My inbox has filled up this afternoon with messages from people asking for my reaction to the story about Sony announcing it has, as predicted, named executive producer Mike Richards to become the new full-time host of “Jeopardy!” The surprise was that Mayim Bialik has also been hired to host occasional primetime episodes, spinoffs, and the annual college championships.
As I wrote on this subject last week, I’m disappointed, but not surprised, that Richards got the gig. I won’t rehash my reasons (you can read them here), nor will my wife and I stop watching the show because of his presence. If the guest host weeks proved anything this year, it’s that “Jeopardy!” is a venerable institution that does not rely on its host for its success. That said, the show’s ratings have slipped consistently week to week for more than six months — even lower than they were before the show got a huge public relations bump from Alex Trebek’s cancer diagnosis and death.
That means the bar won’t be as high when Richards begins, and I’m sure Sony will be closely scrutinizing the daily numbers from day one of his tenure. While they may not expect him to return “Jeopardy!” to its longtime perch as one of the top game shows in syndication — it has long ranked in the top three with “Family Feud” and “Wheel Of Fortune” — they certainly won’t be thrilled to see viewership drop any further.
Does that mean they brought in Bialik as a ready-to-go backup should Richards fail? I think it’s more likely they had to make the move after all the noise about Richards’ involvement in the firing of two pregnant models when he produced “The Price Is Right” several years ago. That’s why I don’t believe the Sony executive quoted today as saying, “We knew early on that we wanted to divide the hosting responsibilities and it became very clear that Mike and Mayim were the undeniable choices.”
If doing so means there will be more “Jeopardy!” to watch, I’m all for it — although I wonder what kind of spinoffs the company is considering. More “Celebrity Jeopardy”? Revivals of “Rock and Roll Jeopardy” and “Sports Jeopardy”? How about “Marvel Movie Jeopardy” or “Vegan Jeopardy” or “Vaccinated People Only Jeopardy”?
This is not the first time a game show would have different hosts for its daytime and primetime editions. My friend and television historian Stu Shostak tells me when “The Price Is Right” started in the 1970s, Bob Barker did daytime while Dennis James hosted at night. Also in that decade, James was on the daytime version of “Name That Tune,” but Tom Kennedy did the syndicated evening shows. At one point, “The $25,000 Pyramid” had Bill Cullen at night, Dick Clark during the day.
With all of that said, let’s not forget that (as I write this) the show’s current champion, Matt Amodio, has moved past $440,000 in winnings, putting him in fourth place for all-time regular season “Jeopardy” contestants. While he has a long way to go to reach the levels of Jennings and James Holzhauer, his continuing success may help bring viewers back to the game — regardless of who the emcee is.
FYI, Richards’ reign as host begins September 13, when the new season of “Jeopardy!” premieres.