It’s hard to think of many people more universally beloved than Alex Trebek. Save maybe an unimpressed Sean Connery impersonator here and there, Trebek has worked his way into the hearts of most television viewers ever since our modern iteration of Jeopardy! premiered in 1984. Day in and day out, Trebek has been a comforting fixture on TV screens across the United States and the world beyond.
It may be difficult to imagine now that there was once a time when this was not the case, but that’s exactly how it was back before Trebek was a household name. The star hosted a lot of different game shows before he found the one that made him who he is today, including, per The New York Times, Battlestars, Pitfall, The $128,000 Question, and, the game Trebek co-hosted with a cartoon character, Malcolm. It was the series High Rollers, however, that led to a chance encounter that would change the trajectory of Trebek’s career. That life-altering moment also happened to involve Lucille Ball.
The half-hour that changed Alex Trebek's life
According to The New York Times, Alex Trebek got his job hosting Jeopardy! with a little help from one of America’s other sweetheart’s, I Love Lucy star Lucille Ball. The iconic actress was friends with famed TV producer Merv Griffin, and encouraged him to hire Trebek. While this story was finally confirmed by the Times in 2020, rumors of this serendipitous interaction have existed for years.
Here’s the story: When Trebek was hosting High Rollers in the 1970s, Ball was a fan of the show. She apparently appeared on an episode in 1977, which was a memorable experience for her, because it left her impressed enough with Trebek’s hosting skills to recommend him to Griffin.
Although the majority of High Rollers episodes seem to have been lost to the sands of time, a couple of very brief clips and photos exist from the set, including a pic of Trebek with Ball, which was shown on CBS Sunday Morning in 2012. While we will probably never know exactly what Ball said to Griffin to convince him to give Trebek a chance, it’s safe to say both Ball and Griffin were likely won over by Trebek’s charm the same way the rest of the world was.
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