We spent a day behind the scenes of 'Jeopardy!' with Alex Trebek in 2017 - here's what he's really like
- In February of 2017, Senior Video Correspondent Graham Flanagan spent a day behind the scenes of "Jeopardy!" at Sony Pictures Studios in Los Angeles.
- In addition to being present for the five episodes that were taped that day, Flanagan got to spend a limited amount of one-on-one time with Alex Trebek, who has been hosting the show since 1984.
- On March 6, 2019, Trebek, the 78-year-old host of "Jeopardy!," announced that he has been diagnosed with stage-4 pancreatic cancer. In a video message posted to the long-running game show's YouTube channel, Trebek delivered the news with transparency, humor, and optimism.
- This visit to the "Jeopardy!" set came the day after a category that featured Trebek reciting rap lyrics went viral, making headlines due to his deadpan delivery of verses by artists like Drake and Lil' Wayne.
- Business Insider released a series of short videos produced from the footage captured in 2017. After Trebek's announcement regarding his health status captured the minds and hearts of the show's massive audience, Flanagan returned to the footage he shot that day to create a new, extended chronicle of his experience.
- Some of the footage featured here was included in the previously-released videos, and some of it is being seen for the first time.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Johnny Gilbert: This is "Jeopardy." And now, here is the host of "Jeopardy," Alex Trebek.
Alex Trebek: Right on, Jacques. OK, John, do your thing.
Gilbert: All right, this is "Jeopardy" show 7,541. VTR two, 22, 17, air five, 29, 17.
Crew Member: 10 seconds.
Gilbert: We said we had a couple of things to give away, and we do, and I said it was regarding "Jeopardy," and it is. It's a brand new app for "Jeopardy" for people on the move.
Trebek: Do you want me silent, or do you want me to say something?
Graham Flanagan: Can I ask you questions, like what you're doing?
Flanagan: So yeah, what are you doing?
Trebek: I'm just going over the games that we're gonna be taping today to familiarize myself with the words, the sense of each clue so that I do not make too many mistakes when I'm reading the clues as we tape them. Takes about an hour and a half to go over the five games.
Flanagan: So you tape five shows today?
Trebek: Yes. I get here at 6 in the morning. I go over mail and stuff. I get the games at 7:30, and after an hour and a half of work on them, I'll go into a production meeting with our writers and the producers, and we'll review the material to see if there are any conflicts. The games are selected at random, so there is the possibility that a clue in one game might be similar to a clue or a subject in another game, and we don't want that 'cause if we allow that to remain, it might appear that we were favoring one contestant over the others.
Flanagan: What are these notes you're making? Just pronunciation?
Trebek: Diacritical, knowing where to stress, because of the layout of the screen that contains our clues, some words that should be together are separated, one on one line, the other on another line, and sometimes just naturally we tend to pause at the end of a line. So we don't wanna do that. I wanna run them together if they belong together.
Flanagan: You've been doing this for so long. Is the five-shows-a-day taping just easy for you, or does it still seem like a hectic?
Trebek: It's a long day. It's a long day, but it's fun. I circle clues if I think that they bear discussing in the round table meeting we'll have shortly.
Flanagan: What types of things are worthy of discussion? What makes you circle a clue?
Trebek: If I think it could be improved. If I think it's repetitive regarding a subject that came up earlier, or if I just don't like the way it's written and I don't feel comfortable reading it that way.
Flanagan: So you pull out the dictionary a good bit?
Trebek: Yeah, if there's something that I wanna check on and I'm not quite sure, and if I can't find it in the dictionary, I'll get the researchers to look up something for me if I need it. In this case, it's a foreign name. I have a pretty good idea how to read it, but I'm not 100% certain, and I don't wanna appear on camera making a mistake. There's always a viewer who's gonna catch you on something.
Flanagan: How many clues do you have to go over every morning on a taping day?
Trebek: Well, five games, 350 clues I guess, approximately.
Flanagan: So is your team of writers and researchers, have they been with you for a long time, or is there a lot of turnover?
Trebek: There is no turnover here. Working for "Jeopardy" is an annuity. You start, and you go on forever. In the early days, we had some writers and researchers who left after just a few years, but mostly our writing staff has been with us for ages.
Flanagan: All right, thank you so much for the time. We'll catch you down the line.
Flanagan: Thank you.
Trebek: See you later.
Flanagan: All right.
Producer: Do you want some coffee or anything?
Flanagan: I'm fine, thank you, thank you so much.
Producer: Are you Norwegian?
Producer: You look so Scandinavian.
Flanagan: Thank you.
Producer: Have you met Graham?
