Ken Jennings may be a “company man” when it comes to Jeopardy!, but according to others working on the game show, the consensus was that it was his job to take after the death of Alex Trebek. The Jeopardy! GOAT was the odds-on favorite in Vegas to take over the show following Trebek’s death after a battle with pancreatic cancer, but earlier this month, we learned that executive producer Mike Richards will take over the syndicated role while Mayim Bialik will host primetime tapings of the show.
Word of those selections has brought the show a wide swath of criticism, be it from those who wanted guest hosts like LeVar Burton to take over, or those were outraged by Richards’ history of alleged misconduct on The Price Is Right or Bialik’s past comments about vaccines. What’s also trickled out are reports about what those behind the scenes wanted to have happen, including a report that Bialik was the first pick for a full-time host before she turned the role down.
According to a story in the New York Times, many working on the show thought that Jennings was the man all but hand-picked by Trebek to host the show after passing. That detail came with an anecdote about how when he first took the guest hosting gig late last year, there was a gift waiting for him from the longtime late host of Jeopardy!
When Ken Jennings arrived at the “Jeopardy!” studios in November for the first day of his audition to become the new host of the long-running quiz show, he found a gift waiting for him: a pair of Alex Trebek’s cuff links, along with a handwritten note from his widow, Jean.
For some members of the “Jeopardy!” crew, the cuff links validated their assumption that Mr. Jennings, a genial Utahn who rose to fame in 2004 after winning a record 74 consecutive games, had been Mr. Trebek’s preferred successor. (“Jeopardy!” producers had arranged for a phone call between Mr. Jennings and Mr. Trebek two days before he died.) But “Jeopardy!,” while a beloved cultural icon, is also a lucrative asset of Sony Pictures Entertainment, and in the television industry, sentiment only goes so far.
That phone call, gift, and note made many on staff assume that the newly-minted consulting producer suddenly thrust behind the most important podium in game shows would be there to stay, even after the long list of guest hosts that tried out after he and Richards had their turn. But his own appearance, while strong on stage and in the ratings, was not without controversy as well.
And while Jennings has been cordial about the process in the press and said he didn’t want to publicly advocate for himself, it’s clear a number of people behind the scenes saw it as his job to lose well before he actually did.