Who is replacing the late, great Alex Trebek as the new permanent host of “Jeopardy!”? The answer is about to be Mike Richards.
Variety reported on Wednesday night that Richards, the game show’s current executive producer, is in “advanced negotiations with Sony Pictures Television” to get the full-time job.
After a run of 16 guest hosts for Season 37, which started with former legendary contestant Ken Jennings in January and will end with Fox Sports’ Joe Buck next week, Richards is set to take over on a regular basis for when Season 38 kicks off on Sept. 13.
Richards had his own “audition” during the run, which was tied to matching the contestants’ winnings with charitable donations. He was second, following up Jennings in the lineup from Feb. 22 to March 5.
The announcement of Richards will come as a disappointment to many, as he gets the gig over three viewer favorites: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, revered actor LeVar Burton and actor/neuroscientist Mayim Bialik. Rodgers, Burton and Buck were the most hopeful big names who wanted to be considered. There also was plenty of buzz over Jennings and another beloved former contestant, Buzzy Cohen, who hosted this year’s Tournament of Champions.
In the end, however, “Jeopardy!” stayed in house with its choice. Richards isn’t a household name, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t the right person to take over the game.
Richards’ biggest strengths vs. the rest of the field were simple: No one else could claim his years of dedicated game-show hosting experience. No one can match his insider knowledge of what it takes to produce what’s best for the show.
Those skill sets allow to him to understand what Trebek, with whom he worked closely, would have wanted in delivering the answers, responding to the correct questions and bantering with contestants. His behind-the-scenes Emmy-winning credentials are also hard to ignore.
The only question was whether Richards would want to get in front of the lectern again for what would be by far his biggest hosting gig. Given that Richards and Sony are reportedly close to a deal, the answer is a definitive yes.
Unlike Rodgers and Buck, there’s was no question that Richards would commit himself year-round to the show, because he already does so. “Jeopardy!” didn’t want someone who might need to balance multiple gigs. The show was Trebek’s only job, and that had to be true of his replacement.
Burton and Bialik were great gets for short stretches, but only Bialik had the true, quick comfort level with the game to be considered in the same breath as the other geek chic options, Jennings and Cohen. Jennings overall did well enough to appear to be the front-runner, but when looking at pure hosting, Richards was a little more polished.
There were a slew of news broadcasters who made up the other nine guest hosts, with CNBC’s David Faber, ABC’s Robin Roberts and CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta standing out most with their performances. But their presentation style was a little different from the traditional game-show emcee, another advantage for Richards.
Richards’ versatility in hosting shows ranging from “Beauty and the Geek” to a “Pyramid” reboot came through during his run. Sony Pictures Television, which runs “Jeopardy!” but also owns the Game Show Network, had years of familiarity with Richards and wanted someone to trust with its signature syndicated show. Richards can do everything well.
It is impossible to re-create what Trebek brought to ‘”Jeopardy!”. He was the ultimate game-show personality. But he also was responsible for developing and growing “Jeopardy!” into television’s general knowledge quiz juggernaut, to the point that the great game itself is what can bring in most regular viewers going forward.
The casual fans and a few diehards may not be inspired by Richards at first. But did anyone think Drew Carey was going to be solid in his own way replacing Bob Barker on “The Price is Right?” Guess who was a strong candidate for that job in 2007 before executive producing Carey to a great run? That answer also is Richards.
“Jeopardy!” didn’t go with the most attention-grabbing choice. But then again, when it was a fledgling show in 1984, it was unknown whether Trebek would be part of such a long-running success story.
The show was able to make an inspiring transition without Trebek this year. Richards deserves this shot as the accomplished person who was responsible for much of it.