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Jeopardy! alum Arthur Chu: The celebrity audition process "trampled" on Alex Trebek's directive that the host get out of the way

  • Chu, who became a Jeopardy! villain during his 11-game winning streak in 2014, recalled Trebek telling contestants that his advice to his successor would be, “Stay out of the way, and let the contestants be the stars.” "When Trebek died of pancreatic cancer in November of last year, most fans expected for a replacement already to have been named and, after a bit of welcoming fanfare, for the show to return to normal as soon as possible," says Chu. "Instead, Jeopardy! trampled over Trebek’s directive. The hunt for the new host became a public circus of 'on-the-job tryouts' featuring a glamorous roster of A-listers, and the star of the show became the week’s celebrity guest host. Each episode, their followers tuned in to root for them, not the actual contestants. The disruption of rotating hosts was jarring enough for a show built on dependability, but the whole celebrity concept betrayed the secret of how Jeopardy! captivated us: the fantasy that you or I or anyone else could be the one in the spotlight. Anyone who’s good enough at trivia, even a schlubby nerd from Ohio, could get their turn to write the story of the show. During my streak, there was no question I was the main character, even if it was as the 'villain.' Today, Matt Amodio is an 18-day champion and the third-winningest regular-season contestant in Jeopardy! history, but his story has taken a backseat to the drama on the host’s side of the stage. Eventually, the ill-conceived host competition ended in an even more ill-conceived outcome: The news leaked that Mike Richards, the executive producer who had overseen the process, was planning on hiring himself as host. During the uproar from the fans over this, racist and misogynistic comments made in podcast appearances surfaced from Richards’s past, as did discrimination allegations levied against him at other game shows. When Richards was officially announced as the host, actor Mayim Bialik was hired as co-host as what seemed like a compromise; then Richards stepped down as host but was staying as producer; then the guest-host concept returned, with Bialik first up. Now, Bialik’s past questionable comments are coming to light. This sort of churn is typical of the manipulative reality TV that clogs our airwaves now — the bait-and-switch, the opacity of the evaluation process, the ratings boost extracted from the fans of guest hosts who never really had a chance. That’s why it’s such a stain on the good name of a show we expect better from. After the last year we’ve had — after the past five years we’ve had — is it too much to ask that just one beloved American institution not be sabotaged by shortsightedness and ego? In the world of television (and everything else), can we not have one safe space where the expectations stay consistent, everyone does their job and the little people get a chance to shine?"


    • The average Jeopardy! fan likely couldn't care less that Mike Richards is staying as executive producer: "What folks in the media and on Twitter think does not always reflect what’s in the mind of the average viewer or voter,” writes Josef Adalian. “If so, Joe Biden would have never made it past the 2020 Democratic primaries. The New York Times and other outlets have reported that Sony heavily relied on audience research in determining who should be the host of Jeopardy!, which indicates the company (like most in Hollywood) puts a high value on data in driving key decisions. I’m not sure how smart that is in this case, particularly since one of Sony’s biggest profit engines — reruns of Seinfeld — might not exist had NBC ultimately decided to ignore focus groups which very clearly showed viewers hated that show’s pilot episode."
    • Sensitivity training and "corporate babysitting" is unlikely to make a difference for Mike Richards: "It's really only raising more questions," says Kylie Cheung. "Like, why keeping the Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune producer on seems to be worth any cost to Sony, for one thing. Because it is costing the show plenty to keep him on payroll – not to mention costing the show its good name – and for all of these extras to bring him up to snuff as a minimally inoffensive employee."
    • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Sony has to keep Jeopardy!'s importance in American culture in mind when selecting a new host: "Though Alex Trebek may have started hosting the show with the background of just another placid game show host, he evolved with the show and became the kindly face of the part of America that venerates knowledge," says Abdul-Jabbar, a former Celebrity Jeopardy! contestant. "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."
    • The best Jeopardy! hosting options are IBM supercomputer Watson or an A.I. version of Alex Trebek: "Unlike Mike Richards, Watson is good at trivia," says Sonny Bunch. "Unlike Mayim Bialik, Watson does not have rude things to say about Harvey Weinstein’s victims. Watson defeated Ken Jennings in brain-to-neural-network combat. Watson has never pushed scam medicines on people. Watson doesn’t have a secret OnlyFans account and isn’t flaming people on Reddit. Watson will never tweet something regrettable. He is, quite simply, pure. Pure in a way we dirty bags of meat can never hope to be. Granted, there are some technical limitations to overcome—Watson’s voice sounds a bit mechanical in those old clips—but I have good news: we have the technology to overcome this. You could make Watson sound like just about anyone. Samuel L. Jackson, if you want him to have an edge, say. Or, and I’m just spitballing here, Alex Trebek himself. After all, there’s no shortage of audio to sample. If you can make Anthony Bourdain read his old emails from beyond the grave, there’s no reason you can’t make Watson sound like Alex Trebek. Yes, a disembodied Alex Trebek booming down from speakers in the studio skylight might be creepy at first. We will come to love him, though. Only Watson can save Jeopardy! He might not be the hero we deserve. But he is the hero we need."
    • Jeopardy! fans speak out on what they'd like to see in a new host

    TOPICS: Alex Trebek, Jeopardy!, Arthur Chu, Mike Richards, Game Shows, Sony TV