Alex Trebek on Jeopardy! After He Passes Away
by Billy Ingram
In this 2007 interview with the Television Academy, Alex Trebek talked about hosting the show he’s most famous for, Jeopardy!. The original NBC daytime version of Jeopardy!, hosted by Art James, debuted on March 30, 1964 and ran until January 3, 1975, replaced by that infamous game show bomb The Magnificent Marble Machine. The daily syndicated show we know today, produced by Sony Pictures Television, premiered on September 10, 1984.
Jeopardy! was originally conceived and produced by Merv Griffin who also had a very popular daytime talk show running in syndication. “Well, Merv's wife helped him create the show,” Trebek says. “And we've always given credit to her for that, Julann [Griffin]. And Merv, in the very early days, as I indicated on a while ago, Merv turned the show over to Bob Murphy. Merv's baby was Wheel of Fortune. He used to create some of the puzzles for Wheel. And with us, he had very little input.”
On the new version of Jeopardy! that debuted in 1984, Alex Trebek was one of the producers as well as the master of ceremonies. “We were left to our own devices,” Trebek says. “And as we became successful, he bothered us even less. And so Merv was never a significant factor in the way Jeopardy! was done. I would deal with Bob Murphy, who has since become my best friend, and I would run something by Bob and he would either go for it or not, or take it to Merv and get agreement and we would carry on with that change or whatever.
“The fact that Merv was the one who made the ultimate decision that it was okay to hire me is certainly an important part of my life. And the times I spent with Merv were very special. He was a bright guy. He was warm, he was eager and ready to draw you in and focus on whatever it is you're saying as opposed to being a cool, laid back kind of guy saying, ‘Well, tell me about this. Tell me about that. Whatever you…’ He wasn't that way at all. He was a good guy.
“Yeah. And he loved storytellers. That's why you had people like the two Orsons, Orson Bean and Orson Wells, who were regular visitors to his talk show because they were good storytellers. And that seems to be a lost art in this day and age. We're into the soundbites. Give me something that last four and a half seconds and be snappy.”
Griffin sold Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune to Coca-Cola who swallowed up Columbia Pictures before Columbia Pictures was acquired by Sony. “They all get excited, of course, when something like Spider-Man or Men in Black are highly successful commercial films bringing in $300 or $400 million, but they tend to forget that Jeopardy and Wheel have been bringing in a lot of money on a regular basis for 25 years. So that's important.” Trebek notes.
In 2007, Trebek was thinking about retiring. “I’m at the point in my life now where I'm not as sharp as I once was,” he says. “In terms of health and vision, it's not as good. So it's more difficult for me to read the clues. And I have senior moments, brain skips. I say things which I don't even know I've said and they're wrong. I'll say 1962 instead of 1926. And I don't notice that I've made that mistake until they come to me and say, ‘We've got to ask you to reread that clue because you said 62 instead of 26.’ ‘I did? Okay.’”
As for what would happened if he wasn’t around to host the program, Trebek says, “Every home should have access to Jeopardy!. And there are other people who could host it. Drew Carey is going to replace Bob Barker on The Price Is Right. Will he succeed? I don't know. But it's a solid program. So he should succeed. The program should go on just as successfully as before. In fact, I think they're looking for even more success because they're probably going to want to bring it into syndication with Drew because he's a pretty big name. But there are programs ... Wheel of Fortune, the same thing. When Pat is gone, when I'm gone from Jeopardy!, there are other hosts out there who could do an equally good job, I'm sure. Different, but equally good. So I'm not concerned about that.”
Alex Trebek died on November 8, 2020 from pancreatic cancer.
The original theme to Jeopardy! (from '64-'75) was called "Take Ten" by Julann Griffin (Merv's then wife who originally came up with the show's format). Merv Griffin earned around $3 million a year just from the 'Think' music played while contestants deliberated on Jeopardy!.
In 2013, the program was ranked No. 45 on TV Guide's list of the 60 greatest shows in American television history.
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