For more than a year, there was one question that fans of “Jeopardy!” could never seem to get a clear answer to: Who would succeed its popular longtime host Alex Trebek after his death, becoming the new face of the popular quiz show?
First came a rotating cast of temporary hosts — including LeVar Burton, who had a legion of online fans boosting him as the permanent choice, and Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor who followed his hosting stint with a bid for US Senate. Then, the show announced its succession plan — its executive producer, Mike Richards, would take over as host during the regular season, while Mayim Bialik would tape prime-time specials. That plan imploded after revelations that Richards had made offensive comments on a podcast.
To fill the hosting vacuum, the program then turned to Bialik and to the former champion Ken Jennings, asking them to fill in temporarily and split hosting duties. It was a temporary arrangement that got extended, and on Wednesday, the show made it permanent, opting for the status quo rather than another major shake-up.
“I write today with the exciting news that we have closed and signed deals with Mayim Bialik and Ken Jennings to be the hosts of ‘Jeopardy!’ moving forward,” the show’s executive producer, Michael Davies, wrote in an announcement posted to the show’s website.
The rationale for two hosts, he explained, was the show’s rapidly expanding brand, which includes a “Celebrity Jeopardy!” spinoff and a Second Chance tournament that invites standout contestants back to compete.
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“The fact is, we have so much ‘Jeopardy!’ to make, and so many plans for the future, that we always knew we would need multiple hosts for the franchise,” Davies wrote.
Jennings will be hosting the regular season shows through December, and Bialik will take over in January, according to the announcement.
In a gesture to the show’s loyal but vocal fan base, Davies sought to give them some reassurances: “We know you value consistency, so we will not flip-flop the hosts constantly and will keep you informed about the hosting schedule.”
But while the show was struggling to find its footing behind the scenes, it continued to generate excitement — and ratings — with a series of star contestants. Within just one season, four new champions were added to the show’s all-time leaderboard, fueling plenty of theorizing among fans about what was behind the new streak of winning streaks. For a while, the growing celebrity of the winning contestants — including Amy Schneider, Matt Amodio and Mattea Roach — offered a welcome distraction from the lack of clarity around who would become the permanent face of the show.
Jennings remains the champion with the highest number of consecutive wins (74) and the highest amount of money won in regular-season games ($2.5 million) in the show’s history. Bialik, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience and is best known for her role as a scientist in the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” has made clear from the beginning that she is interested in getting the job permanently, though she has had to balance it with the demands of her sitcom “Call Me Kat,” and faced criticism for endorsing a “brain health supplement” for a company that settled a dispute accusing it of false advertising. Jennings has also received criticism for old social media posts, apologizing for tweeting “unartful and insensitive things” after he was initially revealed as a “Jeopardy!” guest host following Trebek’s death.
After Richards’s departure, Davies, a veteran game-show producer who developed the original American version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,” took over temporarily as executive producer — and that job, too, soon became permanent.
Under Davies, the show has worked to expand beyond its traditional structure and to cater to its passionate fans, announcing daily statistics for each contestant and, on Wednesday, a new podcast.
And there are more specials coming. Bialik will host “Celebrity Jeopardy!,” which debuts on ABC in September, while Jennings will host the first Second Chance Tournament, as well as the upcoming Tournament of Champions. In his announcement, Davies hinted that there could be more spinoffs ahead, noting that Bialik would also host a couple of new tournaments, in addition to the college championship.