How do you continue “Jeopardy!” after Alex Trebek?
That’s the question the show is facing in 2021. And the producers are going about it “Office”-style: How do you continue after Steve Carell leaves? You rotate through a bunch of new bosses who aren’t Michael Scott, even Creed.
“Jeopardy!” is navigating a post-Alex Trebek world by showcasing an array of new hosts, from the obvious (record-setting contestant Ken Jennings) to the not-so-obvious (Savannah Guthrie).
It’s a brilliant strategy: We’ll have less of a knee-jerk reaction to the new flavor after trying a dozen flavors. Executive producer Mike Richards told the Wall Street Journal’s podcast, The Journal, that a permanent host will be named by the time filming for season 38 starts in late summer.
I’ve been watching guest hosts take their turns since Jennings kicked off this new era in January. Let me note that as you’re reading this, actor/neuroscientist Mayim Bialik is hosting. I didn’t add her here because, as of this writing, I hadn’t seen her.
On the horizon: Guthrie, Sanjay Gupta, Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, David Faber, Joe Buck, and fan favorite LeVar Burton. Our old “Reading Rainbow” host tweeted out a fan petition to make him Trebek’s successor — a quarter-million people signed it, and the show listened, adding him late to the guest-host list. Burton projects that aura of knowledge, and he’s a familiar face. He’d be a great choice.
Until the remaining guest hosts get their turn, here are the first eight ranked last to first, Letterman-style.
8. Dr. Mehmet Oz. Hard pass. For many displeased fans, as voiced on Twitter, a celebrity who has promoted dubious ideas and products through the years was a what-were-they-thinking? choice for a show dedicated to facts. That week, “Jeopardy!” great James Holzhauer joked he wouldn’t host because “I believe in science.” On top of the fan backlash, some 600 former contestants signed a letter of protest: “Dr. Oz stands in opposition to everything that Jeopardy! stands for. Jeopardy! is a show that values facts and knowledge.”
7. Katie Couric. Sorry, but that voice is not meant for evening. It’s a very … morning voice. Chipper, and over-the-top excited when contestants answer correctly (“Yay!”) is just not the vibe I’m looking for.
6. Anderson Cooper. Odd choice. Personality wise, he’s fine, and he does project that aura of knowledge you need as host of this show. But in my head, he’s breaking-news-guy, not fun-game-guy. I kept feeling like he was going to announce something terrible from Washington. (His ratings show I’m not alone.)
5. Ken Jennings. Weird how the lectern changes things. I love Jennings as a contestant, but he was nervous behind Trebek’s old lectern and his performance read as stiff and robotic. He is the “Jeopardy!” GOAT, and during Trebek’s final shows, it felt like he was being groomed to take over. (Jennings was tapped to deliver his own category of questions.) I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up as permanent host, but hopefully he loosens up and gets more comfortable.
4. Bill Whitaker. So far, the “60 Minutes” correspondent is the most like Trebek. Staid, calm, even-keeled. He’s gentle, gives off that wise, avuncular feel that Trebek had.
3. Aaron Rodgers. He was stiff at the start but relaxed as the days went on. He’s a charmer, getting some laughs in, taking some ribbing, even sliding in an “SNL” Turd Ferguson reference.) I think the Green Bay Packer/vocal fan/2015 “Celebrity Jeopardy!” champ would bring in a whole new audience.
2. Mike Richards. He wasn’t even a real “guest host” — the executive producer of “Jeopardy!” stepped in as substitute between guests. But my goodness, he was built to host: charming, at ease, in command, great personality, handsome, funny. I came away after his first show thinking: “Wait, what? Why can’t he just host?” I wasn’t alone. “I vote for Mike Richards as the permanent @Jeopardy host,” said one fan speaking for many on Twitter.
1. Buzzy Cohen. Longtime fan here of the former contestant. I’ve loved this dapper dude for his easy chemistry with Trebek, which included “SNL” skit references. (You could practically hear Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery impersonation when Cohen wrote: “Who is you aren’t rid of me yet, Trebek?”) I was deflated when he wasn’t included on the original guest-host list and thrilled when he was added later. He was fantastic as host of the Tournament of Champions the last two weeks, and was better at interviewing contestants than most of the others. He has a clear passion for the game, viewers already associate him with “Jeopardy!,” and he’d open up the show to a younger demographic. So far, he’s my hands-down favorite. #TeamBuzzy