What Is Drama? The Bungled Plan at ‘Jeopardy!’ to Select a New Host

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dodai stewart

From The New York Times, I’m Dodai Stewart. An outdated favourite in American TV got here again this week, a little bit tarnished. The trivia sport present “Jeopardy!” misplaced its host final yr, when the legendary Alex Trebek died in November. After his dying, the present needed to face a grim actuality: easy methods to transfer on with out the person who was the guts of the present for many years.

Times reporters Mike Grynbaum and Nicole Sperling lined the problem “Jeopardy!” had, transitioning into a brand new period with a brand new host, and the way it all went terribly unsuitable.

I talked to Nicole in regards to the present’s deep roots and its descent into drama.

So Nicole, the very first thing I might simply wish to say is that I did develop up in a “Jeopardy!” Household, the place my mother would, like, yell out the solutions. I as soon as noticed Alex Trebek on a flight — on a airplane, and I gasped, as a result of he’s a legend. But have been you, or are you, a “Jeopardy!” fan?

nicole sperling

I might say I’m an occasional “Jeopardy!” fan. It’s simply type of feels prefer it’s all the time been there, proper? It’s all the time —

dodai stewart

Right, it’s all the time round. And even in the event you don’t watch, you understand that it’s been on perpetually. Everybody is aware of the theme tune — or the no matter, the pondering music — you understand —

[“jeopardy” music]

— which is why it’s so bizarre that there’s a “Jeopardy!” scandal.

nicole sperling

I do know, is nothing sacred?

[LAUGHTER]

It was the final bastion of purity in our lives, and that too has been sullied by drama.

dodai stewart

Before we get into this tangled story —

nicole sperling

Yes.

dodai stewart

I wish to know. How lengthy has “Jeopardy!” been round? When did it begin?

nicole sperling

So the present really started airing within the ‘60s, in 1964.

archived recording

These three folks will compete right this moment on “Jeopardy!“.

nicole sperling

So Merv Griffin, who, as we all know, was like the game show extraordinaire. He created the show with the help of his wife, Julann, who suggested giving the contestants the answers and making them come up with the questions. A man named Art Fleming was the initial host.

archived recording (art fleming)

Thank you. The contestants for the day — good morning, players. Look at the board now, as we all play “Jeopardy!“. Thank you.

nicole sperling

It was canceled in 1975 due to poor ratings. It returned in 1978, but then it disappeared again, and then returned for good in 1984 with Alex Trebek as the host.

archived recording (alex trebek)

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of all of us, welcome to America’s favorite answer and question game, “Jeopardy!“. You know how we play it. We provide the categories and the answers. And it’s then up to our contestants to give us the right questions. Players, as you know, any time —

nicole sperling

So really, he’s been the face of that thing this entire time.

dodai stewart

Did he have the mustache?

nicole sperling

So the only thing — that’s the biggest change that’s happened on that show, is Alex Trebek’s facial hair.

archived recording 1

The big story everyone’s talking about — Alex Trebek’s mustache, the return.

archived recording 2

Alex Trebek getting an earful about his mustache.

archived recording 3

With or without, what do you think?

archived recording 4

I — you know, I’ve gotten used to it without.

archived recording 5

Yeah, me too.

nicole sperling

Because Alex Trebek changing his facial hair, adding a goatee or a mustache, or shaving it is — you know, news.

dodai stewart

Right, because “Jeopardy!” is the present with the person with the mustache. Alex Trebek is “Jeopardy!“. They’re the same. It’s synonymous.

nicole sperling

Yes. Yes.

dodai stewart

So I’m curious. What is Alex Trebek’s background? Where did he come from?

nicole sperling

So he’s a Canadian. He got a philosophy degree from the University of Ottawa. And he was really into broadcasting. He hosted two shows in Canada, a show called “Music Hop,” a highschool quiz present known as “Reach For The Top” —

archived recording (alex trebek)

