5 lessons from the ‘Jeopardy!’ guest hosts that Alex Trebek’s replacement needs to learn

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We still don’t know who the new host of “Jeopardy!” will be, but we do know a few things he or she shouldn’t do.

Since the death of longtime and beloved host Alex Trebek last year, the quiz show has been cycling through a series of guest hosts, a wide range including big-name celebrities and TV personalities like CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and fan-favorite LeVar Burton; former champions Ken Jennings and Buzzy Cohen; and the quiz show’s own executive producer, Mike Richards.

While Richards reportedly acknowledged he was asked to consider hosting (Sony declined to comment on a report from Variety that claimed he was the front-runner) there’s no official announcement about who will fill Trebek’s very large shoes. Whoever takes over the monumental task could learn a thing or two from the bumpy ride of the guest hosts over the past seven months. Viewers learned exactly how difficult the task of “Jeopardy!” host really is, and the small but significant parts of Trebek’s performance that made him so good at it. Here are some tips the new permanent host, who is likely to be announced soon, should learn from his or her peers:

1. ‘Jeopardy!’ host is a serious job, but a few jokes help

Compared with looser, more comedic game shows, “Jeopardy!” leans serious and formal, with a focus on facts and competition over gags. But some guest hosts took stoicism so far they became mundane. “60 Minutes” correspondent Bill Whitaker was all business and little charm, which made his episodes a drag. We never wanted a comedy set from the guest hosts, but witty, casual personalities such as Cohen and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers reminded us that Trebek was as quick with a sharp joke as he was with a fact.

More: The best and worst ‘Jeopardy!’ guest hosts, from LeVar Burton to Robin Roberts

Mayim Bialik’s two-week turn as “Jeopardy!” host kicked off on May 31.

2. It’s all in the timing

Timing is a hugely important part of any entertainment program, and not something most viewers notice unless it’s egregiously bad. What separated the good hosts from the poor ones was often the pace at which they read clues, reacted to contestant responses and moved the episodes along between segments. When some, like Dr. Mehmet Oz, were slow and awkward, it was brutally apparent. But the top hosts, including Cooper, Richards, Cohen, Jennings and actress Mayim Bialik, were fast without rushing through the episodes.

'Jeopardy!' executive producer (and former game show host) Mike Richards stepped behind the podium for two weeks starting Feb. 22.

‘Jeopardy!’ executive producer (and former game show host) Mike Richards stepped behind the podium for two weeks starting Feb. 22.

3. It’s not enough to be smart: You also have to be suave

When slightly nerdier, more awkward personalities like Jennings, Rodgers and Burton took turns as host, it became apparent how much Trebek’s innate suavity contributed to his success. The late host practically radiated gentlemanliness, which put him at ease with banter and clue reading alike. This quality is the “Jeopardy!” X-Factor – sometimes hard to describe, but you can tell immediately when it’s not there. This debonair quality is what has made Richards, relatively unknown before his two-week stint, a strong contender for the permanent job.

More: ‘Jeopardy!’ search: What Mike Richards says about becoming permanent host

Former "Jeopardy!" champion Buzzy Cohen took a turn as guest host of the quiz show for the 2021 Tournament of Champions.

Former “Jeopardy!” champion Buzzy Cohen took a turn as guest host of the quiz show for the 2021 Tournament of Champions.

4. The less baggage, the better

By far the least successful (and most maligned) guest host was Oz, the controversial doctor and (Sony) daytime talk show host, criticized for his poor performance and for merely appearing on the game show at all. And while Rodgers was very well received, the question of his commitment to the Packers overshadowed speculation about whether he could take over the hosting gig. But less famous hosts could be judged simply on their merits, without preconceived opinions.

Longtime Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek.

Longtime Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek.

5. Don’t pretend to be Alex

None of the “Jeopardy!” guest hosts made this cardinal sin, but it’s worth reminding anyone up for the job that a cheap imitation of a cultural icon isn’t going to slide. He was one of a kind, and the new host will have to carve out his or her own take on the job. It’s not going to be easy, but if “Jeopardy!” was an easy game, everyone would be a five-day champion.

More: ‘Jeopardy!’ contestant Matt Amodio cashes in on seven-day winning streak, raking in over $250K

Contributing: Gary Levin

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘Jeopardy!’ host: 5 lessons Trebek’s replacement needs to learn

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