Ken Jennings is the obvious choice, even before we see the other guest hosts

As a long-time watcher of Jeopardy! I feel compelled to cast my vote for the next permanent host of the show. After the death of Alex Trebek in November, the producers announced that a series of guest hosts would fill in starting in January before a final announcement was made in May.

The list of guest hosts is intriguing, but the competition is already over as far as I’m concerned. Ken Jennings, the greatest Jeopardy! player of all time, killed it in his six weeks as guest host that ended last Friday. He was engaging, funny, and completely nailed the timing of reading clues and interacting with the contestants. Of course, he got to watch Alex do it more times in person than any other contestants since we won 74 straight games back in 2004. He was my choice long before Alex even announced his cancer diagnosis, and he did nothing to change my mind during his time behind the podium.

The upcoming list of guest hosts includes some interesting names. Only Mike Richards and Katie Couric have definite dates for their hosting gigs. I include my level of interest in seeing each of them as well.

  • Mike Richards, executive producer of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune (February 22 to March 5). Richards has hosted five TV series in addition to being a game show producer, including Beauty and the Geek and Pyramid on Game Show Network. 3 out of 5; always somewhat interesting to watch the boss try to do the day-to-day work.
  • Katie Couric, television journalist formerly with NBC, CBS, ABC, and Yahoo News (March 8 to 19). I’ve always liked Couric, so 4 out of 5 stars.
  • Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of the Doctor Oz Show. This is the only one I’m not interested in; Dr. Oz has promoted some borderline products and remedies on his show and, along with Dr. Phil, questioned some of the COVID protocols issued by the CDC last year, though he later walked those comments back. 1 out of 5.
  • Aaron Rodgers, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. 5 out of 5, just because quarterbacks on TV can be either naturally gregarious (Tony Romo) or kind of stiff (Phil Simms). I think Rodgers could be good, we’ll see. Rodgers is a former Celebrity Jeopardy! champion, winning in 2015.
  • Anderson Cooper, host of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360. 4 out of 5. I like Cooper’s work on CNN, though he can be a bit self-important at times. If he avoids any of that, he should be okay.
  • Savannah Guthrie, co-host of NBC’s Today show. Also 4 out of 5. I don’t know Guthrie’s work as well, since I don’t watch morning shows, but she seems to think on her feet well when I’ve seen her in other reporting or hosting situations.
  • Mayim Bialik, actress and neuroscientist. Bialik has hosted other shows in addition to her well-known acting roles on The Big Bang Theory, Blossom in the 1990s, and her current show, Call Me Kat. 3 out of 5.
  • Bill Whitaker, correspondent for CBS’s 60 Minutes. 2 out of 5, only because I don’t watch 60 Minutes and have no idea who he is.
  • Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN and associate professor of neurosurgery at Emory University. 3 out of 5. I like Gupta’s work, he always seems like a straight shooter when it comes to personal health issues, and it’ll be interesting to see him try his hand at something like this.

But the Final Jeopardy! answer is: “This former 74-time champion is the obvious choice to be the next host of Jeopardy!” And my response is “Who is Ken Jennings?”

I’ll take “Things You Can Depend On” for $1000, Alex.

There aren’t many things that seem constant. The value of pi, I suppose (math joke). The number of things that are dependable seem to be reduced all the time. This is probably mostly a result of me getting older, but I think it’s also because our attention spans keep getting shorter and shorter.

One of the things that was dependable ended today. Alex Trebek, the long-time host of Jeopardy! died Sunday at the age of 80. Alex’s television career began in his native Canada in the early sixties. After moving to the U.S. in 1973 he began hosting game shows, including The Wizard of Odds (which I vaguely remember, though not because of him) and High Rollers (which I definitely – and fondly – remember, including Alex and his huge hair and bushy mustache). While High Rollers also featured questions and answers, the gimmick was in the dice rolling (which was done by Alex’s co-host – and fellow Canadian – actress Ruta Lee). The goal was to remove all of the digits 1 through 9 from the game board by picking combinations that added up to the roll of the two dice. If you rolled a 7, you could take the 7 alone or any combination of digits that added up to 7. There was some strategy to it, and it was also simple enough to play at home; all you needed was a pair of dice. And we played it a lot on our front porches when we needed a break from our baseball games in the vacant lot down the street.

Here’s an episode of High Rollers from Independence Day 1975, with Ruta almost getting hit in the head by a piece of set flying in a bit early as she makes her entrance, and also featuring Ray Wersching, then the kicker for the San Diego Chargers, as the returning champion (which gives you some idea how much NFL teams were paying their kickers in those days).

Alex started hosting the relaunched syndicated Jeopardy! in 1984, the same year the Tigers last won the World Series, and 36 years and over 8,000 episodes later, he was still there, night after night. I didn’t watch Jeopardy! every night, but it was always nice to know that I could tune in and there would be Alex, calmly reading answers from the board and encouraging the contestants. Even after announcing his pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2019, he continued to host the show, taping his final episode less than two weeks ago on October 29, 2020. Producers have announced that pre-taped shows will continue through Christmas Day, which should be when Alex’s final show airs, including a short announcement he taped sometime this fall when it was apparent he wouldn’t be able to continue much longer. No announcement on his successor, or even if there will be one, has been made.

Four interesting – one might say trivial, which is appropriate since we’re discussing Jeopardy! – items I rediscovered while looking things up for this post:

  1. Johnny Gilbert, who has been the announcer for Jeopardy! since it returned in 1984, is 96 years old. He currently works only the afternoon tapings, with members of the Jeopardy! Clue Crew filling in in the evenings, though he still pre-records all of the opening and closing narration.
  2. Pancreatic cancer also claimed the life of the original host of Jeopardy! Art Fleming hosted the NBC daytime version from 1964 to 1975, and he died in 1995. He and Alex were friends, though Art believed the new version of the show was much easier than when he hosted it.
  3. Alex only “missed” one episode, and that was on April Fool’s Day in 1997, when he and Pat Sajak traded places, with Sajak hosting Jeopardy! and Alex hosting Wheel of Fortune.
  4. Alex died only eight days after Sean Connery. If you don’t know why that’s sort of interesting, Google “SNL Celebrity Jeopardy.”

Thanks, Alex, for all of the answers and all of the questions and for being there, night after night.