Jeopardy's high-stakes hunt for a new host
Replacing one of the most beloved game show hosts of all time is no easy task
Jeopardy! has been conducting a lengthy search for Alex Trebek's replacement. Who might get the job, and what will it mean for the show?
How has Jeopardy! been handling Alex Trebek's absence?
Alex Trebek died in November 2020 following a battle with cancer after hosting Jeopardy! for over 30 years. Trebek wasn't the show's original host, having succeeded Art Fleming. But he became one of the most beloved game show hosts of all time and was indelibly associated with Jeopardy!, leaving producers with the difficult job of filling his shoes. They didn't announce a successor immediately, but instead brought in a series of guest hosts while gauging viewers' reactions. The permanent new host is set to be named this summer.
Who are the candidates?
Jeopardy! executive producer Mike Richards has said Trebek's replacement will likely be picked from the crop of guest hosts, which include the following people: former Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings, Jeopardy! producer Mike Richards, journalist Katie Couric, TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, 60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker, former Jeopardy! champion Buzzy Cohen, The Big Bang Theory actress Mayim Bialik, Today anchor Savannah Guthrie, CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Good Morning America anchors George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts, former Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton, CNBC host David Faber, and sportscaster Joe Buck.
What are producers looking for?
Trebek brought a professorial presence to Jeopardy! and came across as well-informed about various topics. The show is striving to capture this quality again, as Richards told USA Today the host should be a person with a "quick mind" who, when they deem responses correct or incorrect, seems like they would "have actually known that." Given that Jeopardy! has fans across the political spectrum, Richards has also suggested the host should, like Trebek, not be "controversial." Richards also ideally wants the host to make Jeopardy! their one and only job. That could potentially rule out a number of newscasters like Cooper, Stephanopoulos, and Roberts; Couric, Whitaker, and Guthrie have all insinuated they wouldn't accept the gig for this reason.
Who are the frontrunners?
The main contender is thought to be Ken Jennings, and it seemed the show was possibly setting the stage for him to take over even before Trebek's death. One of the last major Jeopardy! events under Trebek was a tournament that ended with Jennings being crowned the greatest player of all time, and he subsequently became a consulting producer. Between this and Jennings' record 74-game winning streak in 2004, his supporters have argued he's the natural heir. On the other hand, Aaron Rodgers' guest hosting stint drew strong reviews, and he's interested in the permanent job, arguing he could squeeze it into his NFL schedule. Mayim Bialik, who has a background in neuroscience, also impressed fans, as did Buzzy Cohen and Mike Richards. But next to Jennings, the candidate with the most vocal base of support online is LeVar Burton. More than 250,000 people have signed a petition calling for his hiring, and he's campaigned for the job more than anyone.
What's at stake?
For passionate fans, Jeopardy! isn't just any quiz show, but a sacred institution, beloved as a platform that celebrates possessing a wide range of knowledge. So it's vital to longtime viewers that the host isn't merely a skilled broadcaster, but is prepared to continue Trebek's legacy of exalting facts and education. This is a big part of why so many fans support Burton, who's known for hosting another show associated with learning, Reading Rainbow. On the flip side, that's also why Jeopardy! sparked a firestorm when it brought in Dr. Oz, who has been criticized for "promoting quack treatments and cures," as a host. For some, putting Oz behind Trebek's lectern was seen as a betrayal of "everything that Jeopardy! stands for," as a group of former contestants wrote. This was just a preview of the controversy that could ensue depending on the final pick.
How else could the decision prove controversial?
Regardless of who is selected, it's unlikely the decision will please everyone. If Jennings is tapped, detractors may take issue with some of his old tweets, namely one from 2014 that read, "Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair." He has apologized for tweeting "unartful and insensitive things." Since Jennings was the first guest host, his hiring could also spark backlash if Burton's proponents get the sense that he was never truly being considered, despite his highly-publicized stint. Meanwhile, the campaign for Burton has sparked some pushback among a subset of fans who prefer Jennings, so even Burton's selection might draw criticism that producers were too swayed by the online push and a desire for a more recognizable star. Part of the reasoning for the guest host rotation, Richards says, was to avoid announcing Trebek's replacement so soon after his death. But after giving viewers a look at so many options, Jeopardy! may have set the new host up to be unfavorably compared not only to Trebek, but to every other candidate. "No matter who the permanent host is, the majority of viewers will have a different choice that they liked better," Jennings told The Wall Street Journal. "They'll be aggrieved, and they won't be wrong."
Can Jeopardy! keep its audience without Trebek?
Following Trebek's death, Jeopardy! has seen a 10 percent dip in viewership, according to the Journal, not such a massive plunge to suggest continuing without him will be impossible. While replacing an iconic host is a tall order, The Price is Right pulled it off when Drew Carey succeeded Bob Barker, and Richards was actually involved in that transition, The New York Times notes. Ultimately, though, Trebek was adamant that Jeopardy! wasn't about him. So producers can only hope that even if the new host takes time to find their footing, the game itself remaining unchanged and will keep viewers coming back.