Tonight and tomorrow night are your last two chances to see Alex Trebek host Jeopardy. The syndicated series airs in most markets at 7:30 p.m.
The courageous quizmaster lost his fight against pancreatic cancer late last year. These last episodes were taped at Sony Studios in Los Angeles just ten days before he died
I’ve peeked in a little lately and I’ve been amazed by his dedication and perseversance while at the same time saddened by the knowledge that these episodes are a record of his last days. You can hear it in his voice that something’s not right. He seems physically smaller. Always dapper, he had to have been in discomfort and pain. Yet such unbelievable professionalism — his focus remained on the contestants; his comittment to the audience.
I recently dug through some files and found a 20 year old article I wrote about Trebek. This was from my days as television columnist at The Toronto Sun. The story was about the Sudbury, Ont., native returning to Toronto to host a fundraiser for the Famous People Players. It was the 25th anniversary of the black-light puppet troupe, which counted several mentally-challenged puppeteers among its performers.
Puppet versions of Liberace, Elton John and other celebrities were guaranteed show-pleasers. I asked Trebek if there was a puppet version with his likeness.
Not to his knowledge, he said. “They can just take the Jean Chretien puppet and put a moustache on it.”
Back then, the self-effacing TV host was still very much attached to his moustache.
Trebek also commented on reports of a supposed “feud” between him and fellow quiz king Regis Philbin, then hosting the hottest show on the planet, Who Wants to Be a Milionaire. Trebek had been accused of dissing the rival show for asking so many easy, “What colour are post-it-notes?” questions.
“It was completely blown out of proportion by the press,” said Trebek, who claimed a wire service had taken some local comments and taken them out of a good-natured context.
“I think if you see something in print, you should track it down and go to the source. I’ve always been accessible.”
Trebek eventually called Reege up and joked that he was “getting a lot of mileage out of this.”The two talked about guesting on each other’s shows as contestants.
At the time of the interview, Trebek doubted that there would ever be a Canadian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. After all, between many announcing gigs, he had cut his teeth decades earlier hosting low-budget Canadian shows such as Strategy and Reach for the Top. The prizes weren’t exactly in the million dollar range.
“I remember in the past when CTV would do game shows and you’d win a pair of Hagar slacks of something. And now with the Canadian dollar at sixty-five cents, what are you going to do — Who Wants to be a Thousandaire?
Trebek was wrong, but not by much. CTV eventually flew a few Canadian contestants to the original New York set of that series for a Canadian version of Millionaire, which was hosted by future senator Pamela Wallin. One player got as far as the $65,000 mark.
Trebek’s advice for Canadians who wanted in on the action at the time was to petition the American producers of Millionaire to allow then on the U.S. series. Or, failing that, just apply to be on Jeopardy, why never had any cross border restrictions.
“We had one contestant from Vancouver win $180,000,” said Trebek. “That’s U.S. dollars.”
That’s also what Trebek was paid in, and he earned every last cent.
I asked him during that 2000 interview how much longer he might remain as host of Jeopardy. He was about to turn 60 at the time; he died last November at 80, with two years still on his contract.
“I still get a kick out of it,” he told me. “They’ll have to wheel me out in a little motor-driven cart. [Then Price is Right host] Bob Barker is in his seventies and still working, so why not?”
What is why not indeed.