Flanagan: Yeah, we just, I was in his office for a few minutes.
Producer: Oh you were?
Producer: He's ignoring you.
Trebek: Here, shoot this. If you don't do a good job writing clues for "Jeopardy," this is what happens to your material. Here, take a shot at this. This is one of the original writers on "Jeopardy." His name is Steve Dorfman. He's been dead for how many years?
Trebek: 13 years, and I bet you we're still using some of his clues. Do we still have some? Where's Harry?
Producer: I think he's getting coffee.
Trebek: Am I the only one at this table who has almost no interest in the Oscar telecast this coming weekend? I mean, it's like it's not happening. It's not the event that it has been in the past.
Producer: There's no real clear front runners or big like, "Oh, my God."
Trebek: "La La Land" seems to be a favorite.
Producer: Yeah, it's a favorite, but it's kinda like, it's kind of a soft landing.
Producer: I mean, if you give me a list of ones you'd like, we'll have some nice ones printed up for you.
Trebek: Why are we redecorating this area? I mean, you cleaned it up because you expected the head of Sony to come by and you wanted us to look good. We got new chairs. I don't understand that. What was wrong with the chair I've been using for years with the big 12-inch gash in it?
Producer: The stuffing coming out.
Trebek: Yeah, what was wrong with that?
Producer: You didn't mind.
Trebek: I didn't mind. I've never complained about it. All right, have you got enough, I hope?
Flanagan: Sure, yeah.
Trebek: Now we can get rid of the fake game and write the real game.
Flanagan: Thank y'all again.
Trebek: All right, we'll see you out there on the floor.
Flanagan: All right.
You guys ready for me to come in?
Makeup Artist: Yeah, sure. Forgive me, please tell me your name again.
Flanagan: Graham, like graham cracker.
Trebek: OK, cracker. We don't like crackers here.
Flanagan: Is that right?
Makeup Artist: My whole family is crackers.
Flanagan: So do you have a long ride in to the studio, or do you live pretty close?
Trebek: It's a 30-minute ride in at 5:30 in the morning, and it's an hour ride home at 5 in the evening. There's a difference.
Flanagan: What do you do on your commute into work? Are you reading anything? Are you just sitting quietly?
Trebek: Listening to the radio.
Flanagan: OK. And do you drive yourself in? Really?
Trebek: Got my trusty Ram truck, and here I come.
Flanagan: What do you like to eat for breakfast every day? On a day of a taping, especially. Do you have a diet regime, routine?
Trebek: A Diet Coke or a Diet Pepsi or a Diet Dr. Pepper. I used to have a lot of Milky Ways and stuff, but I will have an oats and honey nature bar sort of thing.
Makeup Artist: He's given up the Twix.
Trebek: And a doughnut. No, I have some Twix.
Flanagan: So you love soda and candy?
Trebek: Yeah, to a certain extent.
Flanagan: You look like a pretty fit guy. What's your fitness routine?
Trebek: There is none.
Trebek: None, absolutely none.
Flanagan: You don't work out at all?
Trebek: Don't believe in it.
Flanagan: Why not?
Trebek: I don't believe in exercise for the sake of exercise. If I'm going somewhere, I will walk, but if I don't have to go anywhere, I'm not likely to get on the treadmill and do exercise. But one of these days I'll change, I'll do it.
Makeup Artist: Close your eyes. But with that being said, you do a ton of work around your house.
Flanagan: Do you have a green thumb?
Trebek: No, I have a brown thumb. I do labor-type demolition and... break things and fix them and get my hands dirty. Literally get my hands dirty.
Flanagan: What are some of your recent projects or things that you've been working on around the house lately?
Trebek: Helping to renovate my daughter's house, which she just bought. It's a fixer-upper.
Flanagan: So what does that entail for you, like manual labor-wise?
Trebek: Electrical, plumbing, drywall, demolition, carpentry, painting.
Flanagan: Wow, so you like to get in there and actually do it?
Makeup Artist: OK, sir, we are perfection.
Trebek: Good to go? All right, thank you.
Makeup Artist: You are so very welcome.
Trebek: We'll see you later.
Flanagan: All right, looking forward to it.
If you could give any piece of advice to your 20-year-old self, what would that be? If you could go back in time and give that person some advice, what would it be?
Trebek: Try to meet Ava Gardner if you can.
Gilbert: And now, here is the host of "Jeopardy," Alex Trebek.
Flanagan:Why is the show so beloved, and why has it lasted so long?
