On Thursday, “Jeopardy!” announced that Jennings will return to the hosting lectern this season, joining neuroscientist and actress Mayim Bialik in hosting the quiz show through the end of the calendar year.
Bialik will step up first, hosting several weeks of episodes that will run from Sept. 20 through Nov. 5. From there, the “Big Bang Theory” star and Jennings, who is a consulting producer for “Jeopardy!,” will split hosting responsibilities as their schedules allow.
Ken Jennings wanted ‘another chance’ to host
Jennings was in a challenging situation when he first stepped up to the “Jeopardy!” hosting lectern.
Alex Trebek, the beloved face of “Jeopardy!,” had died just a few weeks earlier. But for Jennings — a contestant who won 74 games in 2004, claimed the “Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time” title in 2020 and served as a consulting producer for the quiz show — Trebek was more than the face of “Jeopardy!”
He was a friend.
“I give Ken a lot of credit for stepping in,” Jim Gilligan, a “Jeopardy!” contestant who competed during Jennings’ debut as guest host, told the Deseret News earlier this year. “He’s taking on a new and challenging role — something that your predecessor has done for over 36 years and pretty much mastered and is widely regarded as the greatest of all time.
“But at the same time, he is also dealing with his grief, because to him, Alex was not just a host — they had become friends,” Gilligan continued. “And then to step into that role on a national stage and try to do the job, I can’t imagine that’s easy. So I have great respect for him to be doing that and to carry on as another tribute to Alex, really.”
Jennings’ debut as the inaugural guest host was a huge success — during the first week of his six-week stint, Jennings brought in an average of 10.3 million viewers, second this past season only to Trebek’s final week as host, the Deseret News reported.
Of all the 16 guest hosts who would fill in for the show’s 37th season, Jennings had the highest ratings. On social media, many fans praised Jennings for his obvious love of the game and respect for Trebek. Throughout his run as host, Jennings, who started out the hosting gig with noticeable nerves, seemed to loosen up and fall more easily into the role.
“I did feel like at the end, I was almost starting to get comfortable, I was starting to enjoy it a little bit,” Jennings said earlier this year during a virtual fundraiser for the Edmonds Center for the Arts in Washington state. “I think with time I am starting to figure this out. So I do hope I get another chance.”
For Jennings, that second chance has now arrived.
The search for ‘Jeopardy!’ host continues
Adding Jennings to the hosting roster this season is the latest solution “Jeopardy!” has provided as it continues its search for a permanent host.
Last month, Mike Richards — the former executive producer of “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” — was named Trebek’s successor. Over a whirlwind few days, after past controversies — including Richards’ “offensive language” and disparaging remarks about women’s bodies on a podcast — resurfaced in a report from The Ringer, Richards stepped down as host and was ultimately fired from his position as executive producer.
“Obviously I’m disappointed with how this process played out, but I’d rather look ahead,” Jennings told The Ringer last month. “I plan to be with the show as long as they’ll have me, no matter who’s hosting.”
According to The Ringer, many “Jeopardy!” staffers and former contestants figured Jennings would be Trebek’s successor — an expectation that grew when he was named as consulting producer for the show’s 37th season. On top of that, just two days before his death, Trebek reportedly called Jennings to talk about guest hosting. He even left a pair of his cuff links for Jennings at the studio.
During Jennings’ initial guest host run, he kept an old ticket to the pilot “Jeopardy!” episode hosted by Trebek in his pocket as a “good luck charm.”
A friend gave me this piece of quiz show history: an audience ticket to Alex's very first Jeopardy! pilot from 1983. ("ALEX TREBEK! DOOR PRIZES!") I kept it in my pocket while guest-hosting Jeopardy! this week, as a good luck charm. pic.twitter.com/dpDn67lWPp— Ken Jennings (@KenJennings) January 12, 2021
Jennings has said that hosting the show gave him even greater respect for Trebek, who fulfilled the role so effortlessly for 36 years.
“You’re running the show in real time like a referee,” Jennings said, according to My Edmonds News. “You have to read a clue, you have to look up and see what they buzzed in, and as they are answering you have to adjudicate what they are saying and then move on appropriately. (Trebek) did it with such grace, you didn’t really notice how hard it was. My heart goes out to anybody brave enough to try that job.”