It’s hard to imagine a more disappointing outcome for a show that’s been a tentpole on the air for the better part of four decades.
The genius of “Jeopardy!” has always been its relatively low-stakes, politically neutral format that let viewers at home play along — it was a place for Republican dads and their Democratic daughters to have it out over trivia instead of the election. It’s fun for the whole family!
Even those cringe-y personal anecdotes told between blocks reminded viewers that the people on TV weren’t special — they’re regular, boring nerds just like you.
At the very least, fans felt they deserved a fair and transparent process. Instead, we got Mike Richards, the executive producer of the show, stepping in for Trebek day-to-day. Mayim Bialik, the second host, will lead a spinoff series and some prime-time specials — a setup that I can’t help but see as one in which the woman, the gender diversity hire, is asked to play second fiddle to the leading man.
Richards’ selection is problematic for a few reasons.
You’d think that, in 2021, the show would carefully vet each candidate and avoid any unsavory scandals. But as soon as Richards’ name was floated as a frontrunner last week, a backlash ensued.
No one’s perfect, certainly, but in the social media age it’s confounding that “Jeopardy!” seems to have failed to anticipate any of this backlash. Or if they did anticipate it, they didn’t care — and I honestly can’t decide which is more offensive.
There are probably plenty of people out there saying, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a game show.” And that’s true. But “Jeopardy!” isn’t like other game shows, because it was built by Trebek, who imbued it with a nerdy authority. In an era where few public intellectuals ever become household names, Trebek — with his esoteric air, his exacting pronunciation and stringent adherence to the rules — became a pop culture icon.
That’s why the optics here matter as much as any of the contenders’ ability to call out category titles and read clues. The daily “Jeopardy!” host embodies knowledge itself — he (it’s always been a he) quite literally has all the answers.
The choice of yet another white man, who also happens to be an insider of elite TV media, sends a clear message: The boys are not ready to hand over the keys yet, and no amount of public shaming or appeals to diversity can convince them that they should.