Trebek: I think it's a combination of the two parts of your question. It is beloved because it has lasted so long. People who are television viewers relate positively to "Jeopardy" because there are no great negatives about our program. We try to emphasize the positive. We favor learning. We want you and our contestants to demonstrate that knowledge is not only important, but it's valuable in every aspect of your life. So we reinforce the positives, and you can't go wrong with that.
We're here to have fun, or at least we hope you're here to have fun. We make the assumption that you're here because you're fans of the show. Otherwise, why on earth would you decide to come out on a cold day and sit in a cold studio for three hours if you weren't fans of the show? Maybe you'll learn something. Maybe we will inspire you to try out as a possible contestants for "Jeopardy."
But if not, we have these commercial breaks with no commercials, so we can stare at each other, we can take naps, or whatever. Or we can talk. As Johnny indicated, if you have any questions, just raise your hand, and I will get to you, and you can ask a question, anything at all. No subject is taboo. And if I don't know the answer to your question, I will make something up.
Yes, sir. Proudest moment on the show, I do not have a proudest moment, to be quite honest. We've done over 7,500 shows, and I don't even remember the ones we did yesterday. Young lady. Because I'm smart. And also because they're written on a sheet of paper in front of me, and it takes me an hour and a half to read over all five games that we are taping today 'cause I don't want to make a mistake in pronunc...pro...pru... in saying words properly.
What was my first job? I was a bellhop at a hotel in Canada in my hometown where my father worked as the chef. I was 13 years old. I used to get a big tip. A big tip was 25 cents, and an average tip was 10 cents. Yes. My favorite drink? To be quite honest with you, it is low-fat milk. It's almost on a par with chardonnay. I don't drink liquor, but I do enjoy chardonnay, and I get up quite often in the middle of the night, and I'll go to the refrigerator, and I'll get a full glass of low-fat milk. I don't know why, but I got into the habit. I've always liked low-fat milk. Favorite place to vacation: Yorkshire, England, a town called Howard, home of the Bruntings. My wife and I visited there before we got married, after we got married, after our first son was born, our only son was born, after our daughter was born. We walked the moors together like Heathcliff and Catherine in "Wuthering Heights." Even in a pouring rainstorm we'd do it. It's romantic. And then we go to the doctors to get treated for flu and... Yes? The half hour I get to spend on stage with three very bright people. I don't like spending time with stupid people. So I have very few friends.
Stage Manager: Don't, don't, don't.
Trebek: He's a friend.
Flanagan: How did you get this job?
Trebek: They phoned me one day and said, "We're bringing 'Jeopardy' back on the air. We'd like you to host it." And I said, "Will you pay me?" And they said, "Yes," I said, "OK, I'm your man."
Flanagan: Has there ever been any point where you got tired of doing this job, "Jeopardy?"
Flanagan: It's been so many years. What makes you keep wanting to come back to this format, to this game?
Trebek: Well, they pay me well, and I enjoy doing the work, so there's no downside for me. I really enjoy what I'm doing and have for the past 33 years. Do I have any? Do I have any plans for retirement? No. Do you know something I don't? Not everybody likes me.
Flanagan: How much longer do you want to continue to be the host of the show?
Trebek: Oh, probably another 10 or 15 minutes. As long as my skills have not diminished to the point where I feel embarrassed because I'm making a lot of mistakes, and as long as the show retains its popularity, and as long as I enjoy the time I spend taping "Jeopardy."
Flanagan: Finally, yesterday you went legitimately viral as they say with the clip of you reciting the rap lyrics.
Trebek: Started from the bottom, now we're here. Started from the bottom, now the whole team here. Six-foot, 7-foot, 8-foot bunch, Young Money militia, and I am the commissioner. You don't want to start Weezy 'cause the F is for finisher.
Flanagan: So everyone's been asking me since they knew I was coming out here if you would give us another quick recitation of some lyrics that are, they're not like filthy or explicit, but of the biggest song in the world right now. It's another rap song. I've got them printed out here. Would you be willing to recite this in the same?
Trebek: Let me see.
Trebek: If I can read it. Rain drops, drop tops, bankrolls on me keep me company. We did the most, pull up in ghosts. Dabbin' on them like the usual, I'm young and rich, plus I'm boujee.
Flanagan: We have one more if you have time for just one more. This is from Jay-Z and DJ Khaled.
Trebek: Another one, Wraith talk, Wraith talk. Here we go, talking that safe talk. My swag different. My bag different. My wife Beyoncé, I brag different. Special cloth talk, major key.
Flanagan: Alex, thank you so much.
Trebek: I have no idea what I just read.
Flanagan: Thank you so much, that was wonderful. Thanks for all your time. This has been a thrill.
Trebek: Take care.
Flanagan: Thank you.