The Real Reason Season 40 Of Jeopardy Is Causing So Much Ill-Feeling

David B Morris
15 min readApr 17, 2024

And A Possible Idea of What We, The Fans, Should Try to Do

Introduction: I wouldn’t have tried to write an article like this even a couple of months ago. Those of you who have read many of my op-ed piece over the years know how both how much contempt I hold writers who write negative pieces that seem to suggest imminent doom and how little faith I have in either the internet or social media to make a difference in any of the major problems facing the world.

The piece I’m about to write may seem to make me a hypocrite. But in this case, I don’t think I’m entirely shouting into a void. I’ve seen my readership stats over the past several months grow exponentially and I know that in particular my pieces on Jeopardy have some of the highest readership of any of my articles. I know that articles on medium do have a certain power to extend outside the original site, so it’s possible I might have a larger reach then I know. And as you will see when I get to the end, what I am suggesting, while highly unlikely to work, does have precedent at least within the entertainment industry.

So with that in mind, let’s begin with my metaphor..

When George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973, he was taking over a once mighty franchise that had fallen on hard times and was considered a shell of what it once was. He famously claimed he would be an absentee owner but that promised lasted less than a few weeks.

Steinbrenner’s reputation was rehabilitated in the last fifteen years of his life and the passage of time as well as pop culture has done much to erase who he was. And as anyone who had to work under him during that period knows, he was an ogre.

Ignore Seinfeld. George III was not a figure of fun.

Very quickly in his tenure he made it clear that nothing but a first-place finish would satisfy him and this led to the constant interference with management. He was also willing to spend huge sums of money to restore the team, both in refurbishing the stadium and hiring big stars by free-agency.

Initially it worked. By 1976 the Yankees won their first pennant in twelve years and the next year their first World Series in fifteen. But even with the success there was always an immense out of chaos, both in the dugout and in the front office. The team got the nickname the Bronx Zoo by one of its relievers Sparky Lyle.

But no matter how successful the Yankees were, it never satisfied Steinbrenner. He kept tinkering with the team and by 1982, they were in fifth place. He became a source of belligerence in New York, feuding with everybody, his best players, the press, and constantly firing managers and general managers. By the time I moved to New York in 1990, the Yankees were a national joke.

In 2021 Jeopardy was in a similar state of disarray. Much of this was due to circumstance: Alex Trebek’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, which he would succumb to in November of 2020, the pandemic in which lockdown would lead to a premature end of Season 36, and the chaos that unfolded in the search for a new host when Trebek passed away. The chaos was aggravated immensely when executive producer Mike Richards announced at the conclusion of Season 37 that he would be taking over as permanent host, which outraged the fanbase. A subsequent controversy about the toxic behind the scenes behavior under Richards tenure led to him being fired, first as host, then executive producer and writer. When Michael Davies took over the show as executive producer in October of 2021, there were many worried about the fate of the show.

As it turned out Season 38 would lead to millions of new fans watching the show and led to many arguing for the era of Peak Jeopardy. But in hindsight, Davies’ taking over as executive producer seems to be the foundation of so many of the problems the show is currently undergoing and in that case, I’m beginning to see a bit of Steinbrenner in Davies.

You didn’t save Jeopardy, Michael. This guy and others like him did.

Perhaps Davies, like Steinbrenner with the Yankees, sees Jeopardy as an extension of himself and believes that its success after such controversy is attributable to his leadership. Anyone who is a fan of Jeopardy knows that is complete horseshit. Jeopardy was saved because of Matt Amodio, Amy Schneider and Mattea Roach, with assists from Johnathan Fisher and Ryan Long. Even more than a baseball team, the success of Jeopardy has always been attributable far more to the players than any one person. Alex Trebek was associated with the success of Jeopardy but he had the common sense to make everyone else the star: the players, the writers and the champions. I think the chaos that unfolded in the immediate aftermath was more due to the fact Trebek did not have a chosen successor in mind after his diagnosis.

