The media spotlight on the veteran show has been blinding recently, in a way that would undoubtedly disconcert legendary longtime host Alex Trebek, who died in November 2020.
“Jeopardy!” always gets more publicity when there’s a long-winning contestant, so the reign of Matt Amodio, who garnered $1,518,601 in 38 games, was covered extensively. On Monday, Amodio finally lost -- to the relief of viewers (like me) bored by the predictability of games he dominated.
Still, media coverage was mostly flattering — unlike the longtime mishegoss (meaning a screw-up so monumental you have to rely on Yiddish for its full expression) of this year’s bungled “Jeopardy!” host-finding effort.
You might think the time for commenting on that blunder has passed. Still, one writer -- Hollywood Reporter TV critic Daniel Fienberg -- had such an original, and oddly comforting, theory, I feel obliged to share it.
First, a quick rehash: Trebek’s death led to six months or so of guest hosts, then the announcement that the new permanent host would be recently hired executive producer Mike Richards. Reveals of his unsavory TV production past and undue influence on the hosting decision soon followed. Richards was eventually fired, and actress Mayim Bialik and super-player Ken Jennings took over in the interim, with a permanent host still to come.
I developed a severe allergy to watching the show during this period, feeling “Jeopardy!” producers had tainted its legacy and integrity. In the midst of my anger, I read Fienberg’s “A ‘Jeopardy!!’ Host Search So Blundered It Almost Feels Intentional.”
Fienberg wondered if the whole debacle might not be “an instance of nefarious genius” perpetrated by “imaginary brilliant, evil Jeopardy! producers" who set up Mike Richards as a “sacrificial bland.”
“If the producers of Jeopardy! were aware — and of course they were — that the search for Alex Trebek’s successor was doomed to over-scrutiny and inevitable fan disappointment, I’m not sure they could have done a more successful job of distracting and deflecting,” he wrote.
“Instead, we’re barely talking about Alex Trebek and his long shadow anymore. The next round of guest hosts will be compared not to Trebek but to Richards and to the first round of guest hosts … offering chances to casually satisfy the show’s fan base without provoking ecstasy or horror.”
I’d like to believe that, somewhere, Trebek read that article. He might have smiled, happy to be reminded of an alternate universe where corporate ingenuity could replace stupidity and incompetence -- two words that simply don’t belong in the same sentence as “Jeopardy!”