This Is The Length Of Alex Trebek's Game Show Tenure — What Is 50 Years? The longtime Jeopardy! host got his start in 1966 on a show for Canadian high schoolers called Reach for the Top. Fifty years in, he says spending time with smart people is the best part of his job.

This Is The Length Of Alex Trebek's Game Show Tenure — What Is 50 Years?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/474394416/474569178" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The first time Alex Trebek hosted a game show, it was for Canadian high schoolers, and it was called "Reach For The Top." It was 1966, which means Alex Trebek is celebrating his 50th year as a game show host. Mr. Trebek, thank you so much for being with us and congratulations.

ALEX TREBEK: You had to start with that little trip back in history...

MARTIN: Sorry.

TREBEK: ...And make me sound like I'm really old.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

TREBEK: Thanks, Rachel. I appreciate that, no end.

MARTIN: With age comes wisdom.

TREBEK: Thank you.

MARTIN: Yeah.

TREBEK: Now you're getting better.

MARTIN: Well, we'll see how I can do in the next few minutes here. Why game show hosting of all the things you could've done?

TREBEK: Well, you indicated at the very beginning of this interview that in 1966 I hosted a high school quiz in Canada called "Reach For The Top." And we discovered that I was fairly good at that. I love spending time with bright people. I don't like spending time with stupid people. And "Jeopardy!" puts me in touch with bright folks all the time. And I enjoy that.

MARTIN: What do you like about the people who end up on your show with you? I mean, you don't have a whole lot of time to get to know them, but you do have, you know, a few minutes.

TREBEK: Some of them are, for want of a better term, nerds. But most of them are just bright people who have had a certain amount of exciting occurrences in their lives. And we can talk about that. They'll usually highlight it. They'll give me a card with a bit of information. I chat with them during the commercial break and get some sense of them. What I'm trying to do is get across to the viewers that these are ordinary folks. You're going to like them because look what happened to them. And it might've happened to you also.

MARTIN: Why do you think this format - game shows have come and gone - but this particular format of witnessing another person put to a mental test - why is that so enduringly popular?

TREBEK: Well, I've been told that since "Jeopardy!" went on the air, approximately 400 other game shows have come and gone. So why has "Jeopardy!" survived? Because of the gimmick of the question and answer. And the - I guess the fact that Americans are very competitive. And so people play along at home just to test themselves because they want to know.

MARTIN: Is it true "Jeopardy!" grew out of this scandal that had kind of rocked game shows in the 1950s?

TREBEK: Well, I'm not sure. I'm not sure it grew out of the scandal. But it was a suggestion by Julann Griffin, Merv Griffin's wife at the time. He was trying to come up with an idea for a game show. And she said - why don't you give them the answers? And he said - are you crazy? - that's what caused the scandals a few years ago and got us in trouble with the government and the broadcast commissions and everything. And no, we can't do that. He says, well, why? What are you thinking? And she said the answer is 5,280. And he said, how many feet are in a mile? She said that's right. (Imitating bell). And that was the beginning of "Jeopardy!"

MARTIN: You have said in the past that you have suffered from insomnia. This is something so many Americans and people all over the world suffer with. But what has that looked like for you? How has - how has it affected your daily life?

TREBEK: It sucks.

MARTIN: Yeah.

TREBEK: That's what it is. It's - it makes me fall asleep at weird hours of the day. I have fallen asleep a number of times at the wheel of my truck. I've fallen asleep at a stop sign at noon. So (laughter), I mean, it's scary. If I'm really tired, then I will sleep. But if I'm not really tired, it becomes a problem. And sometimes I'm awake most of the night, and I fall asleep at about 5:30 in the morning.

MARTIN: How do you cope with those waking hours? I mean, are you a wanderer? Do you wander around the house? Do you...

TREBEK: Oh, no.

MARTIN: Do you read?

TREBEK: I go down to the - I leave the bedroom, I go down to my desk and I'll do crossword puzzles or I will read. And that helps to tire me out. When I start to yawn two or three times in a row, then I go back up - put the book away, go back up to bed and I'm fine.

MARTIN: What's the last book you read that you couldn't put down?

TREBEK: It's called "The Divide." It's about the difference in the administration of justice in our country comparing the hedge fund managers, for instance, who caused the financial crisis a few years ago. The companies have had to pay billions and billions of dollars in reparations and fines, and yet no one has gone to jail. And the author compared that administration of justice to very poor Hispanics, black Americans. You know, they suffer a great deal.

MARTIN: I believe that was written by Matt Taibbi, a 2014 book. Do you mind if I ask you a question about the current presidential race?

TREBEK: You can ask me a question, and it'll be your last question. Don't be surprised if I don't give you an answer, but go ahead.

MARTIN: Who do you like?

TREBEK: I don't like anybody right now. No, that's not true. There are some people out there I do like. But I'm very disappointed in the tone on both sides, the Democrats and the Republicans. But political campaigns in the past have been brutal, have been nasty. But I wish that we could get to a point of more civility. We seem to be so hard set in what we call our principles, which are not really our principles so much as our prejudices, and let's try to get beyond that. And with that, I would like to say that I'm not running.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

TREBEK: And if I'm nominated, I will not accept anything, all right?

MARTIN: "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek, thanks so much for your time.

TREBEK: OK. My pleasure, bye-bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. BJ Leiderman wrote our theme. I'm Rachel Martin.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.