Saturday, November 14, 2020

Alex Trebek And I

I first interviewed Alex Trebek in the fall of 1971/ at the old CBC Radio building on Toronto's Jarvis Street.

It was a former private girls school but had been the home of CBC Radio for decades.

I was then the kid radio/TV critic for The Hamilton Spectator, newly installed as I replaced the venerable Jack Miller/

One of my first assignments was to do a story on CBC announcers and how they read the Queen's English. I'd already chatted up Lloyd Robertson who was the gold standard and then I got to meet and greet Alex Trebek who sounded almost the same as Lloyd.

I learned CBC anchors underwent rigorous testing so they all sounded  the same. No females were then allowed.

For example when I chatted up the venerable CBC News announcer Earl Cameron he told me he couldn't change a word without calling on a writer --it was for this very reason that Lloyd Robertson finally had enough and defected to CTV News where he could write his own news script.

Any how I found Trebek to be young and vigorous. He was still doing a lot of CBC radio as well as hosting such CBC TV quiz hsows as Reach For The Top.

I like quiz shows best," he told me. Which probably explains why he lasted for decades on TB's Jeopardy.

At the time Trebek was married to announcer Elaine Callei of CHCH-TV whose online cast show titled Call Callei was one of the best for information and gossip.

Even way back then Alex was crazy about quiz shows. He hosted CBC's Reach For The Top for years which featured high school students duelling for prizes to donate back to their collegiate/

and he also refereed Music Hop which ran weekdays on CBC-TV and was a sort of Canadian rejoinder to Dick Clark's afternoon teen TV shows.

When Alex jumped to American TV he wondered if he'd make it in the more tempestuous world of L.A.

Back then quiz shows were the staple of morning TV. I was on the set of Concentration with Ed McMahon. Dick Clark's $10,000 Pyramid ran for decades. There was Tic Tac Dough which I likes,

On Canadian TV I'd watch Definition taped at CFTO and also Party Game at CHCH-TV where I first interviewed Bill Shatner.

Jeopardy seemed to run forever in syndication. Trebek told me it offered solid information and that was the reason for survival when the competition faltered.

When I asked him why Wheel Of Fortune also survived? He laughed and said "Damned if I know."

These dayss age only daily quiz show still on U.S,. TV is The Price Is Right which blares for an hour every weekday.

You see quiz shows are taped one day a week --that's the only way they ca be financially successful.

Trebek told me "we do have breaks between shows but it's a bit hard keeping the concentration going on the fifth episode. But we some how IN  always get through it."

In March 2019 he revealed on YouTube his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer which is almost always considered deadly.

He fought on and said he'd lie down between shows to conserve his strength. He even came out with a fine memoir titled The Answer Is...

Treatments caused him to lose his hair --he bought several toupees that looked exactly fine.

He battled bouts of depression and fatigue. In 2014 he guess estimated he'd hosted 6,800 episodes.-I imagine he must have hit 8,000 episodes by the end.

'"My first U.S. quiz show was The Wizard Of Odds. :

The last time we chatted on the phone he was looking forward to hosting the all time three biggest winners.

Asked to define his success he told me "I'm, just a kid from Sudbury who never forgot his roots and where he came from. I would have flunked out as a contestant. I could only answer about 60 per cent of questions and I've gotten worse as pop culture questions currently abound."

"Ive had a great life. Why should I be afraid of what's to come?"