[SPEAKING IN FRENCH]

nicole sperling

— with, clearly, higher ambitions. And he likes to say that he acquired the job as “Jeopardy!” host as a result of he, at one level, stuffed in on “Wheel of Fortune” in an emergency, when the unique host, Chuck Woolery, was hospitalized. So he got here in in 1984. He’s a critical, well-mannered man who gave loads of solutions, and folks gave loads of questions. And folks all the time assumed he was actually very sensible.

dodai stewart

Right.

nicole sperling

And I believe he was sensible — however he was all the time very sensible, as a result of as he mentioned, he all the time had the solutions.

dodai stewart

And I believe he additionally simply appeared very form. He wasn’t condescending when folks would get issues unsuitable, which —

nicole sperling

I imply, more often than not he was not condescending. He positively had a no nonsense demeanor. I imply, I bear in mind — the factor that stands out of my thoughts is when folks get it unsuitable, he goes, “Ooh, no, sorry.” Like, that — that little phrase, “ooh, no, sorry.”

dodai stewart

Yes.

archived recording (alex trebek)

Oh, sorry. [ALARM RINGING]

And we’re out of time.

nicole sperling

You know, typically, he simply — he can’t resist. But you understand, additionally, he was thought-about probably the most trusted folks in America, apparently. And he really introduced this up in an interview. Like, Reader’s Digest did a survey. And he was within the high 10 of probably the most trusted folks in America, between Bill and Melinda Gates.

dodai stewart

Oh my gosh.

nicole sperling

Ironically.

dodai stewart

I imagine it. He was all the time simply in your front room as a relaxed and regular presence.

nicole sperling

Definitely.

dodai stewart

So it’s clear that folks beloved Alex Trebek. Did that translate into “Jeopardy!” being a success, business-wise, or for the studio?

nicole sperling

It has been reported that “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” collectively herald $125 million in revenue to Sony Pictures. And that’s actual cash. And —

dodai stewart

Yeah.

nicole sperling

It was one thing that was type of turnkey. And folks at Sony Pictures didn’t take it without any consideration, however relied on it. It was the factor that they didn’t have to fret about. They might concentrate on different issues.

dodai stewart

But as we all know, they did even have to fret about it, as a result of Alex Trebek is a human. He’s solely human. And they must change him ultimately.

nicole sperling

Well, he had instructed in 2018, to a lot uproar, that he would possibly retire in 2020. He type of walked that again after he mentioned it, saying, the one motive he would cease working was if he was not cognitively ready to take action. I imply, as visitor hosts have mentioned, who’ve come off the present, that it’s extra work than it seems on tv.

archived recording (alex trebek)

Hi, everybody. I’ve some information to share with all of you, and it’s consistent with my lengthy and —

nicole sperling

And then he went on the present and introduced his analysis on March 6, 2019, that he had pancreatic most cancers.

archived recording (alex trebek)

Now usually, the prognosis for this isn’t very encouraging, however I’m going to combat this. And I’m going to maintain working. And with the love and help of my household and mates —

nicole sperling

But he mentioned he wouldn’t step down.

archived recording (alex trebek)

I plan to beat the low survival price statistics for this illness. Truth advised, I’ve to, as a result of below the phrases of my contract, I’ve to host “Jeopardy!” for 3 extra years. So assist me. Keep the religion —

nicole sperling

And so he stayed with the present. And you may see — it regarded like he was sporting wigs. It regarded like there was extra make-up on. And he was very open in regards to the ache that he was going by way of, the remedy was inflicting him. He talked about laying on the ground in between tapings as a result of he was simply in excruciating ache. I imply, he was very clear about how brutal the illness was, and the way brutal the remedy was to attempt to save him.

