An Ongoing Series on Those Standing In For Alex
Note: Yesterday, The New York Times published a fairly detailed article basically doing what I’ve been doing the last couple of months. I won’t go into detail about the criticism, save to say that we only agreed about two things: Ken Jennings was a good host, and Dr. Oz was a terrible one.
I don’t necessarily hold with the larger point of view — that Jeopardy has been relying a bit too much on journalists as guest hosts. In a way, they are as qualified for the job as any other major figure. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good at it — my reviews have generally reflected as much — but some of them have more of the personality for it. Would I like to see more actors doing the job? Yes, actually. I wouldn’t mind if say, Bryan Cranston, were to take a break from whatever roles they’re doing and show up. (I didn’t pick Cranston out of a hat either. I’ve seen him read clues very well before, so he definitely has the delivery for it and he has the right mix of aplomb and humor that would work well. Just saying.)
And more to the point, I’m not sure the columnist may have been qualified to pass judgment herself. She jokingly admitted she was not a fan of the series, and that the Geico ads that present questions are more her intellectual speed. Do I think that necessarily disqualifies her? Well, if she really thinks Aaron Rodgers has done the best job so far, perhaps.
Like I’ve said on numerous occasions, filling Alex Trebek’s shoes will be difficult, and most of these guest hosts haven’t been so much auditioning as they’ve been paying tribute to a man they admired. The people behind the scenes are going to make up their own minds, probably without fan input. So maybe we should judge them on those terms and not any others. Granted, that’s not quite what I’m doing, but then, I’ve got more invested in their choice than a lot of other people.
Anderson Cooper: In my humble opinion Cooper is the best guest host I have seen to this point. He’s been a TV personality like Couric and Oz for a long time, but unlike them he actually seems to have learned from Alex that less is more.
He has done basically everything right in my opinion the past week. He has demonstrated a dry wit that Alex was very good at; he has read out the clues and answer with aplomb, and he has done a great job putting the focus on the contestant where it belongs. He also seems to have a good memory for exciting games; he mentioned the lead changing eight times in last night’s Double Jeopardy. Alex probably would’ve just set it was a thrilling match, but that’s actually a plus for Cooper: it’s more of a personal touch. In that games Final Jeopardy, he also demonstrated suspense along with his lack of experience when he said he couldn’t read the contestants faces, so he was pleasantly surprised that they all got Final Jeopardy right. And it’s helped that he’s had some solid champions though none of them were able to win more than three games…so far.
I admit its unlikely that Cooper will end up being the replacement for Trebek: he’s just so frigging busy and frankly, he’s very good at his other jobs to want to leave. But honestly, he’s the first guest host I actually think could fill Alex’s shoes. Shame he probably won’t.
My score: 4.75 stars.
Bill Whitaker: Bill Whitaker has the dubious distinction of being the first guest host I had no idea of who he was. I had to Google him to learn he’s been one of the commentators on 60 Minutes for quite some time. In a way, this gave him a certain amount of latitude because he had no baggage and I could judge him as a blank slate. Unfortunately, after a week he hasn’t exactly done much for me to be encouraged by his abilities.
I’m really not sure why Whitaker compares so unfavorably with Anderson Cooper: they literally have the same job and worked at the same franchise. I don’t why Cooper seems no natural at it and Whitaker doesn’t. Maybe it’s just his delivery is too soft-spoken as compared to Cooper, and just a little too polite. Maybe there’s a certain failure in his delivery in comparison with Cooper (and Alex, for that matter). He has the words right, but not the music. Admittedly, that’s a failing that quite a few guest hosts of the show have had.
To be fair, Whitaker has done a much better job than quite a few of the guest hosts. He has a good rapport with the contestants and the right manner for relating Final Jeopardy in particular, something that a lot of the other guest hosts have failed at. He may be suffering mainly because I have such high regard for how good a job Cooper did. I may actually give him next week to see if my opinion changes. But for now:
My score: 3.25 stars.