The loss of Alex Trebek over the weekend feels like the loss of a friend to a lot of us, albeit a friend most of us never met. With my early weekday hours and Jeopardy! airing locally at 4:30 on WEAU TV13, it's my typical dinnertime viewing habit. I'll always remember viewing the show in person and speaking with Alex, though.
Throughout the years before Covid-19, Jeopardy! would go on tour and hit college campuses across the US. In 2008, Madison was chosen as a stop (probably didn't hurt that producer Harry Friedman is a UW alum, or so I heard).
In any event, as soon as tickets became available, I jumped at the chance to be in the studio audience; the studio in this case would be the Kohl Center. When the day came, I settled into my reasonably-close seat for what would be a few exciting hours.
Before taping, legendary announcer Johnny Gilbert warmed up the crowd and gave us a few hints of what to expect through our morning session (to be followed by an afternoon session, if memory serves), during which a full five days of shows would be taped back-to-back. Moments later, Johnny took his place at a small podium to the side and announced those famous words we've heard a million times: "This...iiis 'Jeopardy!'"
To my surprise, most of what we see on TV is what is seen by the audience. Commercial breaks really do pause the show, giving crew members a chance to fiddle with lighting or other equipment. Possibly just as fun as watching Alex in action during episodes was seeing him wander into the audience between episodes and field questions.
The majority of queries were Jeopardy!-related, although I had a question of a slightly different kind. A couple years earlier, he played himself on an episode of "The Simpsons," so when called upon I asked him about the experience. With a chuckle, he answered, "I enjoyed it very much." Not the longest conversation I've had with a celebrity, but easily one of my favorites.
Since episodes are batch-recorded and done well in advance, we should still see Alex until about Christmas. As of this writing, a replacement host has not been named (my guess is Ken Jennings).
Either way, there'll never be another Alex Trebek.