There’s also the possibility that Davies felt a need to make an imprint on Jeopardy that was different than that of Richards’. I don’t know if such things as the Professors Tournament or the prime time College Championship were in development under Richards’ tenure but perhaps Davies thought that he could not consider them his own. This isn’t unfair; the person producing a show is entitled to make an impact on it. The problem was that Richards’ for all the controversy around his behavior had been enough of an institutionalist not to tinker with the actual format of the show. Ever since Davies took over, that’s all he’s been doing and it’s hard to understand the rational.

The most obvious one of these changes was, of course, the Second Chance Tournament. I still can’t comprehend why anyone would think this was a good idea; even when Davies announced it he said: “I may have broken the show.” Did no one at any point from the moment it was suggested to the time it was greenlit ever say to Davies that at no point in the history of game shows has anyone ever wanted to see players who had lost? Yet it happened in 2022.

Then there was the alteration of the format of the 2022 Tournament of Champions itself, something no one had done since the show had started in 1984 and perhaps back to the original founding. At the time I was willing to consider this a conflagration of events that had to do with the pandemic. But even then there was no logic to two of the participants having to win the Second Chance Tournament. Considering that the actual tournament had two three game champions who served as alternates, the obvious question is: if you’re going to do this, why not invite back players who’d actually won some games and who fans might want to see? No one questioned that either.

In Season 39 there were also clear warning signs. The College Championship and the Professors Tournament of the previous season did not take place at all. The former had been a staple of Jeopardy since 1989 so it was hard to understand why it wasn’t part of the schedule. The only special tournament of Season 39 was the Teen Reunion Tournament, and even then it was hard to understand the logic when it came to who was invited. That was overshadowed by the inaugural Jeopardy Masters which was a huge success and deservedly so as well as the success of the return of Celebrity Jeopardy as a prime time event.

But there were clearly warning signs, first as Davies announced that not only the Second Chance Tournament would return in Season 40 but also the creation of Champions Wild Card. The latter at least was based more in a place of logic when it came to Jeopardy then the former ever was but once again it was hard to understand the reasoning. In his second year Davies seemed increasingly determined undo the foundation of the show for the last thirty eights seasons and erode the goodwill of the show’s long-time fans. This became increasingly clear after he made the decision that all of the special tournaments — ‘the postseason’ as he notoriously named it — would open Season 40. This idea was met with hostility from fans almost from the start.

In hindsight, the Writers and Actors strikes last summer demonstrated just how much Davies viewed Jeopardy as an extension of himself. We will never know unless we learn from anyone involved, but I believe that Mayim Bialik’s decision that she would not cross the picket line in the summer of 2023 was the reason she was unceremoniously let go that same year.

I think Davies’ believed in his heart Jeopardy was above the strike and I think everything that happened for the last year is because Davies, like Steinbrenner was known to do, threw a tantrum when certain facts were pointed out to him. Jeopardy was his show and no one was going to stop him from airing it as scheduled, even if it meant his writers weren’t involved. It wouldn’t shock me if we learned later that Davies yelled and screamed at Ray Lalonde on the phone when he told him he was not going to cross a picket line. It wouldn’t shock me if he threw further tantrums when former Jeopardy champions chose to stand by Lalonde rather than the show. And I’m willing to bet that anyone who tried to tell him that at the very least they should postpone this postseason until the strike was resolved that he shouted that he was the boss and he wasn’t going to have his show spoiled by those ungrateful brats.

I’m almost inclined to think the extended postseason that took up so much of the first half of Season 40 was the equivalent of Major League Baseball’s proposed idea to have replacement players start opening day of the 1995 season when the players were on strike. Only the owners, including Steinbrenner, were smart enough not to go through with it. Davies’ not only insisted on going through with it but decided to double down on what was already a bad idea. The fact that he chose to assure the fans with ‘replacement clues’ while the writers on strike increasingly showed the contempt he was holding the viewer he was ostensibly doing the show for.

