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It's TCA's Winter Press Tour Time and ABC Brought Alex Trebek Along
January 9, 2020  | By Roger Catlin
 


PASADENA, Calif. — One of the best-attended panels in the opening days of the TV Critics Association (TCA) winter press tour was on Wednesday for ABC's Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time.

After all, the all-star rounds between past big-time winners James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter had just begun airing. Reporters spent a little of their time studying the faces of the three quiz whizzes, seeking expressions that might have indicated who would eventually win the primetime series' $1 million prize.

But the session was more an outpouring of support for Alex Trebek, the longtime Jeopardy! host who has held an ever-steady hold over the proceedings despite treatments for his stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

"Some days are better than others," said Trebek, 79. "My resistance is lower than most of you, of course."

Between the chemotherapy and a lingering cold, he's been adjusting. "They've got me off one of my chemo drugs, which was killing me," he said, adding it will be "maybe another week or so before I find out where things stand."

Trebek says he asked his wife whether it was evident in the prime time specials this week, which has drawn as many as 14 million viewers.

"I seemed a little slower in the ad-lib portions," he says. "I could still deliver the clues at a rapid pace to try to keep up with these three bright contestants, but I feel that I was not having one of my best weeks."

He may have been overly critical.

"You wonder, 'How's he doing,'" Jennings said. "Then you get there, and … he's Alex Trebek! He never fumbles a word. He's still the last of the great old school broadcasters still on our TVs every night."

The undertow of emotion was evident in that the room of reporters clapped when Trebek came out, and the three players wore purple ribbons for pancreatic cancer awareness. "I was very touched by that," Trebek said.

"If anybody is irreplaceable on TV," Jennings said, "it's this guy right here. And the fact that we got to play with him one more time was very special."

Some reporters suggested viewers owe Trebek a lot for his classy, 36-year career behind the podium.

"You're very kind, but no," Trebek said. "You don't owe me anything. I've been extremely lucky."

In particular, he said he's been lucky to have been associated with good shows — "and to be able to bask in the reflected glory of people like Brad, Ken, and James, who demonstrate on our program, and in other situations, how bright they are, how funny they are, how engaging they are. And I keep telling folks, hey, if the show's a success, over time, because I'm there every day, I will have a great measure of success, also."

Trebek argued that any competent host associated with a long-running, much-loved show would be enjoying a similar adulation.

"And I don't want to minimize it either, but my health situation has contributed to that a great deal. The pity factor," he said. "…is out there and people have been so kind, sending prayers and good thoughts and all of that. So I'm not unaware of that."

Trebek had already publicly said he had been thinking about the farewell he would give when it came time for him to do his final show.

But he said he doesn't have anything specifically written. "I haven't worked on it at all. But I have just made a decision, and I made this decision a long time ago, that what I would do, it would be the same as when I shaved my mustache: I would do it on a whim."

On that day, he'd ask producers, "Give me 30-seconds at the end of the program. That's all I need to say goodbye because it's going to be the last show," Trebek said.

"I don't foresee that 30-second moment coming up in the near future," he said. "As long as I feel my skills have not diminished too much and as long as I'm enjoying spending time with bright people like these three," he said, gesturing to the accomplished contestants, "I'll continue doing it. That's the best answer I can give you."

"I mean, you can't find any better environment in which to work than hosting a program like Jeopardy! It's the very best kind of reality television," Trebek said. "The thing I enjoy most about the show is the 30 minutes I spend on stage with the contestants because I love spending time with bright people. And with these three, it was particularly enjoyable. I hate spending time with stupid people."

And it's something that couldn't have been held until recently. "This tournament would not have been possible if it weren't for James' appearance on our program because there was never a third candidate if you will, that we could put in against Ken and Brad and make it plausible."

To those who would have put those two against a robot, "I said, 'Well, we've done that with IBM, and I don't think IBM would put Watson in against anybody. They would have so much to lose and nothing to gain.'

"From my point of view," Trebek said, "it doesn't get any better than this."

 
 
 
 
 
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