“Peril!” hired Alex Trebek as host in 1984 and he retained that title until his death in November 2020.
Now the void must be filled, but the beloved game show is taking its time. Instead over the past few months, “Jeopardy!” featured a parade of guest guests doing their best to impress viewers and the studio that is expected to make the call before the new season begins recording later this summer.
Think of Sony Pictures Television as holding the rose, and Mayim Bialik, Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric and “Jeopardy!” Champions Ken Jennings and Buzzy Cohen among the contenders so far, with more to come including Robin Roberts, Dr Sanjay Gupta and LeVar Burton.
Sony has “the strongest team of people I’ve ever seen looking at this and analyzing it in a very cerebral way,” executive producer Mike Richards said. “It’s a real change from the way casting is traditionally done on television.”
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“It’s usually an instinct from the CEO, ‘What about this person?’,” Richards said.
This was the approach of producer-artist Merv Griffin when he brought in a syndicated version of “Jeopardy!” on television, five years after the last network iteration of the quiz show ended in 1979 on NBC. A word from Lucille Ball, of “I Love Lucy” fame, and Trebek’s skills and experience sealed his hiring.
The public and critical esteem for Canadian-born Trebek have grown over the years, making finding a worthy replacement both a gesture of respect for the deceased host and a way to protect an asset from the ‘business. While the ratings have changed under guest hosts, “Jeopardy!” remains among the best ranked subscribed programs in terms of audience.
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Trebek helped build “the show of excellence of the series with his own excellence. And it is extremely difficult to find someone to replace him, not only because of the status he had in the American imagination.” said Deepak Sarma, professor at Case Western Reserve University. and Netflix cultural consultant. “Anyone who takes their stand will ultimately be judged against this model of perfection.”
Game show hosts in Trebek’s day were typically radio and television veterans steeped in the genre, and almost invariably white males. Among the “Jeopardy!” the replacements are men and women of color and prospects from a variety of fields, including NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The approach makes sense to Louis Virtel, a longtime fan whose point of view is informed by writing for a game show (“Match Game”) and participating in “Jeopardy!” in 2015.
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“It’s great to see all of these different fills. I’m open to suggestions, and I think most people are,” said Virtel, a “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” writer and co-host of the “Keep It” podcast. “‘Peril!’ is a one-of-a-kind spectacle, and the replacement must be matched to the game. “
What makes a good “Jeopardy!” host?
“I think establishing a sense of comfort (therefore) that the audience easily integrates into the game,” Virtel said. “Also the sense of the stakes, that a real tough game is being played. It’s called ‘Jeopardy!’ for a reason. The host is there to make sure we’re all on our toes. “
Essays are an unusually public form of audition, one that could make even veteran hosts sweat. For actor Bialik of “Blossom,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Call Me Kat,” all nerves have been squeezed out by the demands of the job – and she’s a neuroscientist.
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“There is very little room not to be 100% connected to hosting work when you are on this stage,” Bialik said in an email. It turned out to be “the happiest, most empowering and transcendent act I have ever undertaken – right after giving birth to my second son on my living room floor.”
Back then, there were only a handful of trailblazers like Betty White, the first game show host to win a Daytime Emmy (for 1983’s “Just Men!”) And Adam Wade, a black singer who hosted the 1975 game show “Musical Chairs.”
Wayne Brady, Steve Harvey and Meredith Vieira are among those who have made new inroads as pressure only increases on the entertainment industry to reflect America more broadly on screen.
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But taking over from an authority figure like Trebek is more difficult for women and others who are not typically seen in such roles, Sarma said.
“The types of expectations placed on a person of color in a position of leadership are generally higher than those placed on a white person in a position of power,” he said, and any mistake or “slight movement against the standard is jumped on… like a huge mistake. “
There could be a backlash from those who resent Trebek not being replaced identically, which Sarma says is no exaggeration in this time of social discord.
“Sony is in deep trouble,” he said.
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Series producer Richards, the second acting host after Trebek died of pancreatic cancer last November at the age of 80, has an optimistic outlook despite the prospect of online trolls and whatever their gripes about it. from the beginner.
“I hope whoever is chosen will have the opportunity to prove why they were chosen, without too much static,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to deliver the best product to our fans. It tends to focus on a pretty nice North Star, as opposed to ‘What is the internet going to say? “”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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