Jeopardy! is reportedly nearing a deal with its executive producer, Mike Richards, to take over as the permanent host of the show, which is … fine, I guess.
There’s nothing objectively wrong with Richards. He’s not Dr. Oz — which, let’s face it, is a really big plus in his column. From the point of view of the Jeopardy! higher-ups (er, the even-higher-ups), he makes a lot of sense: He’s a veteran of the game show world, having formerly produced The Price Is Right and hosted Beauty and the Geek. He was also repeatedly ranked by critics as being the best of the 15 guest hosts to try their hand at the Jeopardy! hosting gig so far.
But replacing a longtime middle-aged white guy with another middle-aged white guy isn’t exactly a bold choice. Fans deserve to be excited about the show’s new host, and particularly so when the high-profile search for a replacement has left no doubt that Jeopardy! can do better.
Most of the disappointment about Richards on Wednesday was really about the snub of LeVar Burton. The Reading Rainbow legend has hardly made a secret of his desire to take over the show, having tweeted as far back as 2013 that it was his dream job. “It will hurt. I’m not going to lie,” he confessed to The New York Times earlier this summer of the possibility of not being chosen. And while Burton’s stint received middling reviews, his stumbles — like forgetting to prompt contestants to pick a new category — are “fixable,” admitted Den of Geek, which rated him seventh out of 15. More importantly, putting the nation’s most visible literacy advocate (who happens, also, to be a Black man) behind the podium would be in keeping with Jeopardy‘s value of encouraging intellectual curiosity, and serving as educational entertainment.
Then there’s Mayim Bialik. While she was easy and relaxed on camera (Bialik starred in The Big Bang Theory and Call Me Kat), she also had the foundation and authority to correct contestants with her background as an academic and a neuroscientist. Unlike many of the other guest hosts, she wasn’t trying to be another Alex Trebek either; she brought a unique energy to the show, making it a little more upbeat and playful. Admittedly, that might rub some more conservative fans the wrong way. Change is hard! But after 37 (wonderful!) years of Trebek, is what Jeopardy! really wants at this juncture more of the same?
Part of what makes Jeopardy! such a great game show has always been that it’s more than just a game show. Richards, who took over as executive producer of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! in 2020, clearly nails the competition part of the requirement. But with his sly humor, Trebek always encouraged his competitors and audiences to be better, to try harder, and to learn something new in the process. We should challenge Jeopardy! to do the same.