Alex Trebek was the heart and soul of "Jeopardy!" for many viewers, which is why, after his death in November 2020, fans of the show were interested to see who would fill his position.
Former host Trebek was a pop culture icon, loved by fans for the spirit and personality he brought to "Jeopardy!" for 36 years. Trebek left behind not merely a job, but a legacy and position to greatly influence Americana.
In the months following Trebek’s death, "Jeopardy!" producers decided to feature a series of guest hosts while they decided on Trebek’s replacement.
Beginning in January, such celebrities as former "Jeopardy!" winner Ken Jennings, journalist Katie Couric and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers filled the guest host spot.
It was not until Aug.11 that news site The Daily Beast announced recent “Jeopardy!” executive producer and former guest host Mike Richards, alongside guest host and actress Mayim Bialik would become permanent co-hosts of the game show.
As detailed in his biography on the "Jeopardy!" website, Richards has a history of game show experience, including producing for “Wheel of Fortune,” “The Price is Right,” and “Let’s Make a Deal.” His role as host was also preceded by hosting positions at various game shows. However, it was not a lack of experience that brought controversy to his appointment.
According to general interests news site Vox, “The Ringer published an exposé painting Richards as an opportunist with a history of making sexist, classist and xenophobic remarks and detailing discrimination lawsuits made during his tenure at ‘The Price Is Right.’”
The overwhelming backlash Richards received after the publication of the exposé ultimately led to his removal as host. In an Aug. 20 statement to the show’s staff, Richards announced he would be stepping down from his position as host.
As of Aug. 31, 2021 Richards has also been removed from his position as executive producer, and the search for both an executive producer and a permanent host has resumed with guest hosts continuing to fill the position. As reported by the New York Times, the first guest host after Richards’ removal will be his former co-host Mayim Bialik.
With the search resuming, it becomes important to recognize why the matter of Trebek’s replacement is important to fans.
Former NBA player and “Jeopardy!” contestant Kareem Abdul-Jabbar suggests that it is a matter of honoring Trebek’s legacy in a column written for the Hollywood Reporter: “[Trebek] evolved with the show and became the kindly face of the part of America that venerates knowledge. That’s why choosing the right host to replace him is about more than simple entertainment values; it’s about respecting what the show represents to American culture. It’s about acknowledging "Jeopardy!"’s significance as an enriching leader in promoting the joys and benefits of education.”
Along with the legacy issue, others cite Richards’ appointment as a clear example of hiring bias. Not only was he chosen over more diverse candidates, Richards was an internal hire.
This left Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary questioning whether Richards was truly the best choice for the job. “Was Richards, who remains the show’s executive producer, really the best hire for the "Jeopardy!" hosting job? Compared to the other job candidates, Richards was mediocre. I was also rooting for television stars Mayim Bialik and LeVar Burton. Burton hosted the beloved “Reading Rainbow” on PBS. And for goodness’ sake, Bialik, who brilliantly played a neuroscientist on the spectacular sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” actually has a Ph.D. in neuroscience.”
Whatever the reason, it is clear Trebek’s legacy is not taken lightly by fans of the show, and whoever is ultimately chosen to replace him will face further public scrutiny.
Follow Lillian Durr on Twitter, @lillian_durr
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