And he went on with one other video a yr later, saying that solely 18 % of individuals with pancreatic most cancers like his survived that lengthy. So it was clear that the top was close to. It’s simply nobody needed it to occur.

archived recording (dan harris)

Hello, I’m Dan Harris. We are approaching the air at this hour with some breaking information. We have discovered that longtime “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek has died after waging a courageous and really public battle with stage IV pancreatic most cancers. One of probably the most enduring and recognizable figures on tv.

nicole sperling

He labored up till 10 days earlier than he handed away. So he filmed loads of episodes that had but to air after he handed. And so “Jeopardy!” made the choice — Sony made the choice to air these exhibits after his dying. And I believe loads of the rationale for that — on “Jeopardy!“, the contestants, and the questions, answers, are king. And that’s what’s paramount.

dodai stewart

So wait, what do you mean when you say the contestants are king, or that they’re paramount.

nicole sperling

For those contestants, they worked — you work really hard to get on to “Jeopardy!“. And so they felt the fairest thing to do was to air those episodes. And it’s probably what Alex would have wanted, and he probably asked them to do so. I mean, I wouldn’t have been surprised if that was his directive.

dodai stewart

I do think it raises this gigantic question, which is, how do you replace a beloved icon? You become accustomed to the host of a show like that, that’s on daily. And I remember when they replaced the legendary Bob Barker on “The Price is Right,” it’s very unnerving. You should see a brand new face and get used to a complete new persona.

nicole sperling

Right.

dodai stewart

So what was the plan at that time to interchange Alex Trebek?

nicole sperling

Well, what they resolve to do, is that they resolve to usher in a litany of visitor hosts for one to 2 weeks at a time — completely different folks from completely different backgrounds, whether or not it’s sports activities, or broadcasting, or former contestants.

archived recording (johnny gilbert)

Here is the visitor host of “Jeopardy!“, Katie Couric — Robin Roberts — Buzzy Cohen.

nicole sperling

And that does two things for them. One, it buys them some time. It allows people to grieve — so it allows those die-hard fans who are used to seeing Alex on that show every night, a chance to get used to other people giving those answers. And then finally, it’s a P.R. moment, because you can get a different flavor every two weeks of how these different individuals would host a show like this.

dodai stewart

So who are some of the most notable guests they brought on to host?

nicole sperling

Well, I think people really loved Aaron Rodgers, because he’s a football quarterback. And they’re not used to — I mean, do football quarterbacks ever talk? Like, we don’t ever see them speak.

archived recording (aaron rodgers)

In the 1960s, these Midwesterners earned five N.F.L. championship trophies.

[BEEPING]

Green Bay Packers? [LAUGHTER]

nicole sperling

He was a big favorite. People liked him a lot. People, of course, loved LeVar Burton —

archived recording (levar burton)

Our final category today is Shakespeare’s Plays. And here, players, is your clue —

nicole sperling

— because of what he represented to many people from their childhood, with the “Reading Rainbow” and people different packages that he did.

archived recording (levar burton)

“Let’s all sink with the king” is a line from the opening scene of this play. You have 30 seconds. Good luck.

nicole sperling

Ken Jennings was one of many hosts. He has the longest successful streak for the sport present, with 74 consecutive wins.

archived recording (ken jennings)

Which firm did you consider within the enterprise of journey?

nicole sperling

His reign at “Jeopardy!” is unparalleled.

archived recording (ken jennings)

What is H&R Block — oh.

nicole sperling

And then you definately had folks like Anderson Cooper and Bill Whitaker, folks that you simply’re used to seeing on tv, however type of working in a special capability. And I believe that was intriguing to folks, since you acquired to see if the chops that they’ve developed as broadcast hosts was transferable to being a number of a sport present. And typically it labored, and typically it didn’t.

