Alex Trebek Owes His ‘Jeopardy!’ Success to 1 Man: He’s ‘The Reason I Got My Big Break’
Alex Trebek spent 36 years hosting Jeopardy! In that time, he won a slew of Emmys (including a Lifetime Achievement Award), taped over 7,000 episodes of the beloved game show, and became a household name.
After a year-and-a-half battle with pancreatic cancer, Trebek died on Sunday, Nov. 8. He was 80 years old. His fans have been looking back on his life and legacy ever since. And what some might not know is the Canadian-born star credited another famous face for helping launch his storied career.
Alex Trebek started hosting game shows in the 1960s
Trebek’s first job in television was at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). He took a part-time job at the company to help him pay for his tuition at the University of Ottawa. Upon his graduation in 1961, Trebek was offered a full-time job at CBC as an announcer for radio and television broadcasts.
After moving to Toronto, he got his first hosting jobs. He led two shows—one a teen music series called Music Hop, the other a game show for high schoolers called Reach For The Top.
Next on Trebek’s bucket list was a career in the United States, and another Canadian-born star helped him get there.
Alex Trebek said Alan Thicke gave him his big break
In an interview with Access Hollywood in 2016, Trebek revealed that the late Alan Thicke is to thank for his American career. He and the Growing Pains star (who died in December 2016) were longtime friends, and it all started when Thicke appeared as the musical guest on Trebek’s former talk show.
“Alan Thicke is the reason I got my big break here in the United States,” he told the outlet. “In the early 1970s, I was working as a staff announcer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto, Canada. And one of my jobs was hosting a daytime talk variety show called Afternoon. And Alan and his then singing partner, Bryan Russell, appeared as guest performers on that show on a number of occasions.”
As he continued:
“In early 1973, I got a phone call one Wednesday afternoon from Alan Thicke. And he said, ‘My new writing partner and I have created a new game show for NBC called Wizard of Odds. We’ve exhausted all of the available hosts. We can’t settle on anybody. Would you consider auditioning as host of that program?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ So the next day, he flew to Toronto. That night we went to his parents’ home, he explained the game to me. The following day, I went back to his parents’ house. We rehearsed with his parents and neighbors, and the day after that, Saturday, I flew to New York City, went to the New York Hilton Hotel. Worked with Marty Pasetta, the late director, and practiced the game. We did a run-through in front of an audience. I flew immediately back to Toronto, and at 11:30 that night, Alan called me and said, ‘You got the job. We want you to come to California to do the pilot.'”
Trebek went on to host several other game shows after Wizard of Odds: CBS’s Double Dare, The $128,000 Question, and NBC’s The New High Rollers.
Jeopardy! had already started years before Trebek became its host. It originally aired in 1964 with Merv Griffin hosting and ran for 11 years before being canceled. It was brought back in 1978 to little success. In 1984, Trebek became the host, and the rest is television history. And we have Alan Thicke to thank.