Primetime specials also coming to ABC
With the worst kept secret in Hollywood, Jeopardy! producers named Mike Richards as host of the long-running game show as expected. But in a bit of a curveball, actress Mayim Bialik was named host of several prime-time special editions starting next year, with the Jeopardy! National College Tournament first on tap.
The news was leaked last week as Richards – who is already executive producer of Jeopardy and Wheel Of Fortune, was named front runner to succeed the late Alex Trebek. The news unleashed a fury of anger online, especially from fans of LeVarBurton, who wanted the Reading Rainbow host and Star Trek: The Next Generation actor to take over.
Meanwhile, Bialik – known for playing the lead character in Blossom and her role as Amy on The Big Bang Theory, was tapped to host any prime-time specials or spinoffs to come about as Bialik was one of parade of guest hosts who filled in the last few months. She currently stars in Fox’s Call Me Kat, which has been renewed for a second season and she is expected to continue in the role.
“We took this decision incredibly seriously”, said Ravi Ahuja who is chairman of global television studios and corporate development for Sony Pictures in a statement. “A tremendous amount of work and deliberation has gone into it, perhaps more than has ever gone into the selection of hosts for a show — deservedly so because it’s Jeopardy! and we are following the incomparable Alex Trebek. A senior group of Sony Pictures Television executives pored over footage from every episode, reviewed research from multiple panels and focus groups, and got valuable input from our key partners and Jeopardy! viewers.”
Sony Pictures Television produces Jeopardy! and is syndicated by CBS Media Ventures, who has no editorial input in how the show is run nor is involved in the primetime editions, which will run on ABC. Jeopardy! airs on all eight ABC-owned stations including ABC 7 (WLS-TV) here and the network ran the high-rated Jeopardy! Greatest Of All Time tournament in January 2020.
The guest hosts branded about for the last few months gave viewers the impression there was competition for Trebek’s job. But it turned out Richards was going to become the host of the show, regardless of what the press release above said as they had no realistic shot. As for Bialik, I know it sounds strange to say this given she’s hosting special primetime editions, but what she got was basically a consolation prize.
As I mentioned last week, this debacle reminded some of what the former WLUP-FM did in 2015 as they held a similar type of on-air audition contest to fill the vacant morning show position, trotting out guest hosts including Mancow Muller. Muller predictably walked away with the job as it appeared WLUP executives hired Muller beforehand as the station ran a disclaimer on their website stating the contest wasn’t real and for research purposes – meaning it was nothing but a stunt. Muller didn’t have any significant ratings impact on WLUP as the station folded and was sold to a Christian radio outfit in 2018.
Will Jeopardy! face the same fate? Given the strong backlash – especially since long-ago accusations of sexual harassment when he was exec producer of The Price Is Right was brought up, it remains to be seen if Richards can keep the show’s strong ratings intact. The way this sham of an on-air host tryout was handled certainly gives the impression the former radio executives who destroyed the iconic WLUP are now working for Sony Pictures Television.
But give them some credit – at least they didn’t hire Mancow – or Howie Mandel – as host.