There have been some controversial ones. You had Dr. Oz, who had been on there.

archived recording (dr. oz)

Oh — by way of the trying glass. This nursery rhyme character is depicted as an egg in human kind. David?

archived recording (contestant)

What is Humpty Dumpty?

archived recording (dr. oz)

Correct.

nicole sperling

That’s a man who has typically promoted some conspiracy theories in his line of labor, in order that was deemed as a little bit controversial of a alternative, contemplating “Jeopardy!” is meant to be all in regards to the info. But for probably the most half, it was people who have been revered of their numerous fields. You had Savannah Guthrie. You had Sanjay Gupta. I imply, you had individuals who have been revered for his or her information and for his or her brains, and who might additionally talk with audiences on stay tv.

dodai stewart

On Twitter, and speaking to folks, I positively noticed that folks had tremendous sturdy emotions about LeVar Burton.

nicole sperling

Right — no, LeVar Burton did positively herald lots of people to observe him. People actually needed to see him behind that podium. So they introduced him in. They introduced him in, although, for under per week. It was throughout the Olympics. So the rankings weren’t pretty much as good as they have been for different contestants, however there have been loads of elements type of going towards him at the moment too.

dodai stewart

Yeah, however probably the most emotional responses I noticed have been about LeVar Burton, and folks feeling like perhaps he didn’t get a good shot. And I noticed different folks had different favorites, and I believe that’s why it was stunning, with all these well-known names within the combine, that when the rumors began coming about who would get the job, the title was Mike Richards. Because my response was: Who?

nicole sperling

You weren’t alone in having that response. So Mike Richards began his profession as a rise up comic, and he went on to host sport exhibits, just like the mid-2000s present “Beauty and the Geek.”

^archived recording^ (mike richards)

Welcome to “Beauty and the Geek,” you guys.

nicole sperling

Not positive in the event you’ve ever seen that. I miss that one.

^archived recording^ (mike richards)

Gentlemen, you’re about to embark on a quest like no different. You guys as much as the problem?

archived recording

Hells plural, yeah.

nicole sperling

He additionally hosted and produced quite a few collection for the Game Show Network. And then he auditioned to interchange Bob Barker on “The Price is “Right,” which, he didn’t get that job. Drew Carey acquired the job. But he was introduced in as the chief producer then, and he spent 11 years turning that franchise into a success.

So it was due to Mike Richards’s success on “The Price is Right” that he was introduced in to government produce “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!“.

dodai stewart

OK, so even though the public had no idea who he was really, behind the scenes, he was seen as someone who was directly responsible for keeping these shows relevant as executive producer.

nicole sperling

Right.

dodai stewart

But I feel like the minute I started hearing his name, I also started hearing about things from his past.

nicole sperling

Yes. From the very beginning, there were warning signs. On August 4, the Hollywood trade paper Variety wrote that, per their sourcing, Mike Richards was the frontrunner for the job. And so it was before Sony had announced it. And right after that, it came to light that there were discrimination lawsuits from decades ago from “Price is Right” that he was implicated in.

archived recording

— one of many present’s fashions claiming Richards and different producers discriminated towards her after she grew to become pregnant, one thing he denied. The swimsuit later settled out of court docket. Earlier —

nicole sperling

And so he went and he despatched this memo to his workers, saying that this isn’t who I’m, these feedback usually are not who I’m. So that was the start of, like, the rumblings that there could possibly be a problem with him. But Sony didn’t cease going ahead with him as their alternative.

archived recording

The search is over. So who’s your new “Jeopardy!” host? Current “Jeopardy!” government producer Mike Richards.

nicole sperling

And they introduced him because the host on August eleventh.

archived recording

Richards will take over as host of the long-running, every day syndicated present.

nicole sperling

People have been positively upset.

archived recording

Some “Jeopardy!” followers usually are not completely happy over the choice to call the present’s government producer as the brand new host.

nicole sperling

And I do imagine it’s as a result of he was in control of discovering that alternative for Alex Trebek.

archived recording 1

— host. Doesn’t really feel like anyone needed this Mike Richards man? He clearly wasn’t the web’s alternative. I really feel just like the web needed LeVar Burton.

archived recording 2

And he responds to me, saying, that’s who the —

[BLEEP] — is Mike Richards, you’re not alone. Mike Richards is a straight cis white man.

