This year, Jeopardy!, the popular "phrase it in the form of a question" game show is celebrating its 35th season. The original version began life in 1964 as just another game show, joining the ranks of Hollywood Squares, Concentration, Password and slew of others on morning 1960s television. Almost immediately, Jeopardy! rose to become the second-highest rated game show on television. It remained at the top if its game for over a decade, until a change in time-slot resulted in a ratings drop. The show, hosted by Emmy-winning announcer Art Fleming, was canceled, making room for a new show called Wheel of Fortune. Four years later, the show returned to the airwaves as The All-New Jeopardy!, once again, hosted by Art Fleming. This incarnation lasted a year.
In 1984, Sony Pictures Television revived the venerable game show as a syndicated nighttime version. The program achieved cult-like status, often being referenced in pop-culture contexts. It was famously parodied many times on SNL as "Celebrity Jeopardy!" and "Black Jeopardy!" Over the years, contestants-cum-champions have garnered their own fan bases, especially Ken Jennings's 74-game run as Jeopardy's longest-reigning champ. Then, there was a novelty contest with Watson, the computer, followed by a number of actual celebrity events, a teachers tournament, a college tournament and a nearly-unwatchable teen series of games. In addition, there have been spin-offs in the form of "Sports Jeopardy!" and "Rock & Roll Jeopardy!" Of course, nearly every trivia-based game show owes a tip of the mortar board to Jeopardy!
The current revival has been hosted by veteran game show host Alex Trebek since its 1984 "re-premiere." At Trebek's behest, he was always introduced as "the host of Jeopardy!," not the "star." He felt that the show was the star and he merely presented it to viewers.
That seems to have changed.
Mrs. Pincus and I have been watching Jeopardy! ever since its mid-80s debut. We are trivia enthusiasts, so we are naturally drawn to the show. We've been there through a multitude of set changes, as well as changes to Alex Trebek's grooming (dark hair, mustache, gray hair, goatee, clean-shaven). We watched every contestant interview, laughing when any of the usually-awkward contenders got in an unintentional zinger or double-entendre during their thirty seconds of personal disclosure.
Lately, however, Alex Trebek has suddenly noticed the spotlight. He mugs for the camera. He monopolizes his interviews with the contestants. He exhibits tense body language towards mutli-day champions that he obviously dislikes. He excessively reprimands players who deliver incorrect answers. He also has questioned what contestants are wearing, ribbed them about their hairstyles and made fun of their little personality-revealing anecdotes.
More recently, Mr. Trebek has adopted a very unusual and upsetting habit. Whenever one of the categories references a foreign language or a foreign country, he announces the title in an overly-affected accent of that particular country. Then, he reads each clue in the category in the same, exaggerated dialect. We've heard cringe-worthy Irish brogues and Jamaican inflections. We have heard him read clues about Italy in a vocal tone that would embarrass Nintendo's Mario. I understand that Alex Trebek grew up in a bilingual Canadian household, but his French is, at the same time, both condescending and mortifying. Mr. Trebek's questionable (and somewhat mean-spirited) behavior is not confined to Jeopardy!, either. He was recently tagged as moderator for a debate between candidates for Governor of Pennsylvania. He dominated the debate, talking for nearly half of it, often about himself, without allowing candidates time to discuss important political issues. He also made surprising and unprovoked remarks regarding the sexual abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church. Alex later apologized for his performance, stating that he misunderstood the role of a moderator.
Alex Trebek's current contract to host Jeopardy! expires in 2020. I hope when the time comes to audition his replacement, the choice will be someone with a little more sensitivity to current climate of tolerance and acceptance.
Someone like Alex Trebek in 1984.