Candidates For The Next Host of Jeopardy
I will not deny it: it has been immensely difficult watching the last two weeks of Jeopardy since Alex Trebek’s passing. After seeing the memoriam the series producers did the day after he died, dimming the lights on the set for him. And watching Alex going about his business so nonchalantly, even though we know from reports that he was almost always excruciating pain would be hard enough had we not seen him making references to a Tournament Of Champions we now know he will never host. Its hard for me, and it must be hard for millions more.
I don’t know how long the period of mourning for a TV icon should be, but I think enough time has passed for us to discuss the inevitable: who should the next host of Jeopardy be? The producers and Trebek himself must have discussed the question over the past year; as heartbreaking as it must be, television is a business. Jeopardy is an institution, and like other game shows have gone on with new hosts, one must be chosen for Jeopardy. We won’t know until later (if ever) who Trebek himself thought should take over, but I have three suggestions: two from within the family, so to speak, and one who has gathered a certain amount of popularity from outside.
The first choice is Ken Jennings, the contestant who has the longest winning streak in Jeopardy history and still holds (just barely) the record for most money won. After the Greatest Of All Time Tournament this January, Jennings (who’d come back in three previous tournaments) announced he was retiring from gameplay. He has since moved on to the series itself as a producer and clue reader. (He’s read three categories in play since then.) One gets the impression that the series was grooming him to take over at some point (Trebek even half-joked that he was ‘looking over his shoulder’ after one such category). And the argument is solid. Jennings is associated with the show almost as much as Trebek was, he has a fairly good sense of humor and rapport with fellow competitors (I saw as much in several of the tournaments that followed) and he certainly knows as much.
The second choice is Brad Rutter, the most successful Jeopardy contestant and biggest money winner in game show history. Brad has won over four and a half million dollars playing Jeopardy, and until the Greatest of All Time had never lost a game. He’s a little younger than Jennings, and has a sharper sense of humor, which we saw in full force in so many of his interviews. He’s actually more qualified than Jennings because ever since winning the Million Dollar Master in 2002, he has been more and more involved in the entertainment industry. He actually hosted a game show for awhile, and produced several shows for TV Land, and starred in a couple. In that sense, he is at least as qualified as Jennings, though he does admittedly lack the gravitas that Trebek had.
The third possibility has been floating around the internet ever since Trebek passed. It’s a little less likely than the ones I’ve suggested, but in a way it would be more fitting: actor LeVar Burton, veteran of Roots, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and most pertinently, Reading Rainbow.
First of all, Burton is connected to the show. He read out several clues, mostly connected with Reading Rainbow over the years and actually made an appearance on the celebrity edition of the show. And unlike many of his fellow celebrities, he did exceptionally well, winning the game in a runaway and answering several questions that would have given the average Jeopardy player some trouble.
But more than that, Burton has a familiarity with the viewer that is actually very close to that of Trebek. He wasn’t involved with it for nearly as long, but I’m quite sure that millions of children (myself gladly among them) grew up watching him on Reading Rainbow and getting a certain love of learning that is very close to what one derives from watching Jeopardy. I know many of us were heartbroken when the show was cancelled more than fifteen years ago, and have longed for a way for it to return in some form.
Now, I’m well aware that there is the disadvantage of Burton being considerable older than the ideal host, but there is the advantage of having a built-in fanbase as well. And I think many of us could well get used to seeing him fill Alex’s shoes, and bidding us farewell with the catchphrase he used at the end of Reading Rainbow: “See you next time!” And I’m not alone in thinking this. An online petition started within days of Trebek’s passing that already has nearly a hundred thousand signatures.
Maybe the producers have better choices in mind, and they still do have a little time. Trebek’s final recorded shows will not finiished airing until Christmas Day. But I honestly think these are probably the best choices, and I do hope they are considered.