Famed Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek’s passing at 80 Sunday sparked lots of discussion on the sports work he did over the years. And Tuesday brought an interesting note on how Trebek was at one point considered as the host of CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada, a role that eventually went to Dave Hodge (until the 1987 pen flip). Here’s more on that from Ken Campbell of The Hockey News (via Sports Illustrated and those publications’ deal):
The year was 1971 and Hockey Night in Canada had just fired Ward Cornell and was looking for a younger and more dynamic replacement. The way former executive producer Ralph Mellanby tells it, five candidates made the short list. One of them was Dave Hodge, who ultimately got the job and hosted the show for 16 years. Another was Trebek, who had joined the CBC after graduating from the University of Ottawa and was best known for hosting a high school game show called Reach for the Top. He had also hosted broadcasts of horse racing and figure skating. “We wanted to get younger and more vibrant,” Mellanby said. “And one of the guys I got from Ottawa was Alex Trebek. He was doing some sports and other things. I really liked Trebek.”
Mellanby said he was in the office of his boss, Ted Hough, the former president of the Canadian Sports Network, which produced Hockey Night. As Hough and Mellanby watched the audition tapes of the five finalists, the more Mellanby wanted Trebek to fill the chair. But he was overruled by his boss, who had a strict rule that immediately eliminated Trebek from the running. “We’re watching (Trebek’s) audition and I said, ‘Ted, that’s the guy I really want,’ ” Mellanby said. “And he said, ‘We’re not hiring him. We don’t hire guys with moustaches!’ So I hired Dave Hodge.”
In the end, this probably worked out for everyone. Hodge was an excellent HNIC host for a long while, and Trebek found great success in the U.S. TV world, especially with Jeopardy!. (And they were fine with his moustache, which he kept until 2001.) But it’s definitely interesting to read about how close Trebek was to that Hockey Night In Canada job, and to contemplate how the TV world might be different if he’d wound up there instead of hosting Jeopardy!
Trebek’s role at Jeopardy! made a huge impact on a ton of people, including some from the sports world. And it certainly worked out well for him. But it’s definitely interesting to imagine an alternate history where he instead winds up at Hockey Night In Canada. And he did a lot of notable sports work for CBC, including 1967 NHL playoffs highlights. So it’s fun to consider what might have happened if Trebek had had different facial hair and had wound up on Hockey Night In Canada more permanently.