‘Jeopardy!’: Alex Trebek Spoke Out on the Importance of Show Being ‘Middlebrow’ Entertainment

by Jon D. B.

Branding the term a “good thing,” “Jeopardy!”s late, great host once put to rest any qualms with the game show’s middle-road approach to intellectualism.

It’s no secret that “Jeopardy!” is a remarkable “American Institution” and not “just” a game show. But the program has the awards to back up such a statement, too. In it’s near-six-decade existence, for which Alex Trebek hosted a total of 36 years, “Jeopardy!” has amassed an astounding 39 Emmy Awards. Simply put: it is the most awarded game show in television history.

No program achieves such acclaim without appealing to the masses, either. And for the show’s longtime producers – and longest host – that was always the main goal. In a 1997 interview with USA TODAY, Trebek spoke directly to claims that the show was below the intellectual standards it should hold itself to. For the beloved host, however, claiming “Jeopardy!” to be “middlebrow” was far from an insult.

“Middlebrow is a good thing,” Trebek famously told the trade. “We don’t want to get so esoteric that the viewers can’t relate to the material.”

And therein lies the key to his – and his show’s – success. To this end, TODAY also cites Olaf Hoerschelmann, author of “Rules of the Game: Quiz Shows and American Culture.” Hoerschelmann lauds the late Trebek’s “vague intellectualism and understated, serene character” as a vital key to “Jeopardy!”s long-running, award-laden run with the host.

‘Jeopardy!’ Legend Alex Trebek Loved America’s Competitive Spirit, Too

As for Trebek himself, the late icon saw other reasons for his program’s incredible tenure, too. “It feeds Americans’ inherently competitive nature,” he told USA TODAY in another interview.

The host appreciated that Americans “like to be competitive in all aspects of life… In games or sports or TV game shows.”

“If you’re sitting at home, you want to play with a ballpoint pen as a little clicker and see if you’re faster than the contestants,” Trebek continued. “If you are, you feel good because you know the contestants are very bright.”

Trebek wasn’t alone in his approach(es) to “Jeopardy!”, either. The show’s producers have always sought to include pop culture and other so-called “middlebrow” categories alongside hard-hitters like literature, history, and the sciences. USA TODAY even notes a time in 2014 when Alex Trebek went viral for rapping an entire category.

In short: there’ll never be another host like Alex Trebek. But if we had to pick a successor to all his best qualities, our money is on his personal protege, Ken Jennings, every day of the week.