When he was working the Today show in the mid-1990s, host and moderator Alex Trebek once demonstrated exactly what he thought was a major storyline on the most recent show: the creepy television remake of the 1940s Mildred Hayes movie Cleopatra, which starred Audrey Hepburn and Richard Burton, both infamous baddies in the 1970s.
When he started the segment, I made it clear that Trebek had no axes to grind. In 1995, having left his job with the CBS-owned morning show as it declined in ratings, he shouldn’t have. I said, “Of course he doesn’t.” He shouldn’t have: It’s a modern show, he’s been there for 70 years, which means he’s a first-rate celebrity.
But this behavior was just a twist on the human condition. Trebek was a first-rate executive producer on the Tonight Show (no one is questioning the sincerity of that history-making comedian Johnny Carson’s role at NBC). And while he didn’t watch the Tonight Show, he certainly adored the show he created. I was referring to his reputation as a showman, which was reinforced by watching the show live for one evening.When it got to the courtroom circuit, Trebek lit into his TV judge as a power-hungry judge-executive who indulged himself in petty revenge—but for how good and for the good of the show? When it got to the courtroom circuit, Trebek lit into his TV judge as a power-hungry judge-executive who indulged himself in petty revenge—but for how good and for the good of the show? “The TV show has been a major community liaison for the last 15 years,” Trebek explained to his audience of wretches and babes from all over the world, an audience that has included members of the military, the media, children’s ministries, sports and other groups. “This spring we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of that straight, traditional, no-nonsense day in television. Today we are celebrating fifty years of television.” Trebek continued, “I am sad to say we will not celebrate our anniversary on Today, which is impossible—that is for a TV show hosted by one Meredith Vieira, broadcast every morning from 6 to 7 a.m.” There were no connections to McConaughey and Hepburn, and another great host, Tim Conway, famously had a problem with the other hosts when he kept confronting them on air, “Hot Buttered Rum Buns!”
Today, which telecasts for nearly 160 countries, was originally a network television show “originally produced for radio.” And so back then, Trebek introduced it, while quickly removing all of the references to the TV network. The show first aired on NBC on Feb. 16, 1965—but it wasn’t until 1972 that the names of the networks were changed to let viewers have a head start when they got it over the air.
So that’s another story, for another day. But such a journey isn’t only for theatergoers. Via Ednoxtoria, a collection of American television archives located at the University of California, Los Angeles, you can browse through the collection of memorabilia that includes photos, television listings, scripts, and official announcements about the show, such as the mention of the ABC network, even the horse racing establishment.