'Jeopardy!' continues its long run with two new hosts

Image credit: Modified from a file created by Kinu Panda and published under the Creative Commons license.
By Mitchell Shapiro

Image credit: Modified from a file created by Kinu Panda and published under the Creative Commons license.

'Jeopardy!' continues its long run with two new hosts

By Mitchell Shapiro
What game show has finally chosen permanent hosts? Mitchell Shapiro, professor in the School of Communication, reflects on the success of “Jeopardy!” and the selection of the new emcees.

Editor's Note: The new "Jeopardy!" host Mike Richards stepped down after offensive and sexist remarks he made in a podcast resurfaced, The New York Times reported Aug. 20.

After nine months, on Aug. 11, the long wait was finally over. 

What most experts consider to be the smartest game show in the history of television, “Jeopardy!”, finally has its new permanent hosts. Mike Richards, who had been the executive producer of the program, was anointed as the new regular host for the daily syndicated version of the series. Also announced was that Mayim Bialik—the actress from “Blossom” and “The Big Bang Theory,” who is also a neuroscientist and author—would be the host for the prime-time specials and future spin-off series. 

One of the most successful and beloved television series of all time, the series has been on the air longer than any other game show except “The Price is Right.” “Jeopardy!”—the quiz show where contestants are given the answers and have to come up with the correct questions—first aired on the NBC network on March 30, 1964, as part of its daytime lineup. 

In September 1965 it was moved into the noon slot where it stayed for the next nine years. It was in this slot that “Jeopardy!” became a television phenomenon. Airing during lunch time, it became must-see viewing for many college students, as well as stay-at-home homemakers across the United States. In 1974, a new programming executive at NBC, wanting to make her mark on the daytime schedule, replaced “Jeopardy!” with a new series (“Jackpot”) in the longtime winning noon slot—hoping that this would establish the new regime. 

“Jeopardy!” was thus moved to the 1:30-2:00 p.m. slot, which at the time was considered a graveyard as it would be opposite CBS’ highest rated soap opera, “As the World Turns.” Not surprisingly “Jeopardy!’s” audience faded, and NBC canceled it a year later. A few years after that, NBC brought it back as the “All-New Jeopardy!”. But that version only lasted five months. In September 1984, Merv Griffin decided to bring a syndicated evening version of “Jeopardy!” back to television. The rest, as they say, is history. “Jeopardy!” is still enjoying that nightly run and is currently the second most watched syndicated game show on television (trailing slightly behind “Family Feud”). 

One of the keys to “Jeopardy!’s” success is that the show employed the perfect hosts for its format. Smart, low-key Art Fleming was the host for the entire NBC run and Alex Trebek, who possessed the same qualities, had been the host of the nightly syndicated version from its beginning until he passed away in 2020 (though recorded episodes with him as host continued to air until January 8, 2021). Both hosts understood very well that the real appeal of was the game itself, not the host, and they made sure not to let their personalities upstage the game. They managed to fulfill the role of host perfectly with just the right mix of control. They provided a good balance— congratulating contestants whot gave the correct responses and consoling those who did not. 

When Trebek passed away, an on-air search/audition began with at least 15 different individuals serving as host. This list included a wide array of auditioners from actors to journalists to professional athletes. LeVar Burton, Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric, Sanjay Gupta, Savannah Guthrie, Ken Jennings, Aaron Rodgers, and George Stephanopoulos were among them. Mike Richards and Mayim Bialik also had their tryouts during this time. The selection of Richards seemed to be a traditional one. In addition to having served as the show’s executive producer, Richards also had some experience hosting. He hosted the game show “Pyramid” on the Game Show Network and “Beauty and the Geek” on the CW network. 

The selection of Bialik, on the other hand, is somewhat more interesting. Historically, women had not been given many opportunities to serve as the host of a game show. Arlene Francis (“Blind Date,” 1949-52) and Betty White (“Just Men!,” 1983) being the most notable exceptions during television’s first five decades. 

This has changed during the past 15 years, where women such as Meredith Viera (“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”); Brooke Burns (“Master Minds”, “The Chase”); Elizabeth Banks (“Press Your Luck”); Jane Krakowski (“Name That Tune”); and Anne Robinson (“Weakest Link”) have ably demonstrated the ability to achieve success as the primary host of a game show. 

Bialik certainly has the credentials. In addition to being an Emmy award winning actress, she has earned a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from U.C.L.A. She also is currently the lead actress in a new Fox sitcom, “Call Me Kat.” Serving as the new host of “Jeopardy!” prime-time specials and future versions allows Bialik to continue her acting career as well as embark on this parallel path. Given her successful track record in varied endeavors, my guess is that “Jeopardy!” will be one more for her resume and that the show will continue its long and successful television run. 

Mitchell Shapiro is a professor in the University of Miami School of Communication and an expert on television and radio programming.