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Ken Jennings to be interim ‘Jeopardy!’ host

This image released by ABC shows contestant Ken Jennings with a trophy on “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time.” “Jeopardy!” ratings have dropped since Ken Jennings stopped hosting.
This image released by ABC shows contestant Ken Jennings with a trophy on “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time.” Jennings will be an interim guest host for “Jeopardy!”
Eric McCandless, ABC via Associated Press

Two weeks after Alex Trebek’s death, “Jeopardy!” has announced plans to resume production with a series of interim guest hosts — beginning with “Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time” champion Ken Jennings.

“Alex believed in the importance of ‘Jeopardy!’ and always said that he wanted the show to go on after him,” said Mike Richards, the show’s executive producer in a statement on Monday. “We will honor his legacy by continuing to produce the game he loved.”

“Jeopardy!” will announce additional guest hosts in the near future.

Many “Jeopardy!” fans and analysts have long speculated that Jennings, who joined the show’s current season as a consulting producer, could one day be host.

“I mean, it’s absolutely a dream job,” Jennings told the Deseret News earlier this year after winning the “Greatest of All Time” tournament. “What a great job. … But I really can’t even think about anybody but (Trebek) hosting the show. He’s a hero to America’s nerds. I’m not emotionally prepared for turning on the TV and seeing anybody who’s not Alex Trebek — whether it’s me or not — hosting ‘Jeopardy!’ I’m just not ready to consider that yet.”

Eighteen months after announcing his pancreatic cancer diagnosis, Trebek died on Nov. 8 at the age of 80, surrounded by family and friends. He continued to host “Jeopardy!” as he underwent treatment, and his last day in the studio was Oct. 29. Taped episodes featuring the beloved host will now air through the week of Jan. 4, 2021, according to the “Jeopardy!” website (the show will also air 10 of Trebek’s “best episodes” during the weeks of Dec. 21 and 28).

It’ll mark the end of a “Jeopardy!” era, but not the end of the show. Richards has previously said Trebek made him and others “promise” that “Jeopardy!” would continue, according to the Deseret News.

“By bringing in familiar guest hosts for the foreseeable future, our goal is to create a sense of community and continuity for our viewers,” Richards said in a statement.

“Jeopardy!” is not announcing a long-term host at this time.

Following Trebek’s death, potential names to replace the longtime host began circulating. Jennings’ name has been thrown as a potential successor to Trebek, although other candidates like “Reading Rainbow” host LeVar Burton have drawn substantial support.

In his recent memoir, Trebek wrote that he got to know Jennings better than most contestants. Jennings had a legendary 75-game “Jeopardy!” run in 2004 — meaning Trebek interacted with him significantly more than most contestants.

Trebek admitted he was a little emotional when a question about H&R Block finally dethroned the 30-year-old software engineer from Salt Lake City.

“I had tears in my eyes,” he wrote. “It just all happened so quickly. Ken lost. … The show ended. I remember thinking, ‘Ken’s gone. My buddy. My pal. This was getting to be ‘The Ken and Alex Show.’”

Jennings will start as interim host when “Jeopardy!” resumes production on Nov. 30. His episodes will air starting the week of Jan. 11, 2021, according to the “Jeopardy!” website.

“There will only ever be one Alex Trebek, but I’m honored to be helping Jeopardy! out with this in January,” Jennings tweeted on Monday.

Even though he was the face of “Jeopardy!” for 36 years, Trebek always insisted he be introduced as the host rather than the star — something BYU professor Christine Hurt, who was on the show in 2019, appreciated about the longtime host.

“I hope that the show does not transition to the ‘host is the star’ model, with a celebrity using the format as a variety show,” she recently wrote in an email to the Deseret News. “The secret sauce of Alex is his being present and in control without having to be the star. The contestants are treated as the stars. His occasional moments of levity and personality were wonderful because they were occasional.”