HomeTelevisionCouch Potato – Why the Next Host of Jeopardy! Matters

Couch Potato – Why the Next Host of Jeopardy! Matters

Editor’s Note: This column was written prior to today’s news that Mike Richards would no longer be a part of the show.

Well, this process has been an unmitigated disaster so far. If you haven’t been following the latest game show news, the search for the next host of Jeopardy! has been a dramatic saga of one man’s self-serving rise to prominence, Icarian downfall following shameful (though unsurprising) revelations, and baffling ability to dodge greater accountability consequences. Finding someone to succeed Alex Trebek and carry on his legacy was always going to be a Herculean task, but Sony Pictures Television (the production company behind Jeopardy!) and the show’s production staff essentially shot themselves in the foot and made this daunting quest that much harder.

For greater context, I should explain how we got here. Following Alex Trebek’s tragic death from pancreatic cancer last November, the show he hosted for 36 years was in need of a new host capable of filling the role of a television icon. In what was ostensibly presented as a tryout for the position, Jeopardy! then invited several celebrities and TV personalities to guest host the show for two weeks at a time. Other than buying time for Sony and the minds behind the show, this move also gave fans a taste of what to expect from Trebek’s potential successor(s) and pick favorites (with LaVar Burton being an overwhelmingly popular choice).

Fast-forward to early August when Sony announced that, following the run of guest hosts, there would be two permanent hosts (kind of, sort of, not really). While both Mike Richards (the executive producer of the show) and Mayim Bialik (best known for her role on Big Bang Theory) were announced as hosts, it was readily apparent that this announcement was largely a smokescreen since Richards was tapped to host the daily episodes of the show and Bialik was set only to host spinoffs and special episodes. For all intents and purposes, Richards was going to be the next host of Jeopardy! 

However, even at the time of the announcement, Richards was plagued by controversy. As explained by Linda Holmes, the host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, Richards’ rise to host smacked of behind-the-scenes manipulation because he was already the executive producer of the show. While Sony claimed to have made the choice, the series of guest hosts appeared to be a disingenuous cover for Richards to appoint himself.

Several people said that the scenario was reminiscent of Dick Cheney’s infamous decision to present himself as the best choice for George W. Bush’s vice-presidential running mate, even though Cheney himself was leading that search. And reader, being compared to Dick Cheney is never a good thing. On top of that, after bringing on several women and people of color as guest hosts, giving the job to a white man represented a disappointing failure to promote diversity and inclusion.

And, most troubling of all, Richards had previously been the subject of two lawsuits related to his time working as a producer on The Price is Right. According to the lawsuits, several female models working on The Price is Right during Richards’s tenure accused him and other producers of engaging in favoritism, hostility, discrimination, and sexual harassment on set. Assuming Sony knew that Richards had a documented history of creating toxic work environments, then it was baffling that Jeopardy! would pick him as the next host (or even hire him as an executive producer). But despite these many strikes, Richards landed the coveted position.

That is until Richards was forced to resign as host, only days after getting the job. When The Ringer reported Richards had repeatedly made sexist remarks about women’s bodies and other offensive comments in a podcast he hosted several years ago, it was clear that Richards couldn’t escape this latest controversy. Here were several recordings of Richards body-shaming women, making antisemitic jokes, using ableist slurs, joking about drug abuse, and making racist remarks. Whatever invulnerability he had as a white man in a position of power had dried up. As discussed once again by NPR’s Linda Holmes, this outcome was just the latest chapter of an exasperatingly foreseeable debacle. And the train wreck may not even be over yet since Richards is still holding onto his role as executive producer of Jeopardy! even after forfeiting the job of host. After all of this, though, how can Richards possibly stay on as a producer? Maybe his invulnerability isn’t entirely dried up after all, but it remains to be seen how long he can hold onto power before Sony finally forces him out entirely.

And so here we are now. With Richards out as a host, Mayim Bialik is scheduled to return as the first of a new series of guest hosts. There is no official word on who will become the next permanent host, but rumors suggest that Bialik and Ken Jennings (famous for being the contestant with the longest winning streak in the history of Jeopardy!) are considered front runners. However, many fans continue to back LaVar Burton and support his candidacy, and it remains to be seen who Sony favors now. Whatever happens next in this tragic comedy, Sony and fans of the show alike are certainly hoping for less drama and fewer plot twists. 

At the very least, this controversy has brought attention to just how important Jeopardy! and the show’s attempts to find a new host are to the viewing public. As one of the longest-running game shows of all time, Jeopardy! has become a television mainstay. Though he never presented himself as the star of the show, Alex Trebek became a beloved North American icon because of his time hosting the program. Even people who have rarely or never watched the show are familiar with its premise, music, and structure thanks to classroom attempts to recreate the game. On a personal note, I fondly remember watching Jeopardy! with my family almost every night as a child and teenager, often shouting the responses at the TV as the contestants buzzed in. And I have heard so many other people share similar experiences. Jeopardy! is undoubtedly an understated but enduring fixture in our culture. And that entrenchment is exactly why the show’s new host matters.

Representation matters, and social icons matter. Alex Trebek always presented himself as a kind, intelligent figure; he never attempted to outshine the contestants and always conducted himself with effortless grace. These qualities made Trebek not just an icon but also a role model. While Trebek can never be replaced, his successor also can be a role model for new generations and help underrepresented groups see themselves in an esteemed position. Selecting a woman, a person of color, an LGBTQ+ individual, or someone from another marginalized group could be an important step in making the game show industry and television overall more diverse. This decision represents an opportunity for greater inclusion and visibility. And this second chance at finding the next host of Jeopardy! should not be wasted.

Josh Sarnecky
Josh Sarnecky
Josh Sarnecky is one of Pop Break's staff writers and covers Voltron: Legendary Defender, Game of Thrones, and Stranger Things. His brother, Aaron, also writes for the website, but Josh is the family’s reigning Trivial Pursuit: Star Wars champion.

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