We have all mourned the loss of Alex Trebek, and today we will mourn once again for the end of an era, not just for the show he hosted, but the industry he represented in the U.S. for nearly 50 years.
It’s well-documented that Alex was phenomenal in the way he could smoothly adjust his style to fit the show he was hosting. He could be funny, friendly, snarky, brainy, dramatic…but most importantly, he made it look effortless in a way no one else could match.
But what has struck me most of all by the reaction to Alex’s passing is how he, almost single-handedly, transformed a position once viewed as a low rung on the show business totem pole – game show host – and made it not only respected, but admired.
From the 50s into the 80s, the stereotype of the game show host was that of a vapid, smarmy huckster, with gleaming white teeth and fake enthusiasm running a dopey carnival for bored housewives. If Johnny Carson wanted to get a cheap laugh, all he would have to do is mention “Wink Martindale” or “Queen for a Day” as shorthand for disposable pop culture detritus.
It was Allen Ludden who really started to change that perception with his stints on G.E. College Bowl and Password. Ludden, who passed away in 1981, clearly had a passion for learning and education, lending his shows an air of having a mission beyond mere passing entertainment.
Trebek was given the opportunity to take up the mantle left by Ludden when Jeopardy! returned in 1984, and soon showed how a quiz show host could be more than a generic question-reader with a pleasant voice. It was obvious that he knew his stuff, and that his intellectual curiosity could rub off on the viewers.
More than anything else, it was Alex’s ability to make knowledge seem fun, interesting and even cool that made Jeopardy! take off like a rocket and secure its place as an American television fixture. He taught us, entertained us, made us a little smarter and better every single night for nearly four decades.
People understand this. Which is why we have seen this overwhelming sense of loss and grief over…a game show host.
Thank you, Alex. Rest in peace.