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Alex Trebek Q&A: 'Jeopardy,' movies and donating to Smithsonian

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Archie Bunker's armchair and the Fonz's leather jacket will soon need to make room in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History: Alex Trebek, Susan Lucci and the stars of daytime TV are donating items to the museum to honor the legacy of shows that are on while most workers are at their jobs.

The museum and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences kicked off a three-year collection initiative on Thursday and Trebek, Lucci and the people behind Barney the Dinosaur were among the first wave of stars to donate their memorabilia to the museum's permanent collection.

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Trebek, the longtime host of "Jeopardy" contributed several items from the show, including a script from the show with his notes on it and a bid from Final Jeopardy from years ago.

In advance of the announcement, Trebek, who's been with "Jeopardy" since 1984, spoke a bit about the show, daytime TV and more.

How does it feel to have this memorabilia on display in the Smithsonian?

It hasn’t really registered on me too much. I’ve told people this for years, but "Jeopardy" has become a part of Americana. Game shows, which have traditionally run in daytime television, have, in my mind, become the best kind of reality television. We don’t embarrass people. We let them use their skills to win prizes to make them feel good. 

Where have these items been all this time?

The flip unit that's used to indicate the wager in Final Jeopardy on the original "Jeopardy" hosted by Art Fleming has been in my garage for many years. The script, somebody dug it up at work, from the first show. The category card, Billy Weiss, our head writer, had a friend who happened to have that card. Things are coming out of the woodwork.

Did you take the flipcard right when you got the job?

I think they gave it to me as a souvenir of the original show. I produced the show for the first three years in syndication and had access to a lot of this stuff. I think our executive producer, Bob Murphy, gave me that and I held onto it all these years.

Do you collect a lot of stuff?

No. I don’t take things from shows I’ve worked on. I’m not a souvenir hound, if you will. Years ago I made comments that I collected baseball caps. So people would send me baseball caps from all over the world. I had the most outlandish baseball caps. One cap had a little oil derrick on it from oil country. Or "I survived Spacelab." After awhile, it got to be overwhelming. I think at one point I gave away 250 caps to a charity and I still had 100 left. I told the staff, my one regret is that I did not mention on air that I collect Rolex watches. I’m sure people would have sent me their Rolex watches. I made the mistake of saying I collected the wrong thing. Boo. Hiss.

What kind of notes do you make on a "Jeopardy" script?

Probably diacritical marks. I do that on every script to make sure I don’t screw up the pronunciation or ruin the sense of the clue. There’s a certain cadence to clues or speech in everyday life and on our electronic readouts, there’s only room for a certain number of characters per line, so two words that should go together on a line may not be together because there isn’t enough room. It’s incumbent upon the host to read it in order to make sense.

Besides Watson’s [the super-computer] appearance on "Jeopardy," what moments stick out in your mind as the most culturally significant from the show?

Ken Jennings. Seventy-four shows in a row, which is a record that will never, ever be matched.

Do you keep in touch with him?

No, but I run into him whenever we have special tournaments or something like that. Whenever he writes a new book, he sends me a copy.

All the contestants are so well-behaved on the show. You never see people going crazy or jumping around.

There’s two reasons for that. One is, out of camera view, behind my lectern, there’s a bullwhip. Contestants see that before they come out. So they know, "Don’t mess with the old man.” Also, our contestants are bright people. They’re educated and they understand how to behave in public. Although many of them are not used to losing, because they are bright, they still handle themselves with dignity. What are they going to do, start screaming, “I was better than you! You got lucky!”

Are you ever in contact with Bob Barker or Pat Sajak?

Once in awhile, Bob and I have gotten together for lunch in the past year. And Pat, I recorded stuff with him the other day for Boston, following the bombings there. We’re friends. We don’t socialize too much or too often, but we’re friends. One of my very good friends is a host I met soon after I came to California, Peter Marshall, who used to host "Hollywood Squares." Pete and I are still in contact. In fact, I think they want me to host a tribute to him. He’s been named West Virginia Man of the Year.

Do you have a cameo appearance of yours that was a personal favorite?

"White Men Can’t Jump" was fun. "Cheers" was good. "The Bucket List" was good and disappointing in a way. The original script had a whole scene on the "Jeopardy" set where Morgan Freeman’s character was a contestant. It was always his ambition in life to be on "Jeopardy." He winds up as a contestant on "Jeopardy" and dies on the set. We filmed that, but they didn’t use it. They had him die at home, as you recall. What’s good about it, I still get residuals every time they show the film. It’s a wonderful film; the first time I read the script I had tears in my eyes.

[For the Record, 10:55 a.m. PDT, May 9: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported that the memorabilia being donated would be part of an upcoming exhibit dedicated to daytime TV. There are no current plans for such an exhibit, but some of the items may be part of a broader exhibit on American culture.]

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