I don’t know when the idea of the Jeopardy Invitational Tournament was struck upon — I first heard of it last December. Maybe Davies thought that this would not only bring up suspense for the following year’s Masters, but it would manage to appease the fans who had spent much of the first several weeks and months of Season 40 being vocal on the Internet about the endless postseason. There’s also the fact that he wanted to bring suspense about who the final player would be — though the fact that he said it was ‘the producer’s choice’ should have been a red flag.

There were complaints as the Invitational proceeded about how the three former Masters — Amy Schneider, Andrew He and Sam Buttrey — were not competing against each other in the quarterfinals and semi-finals. I didn’t see anything sinister at it at the time, but I am beginning to wonder if this was an attempt by Davies to try and generate the outcome that he thought would be best for the show. You would think that after the previous two Tournaments of Champions that he would have learned that was something you couldn’t do or that indeed if it happened it would be the desired outcome. But then again, Steinbrenner spent decades with the belief that he personally could motivate his players to win without even having to play the game.

The final straw came Friday and demonstrates where we are in the Davies era compared to Steinbrenner. After the 1980 season, Dick Howser had led the Yankees to a 103 wins and a division title. They had then been swept by Kansas in the ALCS in three games. Steinbrenner had decided this was an unacceptable outcome and fired Howser. He then staged a press conference in which with a straight face he told the media that he wanted Howser to stay, but he’d found a better opportunity in Florida real estate. It was humiliating for everybody, including Steinbrenner.

Similarly Friday, Jeopardy was staging a live event at Hudson Yards where the ‘producer’s Choice’ in the 2024 Masters was finally going to be announced. There had been a huge amount of speculation and anticipation as to who that sixth player would be — I participated in much of it, as you’ll recall. Then on Friday Davies announced that the producer’s choice would be Amy Schneider.

Bad how she was chosen. Worse how Davies justified it.

Schneider as we recall had finished second in the Invitational Tournament to Victoria Groce. In essence Davies was basically telling the fans that the entire purpose of the Invitational was a joke.

These were horrible optics in every way. And Davies took what he had to have known was a horrible decision and then made it worse. He told the assembled that he knew that the internet would be upset by him but that he had to do what was best for the ratings of the Masters. To be clear, at a fan event, he was telling that he, the producer, both knew what was best for the fans and didn’t care what they thought anyway. By comparison Mike Richards behavior was subtle.

He was greeting with no applause either when he made this announcement or when he finished his statement. The Internet backlash has been even worse. I knew it would be bad before I knew the circumstances and hearing this statement has made it very clear where Jeopardy is right now.

It is clear that Jeopardy is being run by a man who has no regard for the show’s past, present or future. He is in the process of tearing down all the institutions that made the show great and replacing them with ones that make no discernible sense, even from the standpoint of ratings. He has demonstrated that he has no regard for anyone who works for the show, little regard for the champions, past or present, and no real regard for the viewers. Like Steinbrenner with the Yankees, he sees Jeopardy as an extension of himself, its successes are his alone, whatever failures are everyone else’s. He thinks he knows what it best for Jeopardy despite all evidence to the contrary.

But there is a critical difference between Davies and Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner was the sole owner of the Yankees and answerable to no one. Davies may be the executive producer of Jeopardy, but he is answerable to many other people. They include the network executives who run Sony and ABC; the various guilds in Hollywood, as well as whatever corporations control it. (I think CBS is a co-producer.) We saw all too quickly how public pressure was brought to bear to bring down Richards after he overreached. I believe the same can be done to Davies.

And here is where I make my suggestion. As I’ve stated I don’t believe social media and the Internet alone is enough to bring the kind of pressure to bring about permanent social change. But there is an exception where social media can do that — and it’s the entertainment industry.

