hosting jeopardy!

I love Jeopardy! With Alex Trebek’s death in November, the search began for his replacement. There have been a series of guest hosts and the internet is abuzz over who is the best and who will replace Alex. One of the things people tend to overlook is that it’s not clear which guest hosts would actually like to make the hosting gig a permanent one. Some of the guest hosts seem to consider their opportunity as a bucket list item or a fun lark or a tribute to Alex. There are really only a few who have said they would like to be considered a permanent host, at least from what I’ve read.

Aaron Rodgers, Mike Richards, Mayim Bialik, George Stephanopolous and LeVar Burton have said they would be interested in being the permanent host. I’m throwing in Ken Jennings and Buzzy Cohen because they are very connected with Jeopardy! and would probably be persuaded to take the job if offered. It’s an interesting mix – four (Rodgers, Richards, Stephanopolous and Jennings) are a bit more low key in both presentation and engagement with the contestants and the other three (Bialik, Burton and Cohen) bring a more excitable personality to the game.

Alex could put his head down and get to work, but he also brought a personality to the game. Jeopardy! fans seem to be mixed in their assessment of which is the best direction for the new host – some want the him/her/them to be in the background and some want a new energy. All of the low key group got through the questions well and could step in on day one, even if they may need to step up their “personality” game somewhat to bring that personal element to the show and connect with the contestants. Of the excitable group, Buzzy could step right in but IMO, Mayim and LeVar would need some help in leveling out their hosting responses.

My favorite so far has been Buzzy and no one is more surprised than I. He was irritating as a contestant and I groaned when I saw that he would be a guest host. But he’s terrific as a host! He brought energy to the game and kept it moving. The only question is whether he would be as good with first-time players as he is with returning champions – he hosted a tournament not regular games. I was really surprised but he seemed to be a really good fit as host and brings a nice balance of respect, enthusiasm for the game and a sense of fun. Rating: ready to go.

Coming in at number two is a tie: Mayim and Ken. Mayim has a few quirks she would need to get rid of – she had a tendency to laugh at odd times (though I do this too!) and be a little too excited at times. Ken is a good solid choice – I liked him more than I thought I would over his six weeks as interim host. The games seemed to move smoother and faster with him at the podium (probably because he knows all/most of the answers and doesn’t have to wait for a ruling)! Both Mayim and Ken brought an enthusiasm for the game – with Mayim a little more on the fun side and Ken a little more on the respectful side. Both read the clues well and kept things moving. Rating: need a few tweaks.

That leaves Aaron, Mike, George and LeVar. Aaron, Mike and George were very good but I’m not sure they bring anything “special” to the table. Maybe they don’t need to? Aaron seemed almost too relaxed, Mike was almost too “professional” slick and George seemed a little too quick to cut people off. LeVar seemed very off on his first day but settled in more after that. He’s a little shout-y, though and needs to relax a little. I thought his last day was his best and he would settle into the job well. His week was the most divisive among fans, I think – some loved him, some really disliked his run. The reality is that these four would be fine but would need a little work to get to a better balance and/or smoother delivery. Rating: need to find their feet.

For all of the guest/interim hosts, balance is the key: friendly but with authority, quick through the board but not too speedy, engaging but not too casual, enthusiastic but not hyperactive, etc. Alex Trebek made it look easy … but looking back at his early shows it’s obvious that he evolved. He didn’t emerge fully formed – he grew into his role over time. Any of these guest hosts and, really, the other guest hosts as well, would be able to get into a rhythm that respects the game and emphasizes the terrific contestants. They all displayed professionalism and the ability to adjust. We’ll need to let the new host make the show their own and find their own balance.

ETA: It seems Mike is the front-runner, which I find … disappointing. They are still talking with Mayim and Buzzy, so we’ll see. They could all do the job, but I hope the baton is passed to Mayim or Buzzy.

ETA: In using the word “professional” (in quotes) to describe Mike, I really meant sort of “packaged” or plasticine, not that he was professional in an honorable way. I changed the word above because, as we have learned, professional in an honorable way is a bit different than Mike’s actual behavior.

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