While he might normally be behind the scenes, “Jeopardy!” executive producer Mike Richards stepped in front of the camera on Monday night to begin a two-week stint as guest host of the iconic daytime game show.
In his opening comments, Richards explained that, while a slew of celebrity guest hosts are lined up for the coming weeks, the coronavirus crisis in Los Angeles, where the show is filmed, made upcoming hosts “understandably a little reticent to shoot.”
“So, as the producer, my job is to quite literally live the mantra ‘the show must go on,’” Richards said. “So let’s do what Alex Trebek did 8,244 times: Let’s play ‘Jeopardy!’ and prove that nothing can stop this show.”
Trebek, the show’s longtime host, died at age 80 on Nov. 8, 2020, after battling pancreatic cancer. He taped episodes until the days just before his death in what Richards would later call a “herculean” effort.
At the end of Monday’s episode, Richards took a moment to appreciate Trebek’s legacy and dying wish.
“I just want to say, as Alex said, we’re trying to build a kinder and gentler society,” Richards said. “And if we all pitch in just a little bit, we’re going to get there. See you next time.”
The show then ended with a black screen with white text in honor of Trebek.
"Dedicated to Alex Trebek," the slate read. "Forever in our Hearts, Always our Inspiration."
Richards’ quote was a reference to a passionate speech Trebek gave in the first of his final episodes that aired in early January, calling on people to be generous amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is the season of giving. I know you want to be generous with your family, your friends, your loved ones, but today I'd like you to go one step further,” Trebek said. "I'd like you to open up your hands and open up your heart to those who are still suffering because of COVID-19. People who are suffering through no fault of their own. We're trying to build a gentler, kinder society. And if we all pitch in just a little bit, we're gonna get there."
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Richards took over as guest host for Ken Jennings, who Richards said had to step down as host due to obligations with his other show, "The Chase." Jennings, 46, on Friday thanked fans for their support during his time behind the “Jeopardy!” lectern.
“That’s a wrap on my six weeks of @Jeopardy guest hosting,” he wrote on Twitter. “Thanks for watching, thanks for your patience with a tough learning curve...and, as always, thank you Alex. 💙”
“Thank you, Alex,” was how Jennings signed off each episode that he hosted as a simple acknowledgment of the late Trebek.
He told a fan on Twitter that it was actually Richards who came up with the idea.
“Every single time @KenJennings thanks Alex at the end of @Jeopardy, I get all choked up. I hope he never stops,” Jessica Brody tweeted.
"’Thanks, Alex’ was suggested as a sign-off by executive producer Mike Richards, and I'm glad he did. There wouldn't be a show without Alex,” Jennings replied.
Jennings also paid tribute to Trebek when he took over as host in January.
"Not many things in life are perfect, but Alex did this job pretty much perfectly for more than 36 years,” he said at the top of his first episode. “And it was even better up close. We were dazzled by his intelligence, his charm, his grace — really, there's no other word for it.
“Like all 'Jeopardy!' fans, I miss Alex very much," he added, emotional. "And I thank him for what he did for all of us. Let's be totally clear, no one will ever replace the great Alex Trebek, but we can honor him by playing the game he loved."