This was true even before Kickstarter was founded and created the sites that led first to the Veronica Mars movie and then the follow-up season. Back in 2001, after USA had aired the final season of La Femme Nikita, a grass roots campaign was starting online where the fans wanted another season. First a petition was started on line, then the fans donated cash. And USA made one more season. We saw a similar campaign done for Jericho after it seemed to be prematurely cancelled. Not all of these campaigns work, obviously but there is precedent.

And there have been bigger institutions where ogres have been forced to give in to public pressure. As John Oliver reported in a special on Vince McMahon, while McMahon refused to listen almost anybody, there had been times when he would listen to pressure from the fans when it came to his decisions for wrestlers.

Now I know because I spent a lot of time online that there is a lot of frustration about so much that has happened involving Jeopardy and the endless postseason that has been Season 40. I know that there was just as much outrage after the producer’s choice on Friday. I’m all too aware that outrage can be used for negative fashion far too often, but I also know that it can be done for positive change if it is properly directed. The fans of Jeopardy are upset about so many of the changes but they have not directed their often justifiable outrage towards the real perpetrator. And in this case, it’s very clear who that man is.

Now I don’t like the idea of using whatever influence or indeed any influence to do this kind of thing. I know far too well that so many of these movements start with the best intentions and become the online equivalent of a lynch mob. But maybe it’s because Jeopardy is something I have felt strongly about for thirty years and I don’t like how Davies has decided to work to bring it down from the inside. Or maybe it’s because I fear that by the time things reach the point that Davies leaves Jeopardy — either of his own free will or is pushed — it may be too late to save the show. Or maybe it’s because while I think saving so many of the things we hold dear are too big and complicated as a simplistic solution, this actually seems like one that is very simple and that can be done.

And the thing is I still like Jeopardy. It’s still fun. The show is still as fun to watch as it ever was. The Tournament of Champions and Jeopardy Invitational Tournament were everything I love about the show when it’s done well. Despite the controversy around her selection, I’m still looking forward to the Masters in May. Jeopardy has demonstrated in the aftermath of Trebek’s passing that is an institution can survive any one person.

What it can’t survive is undoing it from within which it was Davies is clearly trying to do. I think the show is at an inflection point. The postseason brought up a lot of ill-feeling that could be used to put pressure on Davies right now. But memories are short. If enough time goes by and things remain the same Davies will, like Steinbrenner, decide that he can keep buying success and will keep tinkering. By the time the powers that be realize how much harm he’s doing to the show — and as we all know, as long as the ratings are high enough, network will excuse a lot — it may be too late to save it.

So I’m asking not just Jeopardy fans but anyone who has played the game and shares this dissatisfaction with the turn of events to express your frustration. Start online petitions and hashtags. Inundate the powers that be with how upset you are with how Davies is doing. Threaten whatever boycotts or protests you think are permissible.

To be clear, that’s all I’m advocating for. No bigotry, not hate speech, nothing else but your dissatisfaction with the show. We’re not trying to burn anything down; we’re trying to repair something that is fixable. I don’t deny Jeopardy has problems, but they’re not worth destroying the show. We’re trying to preserve something we love.

Indeed, express your messages that way. Tell them that you love this show and you don’t like what Davies is doing to it. Tell them what you love about the show in the past and what you want to see preserved. Make it clear that not all change is positive and that when it comes to everything Davies is doing that he is trying to fix something that was never broken.

And make it clear that this would never have passed muster when Alex Trebek was still on the show. Naming the stage for him was a great gesture but his legacy deserves more than that. It means trying to preserve something that we all love and is bigger than one person.

For the record, this played out for the Yankees too. Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball for three years in 1991. During that period, Gene Michael as general manager spent that period rebuilding the Yankees, both with veterans and home-grown talent. By the time Steinbrenner returned, the Yankees reached the postseason for the first time in 14 years. Yes Steinbrenner did fire both Michael and Buck Showalter, but he hired Joe Torre and Brian Cashman. The next year, they won the World Series for the first time in 18 years and four times in five years.

Jeopardy is an institution as valued as the Yankees. For it to thrive, we need to get the Boss out.



David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.