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After more than seven months of rotating guest hosts, the search for the new host of “Jeopardy!” came to an anticlimactic end on Wednesday when Sony Pictures Television announced executive producer Mike Richards as the show’s regular host starting this fall.
“Jeopardy!” is also adding a second host for the first time in what feels like a concession to the widespread criticism of Richards when he was rumored to be the front-runner to take over for the late Alex Trebek. Actor Mayim Bialik will host prime-time specials and spinoffs, including an upcoming prime-time version of the show’s longtime college tournament.
It’s hard not to feel like the whole guest host process was just for show. Sure, it was fun to see a variety of hosting styles — some pretty good, some kind of rocky, some extremely questionable (uh, Dr. Oz) — and the show raised a lot of money for the charities each guest host chose. But it’s all a huge disappointment and insult to fans, since the show made a big deal out of the guest host process, ginning up enthusiasm and assuring viewers that they were taking our responses and feedback into consideration.
Richards wasn’t bad when he guest-hosted this winter (though, according to The Ringer’s Claire McNear, the circumstances behind his guest-host turn are a bit shady), but he didn’t appear to be a fan favorite.
It’s also a bad look for the show. Ultimately, regardless of what went on behind the scenes, the optics of the decision look like: “So the man with the inside track gets the main gig, but because people were mad, we’ll have a woman host some of the time.”
In a memo to the show’s staff earlier this week, Richards addressed some of the questions and criticism surrounding the decision. Regarding the fact that he was vying for the host position while also serving as the show’s executive producer, he wrote that “the choice on this is not my decision and never has been.” (He also responded to reports about multiple discrimination lawsuits when he was the executive producer of “The Price Is Right,” saying they didn’t “reflect the reality of who I am.”)
The optics of the decision look like: “So the man with the inside track gets the main gig, but because people were mad, we’ll have a woman host some of the time.”
The news is especially sad for the many “Jeopardy!” fans rooting for LeVar Burton, who was such an obvious choice to fill Trebek’s shoes. (He was also only one of a handful of people of color in the guest host rotation.)
Burton, who for years has dreamed of hosting the show and even said so publicly, has a lot of the same qualities as Trebek: He is universally beloved and conveys a sense of calm and gravitas. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know him through his decadeslong career as an actor on “Roots” and “Star Trek” and as the longtime host and executive producer of PBS’s “Reading Rainbow.” Generations of kids grew up watching him read. Hosting a game show about knowledge would have made total sense for his career.
To be fair, Burton’s performance as guest host got mixed reviews. But it also seems like he got a raw deal: His episodes had to compete for ratings with the Tokyo Olympics, and he had only one week at the lectern. Many of the other guest hosts, including those who were not interested in the permanent position, got at least two weeks. In January, legendary Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings, the first of the guest hosts, got six weeks.
When the initial reports that Richards would likely be the next host came out last week, many people were surprised and confused, myself included. But the more I thought about it, the more it became utterly unsurprising: The white man with the inside track gets the job. So it goes.