Otago Daily Times

Quick­wit­ted, charm­ing ‘Jeop­ardy’ host an en­dur­ing hit with au­di­ences

- ALEX TRE­BEK Jeopardy! · Alex Trebek · Hollywood · United States of America · Will Ferrell · Saturday Night Live · Los Angeles · Sudbury · Ontario · Ottawa · NBC · Tom Brady · Wollongong · Wheel of Fortune · University of Ottawa · Dinah Shore · Merv Griffin · Merv · Steve Harvey

Game show host

IN the daz­zling con­stel­la­tion of tele­vi­sion game shows — word puz­zles, life­lines, brief­cases filled with cash — the for­mat for Jeop­ardy! was so stodgy, so re­lent­lessly aca­demic, that the show had been chucked on to the ash pile of failed net­work pro­gram­ming long be­fore Alex Tre­bek ar­rived in Hol­ly­wood.

But with his quick wit, easy smile and my­favourite­pro­fes­sor de­meanour, Tre­bek drove the game show back up the ratings charts and for decades re­mained a com­fort­able tele­vi­sion host in the liv­ing rooms of Amer­ica.

Tre­bek be­came such an in­sti­tu­tion that he was par­o­died by Will Fer­rell on Satur­day Night Live, played him­self on dozens of tele­vi­sion shows and was used as a nar­ra­tive de­vice on tele­vi­sion hits such as Se­in­feld.

Never far from the stu­dio where he ruled as TV’s master of trivia, Tre­bek died on Novem­ber 8 at his home in Los An­ge­les af­ter a long bat­tle with pan­cre­atic can­cer. He was 80.

Born on July 22, 1940, Ge­orge Alexan­der Tre­bek grew up in Sud­bury, northern On­tario, Canada, where he dreamed of be­com­ing a hockey player. Stu­dious as a child, Tre­bek grad­u­ated from the Uni­ver­sity of Ottawa with a de­gree in phi­los­o­phy and be­came a re­gional au­thor­ity on the con­tro­ver­sial sep­a­ratist move­ment in Que­bec while work­ing as a reporter for the Cana­dian Broad­cast­ing Corp. His abil­ity to speak French gave him an ad­van­tage over his col­leagues.

And then, on noth­ing more than a whim, he tumbled into the world of tele­vi­sion game shows.

Tele­genic and thought­ful, Tre­bek was put to work on re­gional shows in­clud­ing the long­run­ning Cana­dian quiz show Reach for the Top.

His ma­te­rial caught the at­ten­tion of the day­time pro­gram­ming czar at NBC, who was in the process of clean­ing out day­time per­son­al­i­ties such as Di­nah Shore and Art Flem­ing and any show that fell into the dreaded 50­some­thing de­mo­graphic. Jeop­ardy!, then hosted by Flem­ing, was among the ca­su­al­ties.

Tre­bek’s first as­sign­ment was to host The Wiz­ard of Odds, a game that re­volved around sta­tis­ti­cal questions. When that failed to gain trac­tion, it was shelved and Tre­bek was asked to host High Rollers, a gam­bling­style game. The show was a quick hit and spawned an even­ing ver­sion, also hosted by Tre­bek.

But the life of a tele­vi­sion game show is a fickle one — much like the fate of the con­tes­tants — and in yet an­other sud­den house­clean­ing move, NBC can­celled High Rollers as au­di­ences moved on to more fre­netic scream­fests such as Fam­ily Feud, The New­ly­wed Game and The Gong


In 1984, Merv Grif­fin de­cided to re­vive Jeop­ardy! and pair it with Wheel of For­tune in an early even­ing time slot. He asked Tre­bek to be the host. And on the ad­vice of Grif­fin’s wife, the for­mat of the show came with a twist — give the con­tes­tants the an­swer, and let them puz­zle out the ques­tion.

As the quiz show rolled through the decades, Tre­bek re­mained a com­fort­able fit with au­di­ences — fa­therly, depend­able, the keeper of all questions.

Tre­bek said he en­joyed host­ing the show be­cause he liked be­ing in the com­pany of smart peo­ple.

When fel­low game show host Steve Har­vey ques­tioned whether Tre­bek was as smart as view­ers seemed to think he was, Tre­bek chal­lenged Har­vey to a trivia show­down. Har­vey never brought the mat­ter up again.

Tre­bek is sur­vived by his wife, Jean Cur­rivan, and three chil­dren. —

 ?? PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES ?? Who did it best? Alex Tre­bek speaks dur­ing a re­hearsal be­fore a tap­ing of Jeop­ardy! in Wash­ing­ton in 2012.
PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES Who did it best? Alex Tre­bek speaks dur­ing a re­hearsal be­fore a tap­ing of Jeop­ardy! in Wash­ing­ton in 2012.

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