Alex Trebek, the venerable host of a venerable game show, this year celebrates his 28th year reading answers and taking questions on Jeopardy. Now, to spice things up, Trebek will bring the show’s trademark azure set to Washington, D.C., this May for a two-week run quizzing political and media luminaries on current events. The idea is to spotlight Washington’s important work, but also, the show's producers say, to have some fun and donate to charity. Trebek spoke with The Daily Beast’s Daniel Stone about visiting Washington, whether he’ll ever run for office, and his beef with Bill O’Reilly. Excerpts:
Daily Beast: Why take Jeopardy to Washington?
Trebek: We like to feature people who are in the news, not just celebrities, if you will. We want people who, when they speak, the citizens listen because these people are influential. It’s a good, different kind of week for us.
Do you think you’re an influential person?
I don’t think so. I think people look at me as that, hopefully, friendly host on Jeopardy, almost like one of the family by now. They’re used to having me in their homes around dinnertime. But when I make pronouncements on important social or cultural issues, I don’t think anybody pays attention.
Are you politically minded?
Only in that I follow [politics]. I’m an independent. But like most Americans I’m upset at the way things are in our country right now. We’re in this terrible recession and are having trouble getting out. We’re being buffeted by events that are in many ways beyond our control, like in Europe. We’re having to react to these other things when I would be happy and more comfortable if we were to take a more proactive approach in dealing with our problems rather than allowing ourselves to be buffeted by the winds of change in other parts of the globe.
You’ve said before that Jeopardy isn’t a game of trivia. Why not?
It has a lot of trivia in it, but basically, it’s a game of broad-based knowledge. It’s a funny thing, but I find that people who are knowledgeable in a wide assortment of study are bright. And they’re more likely to succeed. So to trivialize it, in quotation marks, really does a disservice to our show.
How are Los Angeles and Washington different?
Well L.A. is like la-la land. It’s like a cereal, a city of flakes and nuts. Washington is the nation’s capital; it’s a city of power on many levels.
Wow, that gives those of us in D.C. a lot of credit.
There are pluses and minuses of both places. I don’t think anyone who lives in California has to apologize for Los Angeles. And I don’t think anyone in Washington has to apologize for our nation’s capitol. We’re not always happy with the decisions made in D.C. We’re upset quite often when decisions are not made and the can is kicked down the road. We elect politicians for a reason.
On TV, you’re very—what’s the word?—professorial. President Obama gets the same critique. Any advice for him?
[Vampire voice] Are you trying to lay a trap for me? I don’t think I’m the right person to critique our president.
Wow, no one ever says that in Washington.
Ha, what can I say?
Do you have ambitions to run for office?
I was born in Canada, so I’m not running for anything.
How much longer will you host the show?
Until next Tuesday.
Seriously, the people want to know.
Nah, I’ve been told by my employers that they want me to continue hosting as long as I want to continue hosting. That puts the ball in my court. I really don’t know how much longer I will be hosting. I’m still enjoying it, so that’s the most important thing, but I tend to get down on myself if I’m screwing up. I’m usually harder on myself than my critics. That might be a factor in the years to come.
Who would you like to meet in Washington? Anyone in Congress or the White House?
Oh, I don’t do that. I don’t try to cozy up to different members of Congress or the White House. I do want to get out to the Air and Space Museum out near Dulles. I’ll pay a visit to Ford’s Theater, since I’ve read a few books recently on Lincoln, including Bill O’Reilly’s. In fact, I’d like to talk to Bill about something.
It’s just that in his Lincoln book [Killing Lincoln], it took Abraham Lincoln 20 minutes before he was pronounced dead. But another book said that one of the other fellows took 20 minutes to die. So I’ll have to do a little more research.
Sir, you are precise. I’m impressed.
That’s my job, trying to impress you.