You would think about, like, an government producer who places in work behind the scenes. And they most likely really feel like they deserve it too, however we don’t know this man. LeVar Burton, we grew up with him.

nicole sperling

Lots of people in contrast the entire scenario to Dick Cheney’s seek for the brand new V.P. that wound up being Dick Cheney. So he says he didn’t put himself into the job. It was a choice made by Tony Vinciquerra, who’s the pinnacle of Sony Pictures. But that was the sentiment that was felt throughout.

dodai stewart

Right. It felt like there have been insinuations from followers that the method had not been truthful.

nicole sperling

In his protection, Mike Richards did get very excessive marks for his efficiency from lots of people. People thought he was very easy. I imply, he was the man on there who really had probably the most sport present expertise. But for the “Jeopardy!” followers, they needed somebody who’s extra erudite, extra steeped in trivia, somebody who felt extra germane to the sport than somebody who was flashy and easy in entrance of the digicam.

dodai stewart

This appeared like an extremely messy scenario for “Jeopardy!“. Mike Richards had this huge cloud looming over him. There’s both the lawsuits and the fans’ accusations that maybe he somehow rigged the system to get the job.

nicole sperling

Yeah.

dodai stewart

And they announced him as the host anyway.

nicole sperling

Right.

dodai stewart

I don’t think anybody realized that there was even more that was going to surface.

nicole sperling

Yes. Claire McNear, who is a journalist who had recently written a book about “Jeopardy!“, she wrote a lengthy piece for The Ringer website. And in that piece, she unearthed a podcast that Richards had recorded from his “Price is Right” workplace. It was known as “The Randumb Show.” .

^archived recording^ (mike richards)

How are you right this moment, Beth?

archived recording

I’m actually good, really. How are you?

^archived recording^ (mike richards)

I’m actually good right this moment. I’m a little bit ty-ty, as a result of we had an enormous “Price is Right” day yesterday, which we’ll get into. But we’ve got an excellent — oh did you?

dodai stewart

The Ran-dumb Show, as in D-U-M-B?

nicole sperling

Yes.

dodai stewart

OK.

nicole sperling

It was, like, 41 episodes of the present. She simply discovered it. It nonetheless existed on the web. And there have been loads of unhealthy jokes and inappropriate feedback about girls on this podcast. And she neatly took audio clips of it and sprinkled it by way of The Ringer piece, as a result of hours after her piece posted, they pulled all of the episodes off the web so that they couldn’t be discovered.

dodai stewart

Oh, wow.

nicole sperling

So they knew it was not a great look. You know — and there have been loads of distasteful issues. There was a 2013 episode the place he joked about girls who gown like hookers on Halloween. In one other episode, he known as his feminine co-host a sales space slut as a result of she as soon as labored as a mannequin at a shopper present in Las Vegas. He described girls who put on one piece swimsuits as trying actually frumpy and obese.

And then he referred to stereotypes about Jews and huge noses. The Anti-Defamation League, at that time, known as for an investigation into him, significantly over his feedback relating to Jews.

dodai stewart

Oh. Did Sony not vet this man?

nicole sperling

So, you understand, it’s attention-grabbing, as a result of we positively requested that query throughout our reporting. And I had one individual inform me, properly, while you’re vetting somebody for a behind-the-scenes job, they’re not vetted as carefully as they might be for a public going through job — which, I perceive that, however that in and of itself causes an issue. Because a public going through job — sure, the general public sees you — and also you’re interacting with the general public. But while you’re a behind the scenes man, you’re managing a whole group of individuals.

