks, Guys’ acknowledging people like me who’d helped with research,” he recalled. “On a periodic basis, the Jeopardy! team would call us to talk about certain clues and verify facts they planned to use on the show – whether it be about New Coke, Coke in the movies, or the iconic contour bottle.”

The phrasing of the clue was: “Phil Mooney chronicles history for this soft drink company.”

“So you basically had a 50-50 chance of getting it right,” Mooney recalled with a laugh. “I was worth $400 to one contestant! To this day, the fact that I was an answer tile on Jeopardy! makes for a great cocktail party conversation starter.”

For a few years in the ‘80s, Coca-Cola owned Jeopardy! – literally – through its ownership of Columbia Pictures. In 1986, Columbia bought Merv Griffin Enterprises, which produced several top-rated syndicated game shows including Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! Before Coca-Cola acquired Columbia Pictures, TV accounted for only one-third of the studio’s operating income. By 1986, it had climbed to 85 percent.

'We try to present clues that are fresh and interesting and yet about material familiar and accessible to our audience. Coke is part of the fabric of American life in culture, the wartime experience and many other areas. So it’s natural that it would turn up in many Jeopardy! clues about a variety of subjects.'

“Television was a very profitable unit for us,” said Peter Sealey, a veteran Coke executive who was tapped to run marketing and distribution for Columbia Pictures. “One year, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! were the second-most profitable sector of The Coca-Cola Company other than brand Coke.”

Movies were less of a sure thing. Of the 20 or so films Columbia released annually during the Coke era, only a handful turned a profit. One notorious big-budget bomb – 1987’s Ishtar – lost more than $40 million. Thankfully for the company, the hits more than covered for less-successful releases.

Thanks to senior leadership’s aversion to the high-profile nature of the entertainment business, the company sold Columbia Pictures to Sony in 1989. The deal – which netted Coke more than $500 million in profit – was fueled by senior leadership’s back-to-basics vision for the enterprise.

“The Hollywood model was so different from what we were used to,” Mooney said. “It was a much riskier business and, as time went on, the company became more risk adverse."