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Former Selma resident discusses working with Alex Trebek

Former Selma resident discusses working with Alex Trebek

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Trebek brought consensus, class to a nation in need of both

This May 5, 2019, file photo shows Alex Trebek gesturing while presenting an award at the 46th annual Daytime Emmy Awards in Pasadena. The Jeopardy! host died Nov. 8 after battling pancreatic cancer for nearly two years.

SELMA — Clay Jacobsen has worked on many television shows, including the Jerry Lewis Telethon and "The Dating Game."

He married Cindy Gardner in 1982 and has two daughters.
 
He took time out to answer a few questions about "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek, who died on Nov. 8, 2020 at age 80 after a nearly two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

How many years did you work with Alex?

The first time I worked with Alex on "Jeopardy!" was somewhere before 1990. I know that because there was a book published about "Jeopardy!" and I am pictured and I am filling in as a technical director. I had a working relationship with a Merv Griffin production team working on his show and they were the creative force behind Jeopardy! I would sometimes fill in as technical director or associate director and even did a couple of remote shows for them in New York and Washington D.C.

In 2004 I was asked to fill-in for their post production associate director who is on medical leave, and they kept me around since since then, allowing me to still freelance direct other shows. In the process I took over directing a show in 2018 for season 35, we’re currently in our 37th season.

What is your favorite memory of him?

There are so many memories of Alex, he was incredible at this job – he actually made it look very easy, but when you see what he’s doing when he’s not "on camera," he was amazing at how he handled the game, the contestants, the audience, and how professional he was with the staff and crew.
One of my favorite on-air moments is rather recent. In an interview that’s been played a lot over the past few days, a contestant talks about how he was an immigrant and learned to speak English by watching Alex while he was on his grandfather's knee.
What happened right after that is classic Alex. After graciously thanking the contestant for his comment, Alex in his self deprecating style said something to the effect he has similar memories of sitting on his grandfather‘s lap but his grandfather would teach him how to swear. And of course everybody laughed.

Was he easy to work with?

He was wonderful to work with, loved by everybody on the staff. And not only directing him on stage, but the hours of time in the edit bay getting the shows ready to air, I was constantly impressed with how good he was at his job – all the way to the last day of taping.

Did Alex have to strain to work at the end of October?

Alex struggled through his whole ordeal with the cancer. There were times that he was in great pain in his dressing room, but when the time came to tape, he would step out on stage and work through the pain and nobody would ever know he was struggling. He was that kind of a professional, and our hearts broke for him as we saw him push through to keep going. On our last two taping days, we altered the schedule to help him get through the day, and he made it through like a trooper. In fact, I thought he was stronger on his last day than some of the previous tape days.

Was there any Selma teacher that helped you in the beginning as you became a director?

I can’t think of a Selma teacher that I can look to that was helpful on a television career – it wasn’t like we had any kind of audio/visual department or anything. But my mind immediately went to Coach Stephenson, who passed away earlier this year. He convinced me to leave the golf team and swim my senior year after being on the water polo team that fall.

I noticed you are an author. Any thoughts about writing a book about Alex?

I have no plans to write a book about Alex, he just released his own memoir this summer and it’s a great read if somebody wants to know a bit more about the man behind the show. It's called “The Answer Is... Reflections on my Life. “

What did Trebek teach you about life and television?

One thing I can point to that Alex didn’t necessarily teach me, but totally reinforced in me is that no matter your position in life – treat everybody with respect. He gave so much of himself to charities and causes that he believed in — in one of our staff calls after he passed, one of our producers mentioned in traveling with Alex, he would treat a Bedouin nomad with the same respect as if he was the queen of a country. He was all class.


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