You even have, you may argue, way more affect on folks’s lives than a man —

dodai stewart

You have loads of energy.

nicole sperling

Totally.

dodai stewart

Yes. OK. So it was these revelations in regards to the podcast — that is what lastly value him the job as host.

nicole sperling

Yes, so the Ringer article got here out on August 18th. And that’s when all of the podcast materials got here to mild. That prompted the Anti-Defamation League to name for an investigation. And it seems fairly unhealthy. The subsequent day, Mike Richards goes to set. They do a dedication ceremony to Alex Trebek earlier than the present begins. He movies 5 episodes that day. And then the following day, he resigns as host, as a result of the uproar had simply gotten so nice that Sony felt that it might not — he was changing into a distraction to the present.

So he leaves that day because the host, however he stays as the chief producer of each “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!“. And they try to make things OK. He says that he’s agreed to go through some sensitivity training, but that drumbeat won’t cease. And it’s curious to those both inside Hollywood and those watching all around the country, that it was OK for him to remain as executive producer, leading groups of people for both “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!“, but it was not OK for him to host the show.

It seemed that the optics were more important than the actual guy himself. And so Sony announced his resignation as producer on August 31st.

dodai stewart

It feels like “Jeopardy!” needed to study the arduous manner that it’s not the ‘80s anymore, and it’s not only a mono-cast system. You don’t simply broadcast to the followers. They can reply again. And there are extra methods for them to speak again than ever. And audiences are questioning all the things. And changing Alex Trebek with a girl, an individual of colour, somebody completely different, would have been a manner for this present that’s been round for many years to age with its viewers and evolve right into a present day, and present progress.

nicole sperling

I believe you’re completely proper. I believe the — placing in one other white man to run the present, who was not seemingly chosen pretty, is what has angered so many individuals. And sure, I believe the present wanted to evolve. I believe the producers knew it wanted to evolve, in that they not less than have been contemplating the social media response to the visitor hosts that had been coming by way of. I simply assume they have been caught unaware with the large mess they have been creating.

It’s nonetheless very curious to me. They thought they may put of their man, who had been doing a great job for them as their government producer, and all can be properly. Their issues can be solved. In their minds, he appeared like the superbly effective possibility. It would simply preserve issues going. It would really create some continuity, as a result of he had been acquainted with the workers for therefore lengthy — or not less than a yr.

But clearly, they’d underestimated the facility of “Jeopardy!“, how much “Jeopardy!” means to audiences, and the way you couldn’t simply put in anyone in Alex’s stead.

[music]
^archived recording^ (johnny gilbert)

From the Alex Trebek Stage at Sony Pictures Studios, that is “Jeopardy!“!

dodai stewart

OK, but “Jeopardy!” got here again this week for a brand new season, even with all this taking place.

nicole sperling

The season did kick off this week. And simply to make issues much more awkward, we’re all going to see Mike Richards internet hosting “Jeopardy!” from Monday by way of Friday, as a result of in that first day that he — his first and solely day as host — he recorded 5 episodes. And the entire thing about “Jeopardy!” is that — and Alex Trebek made an enormous level of this — that he all the time needed to be known as the “host” of the present and never the “star” of the present, as a result of in his thoughts, this present was in regards to the contestants.

It was in regards to the questions. It was in regards to the format of the present, and it was not about him. And so that they’re holding the present on due to the contestants who have been on the present that week that he was the host.

dodai stewart

OK, then we’ll get some extra visitor hosts, after which we’ll simply see what occurs.

nicole sperling

Yes properly, that’s the million query, isn’t it?

dodai stewart

Nicole Sperling, thanks a lot.

nicole sperling

Thank you, Dodai. This was actually enjoyable.

[music]
dodai stewart

Just this week, we acquired a partial reply to that million greenback query. “Jeopardy!” introduced the present will alternate between two visitor hosts for the remainder of the yr. The first is actor Mayim Bialik, who had already been tapped to host “Jeopardy!”‘s primetime specials and spinoffs. The different one is “Jeopardy!” champion Ken Jennings.


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