The current season of “Jeopardy!” is still in full swing, but it’s not too soon to look ahead to the next season — especially after the announcement the showrunner of the long-running game show just made.
According to executive producer (and recent guest host) Mike Richards, when filming for season 38 kicks off in late July or early August, it will do so with its next official host at the helm. That means fans will learn who’ll get the chance to follow in the footsteps of the late Alex Trebek this summer.
But for now, that remains a mystery — even to Richards.
“It’s going to come down to the heads of Sony (Entertainment) to make that decision, ultimately, and it’ll come down to testing,” the 45-year-old told The Wall Street Journal’s podcast “The Journal.” “They’ve been a part of it. They know what’s going on in the studio. They’re watching the feed, the tapings. It’s very extensive. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of, as far as testing in its size and scope.”
So no playing favorites or trusting fate with this casting call.
“You want to make an informed decision,” Richards continued. “In the end, we’re a pretty cerebral group, the ‘Jeopardy!’ team. We want to go at this with real analytics and real testing and not just go, ‘Hey, how about this guy?’ which is kind of how a lot of these decisions have been made historically.”
As for the audition process, audiences have been witnessing that for themselves ever since Trebek’s final episodes aired in January, two months after the venerable host died following a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Week after week, familiar faces from broadcasting, entertainment, sports and more have stepped up to the podium to serve as guest hosts. And while not all of those who’ve taken the temporary gig are looking to fill it permanently, some, like NFL star Aaron Rodgers, have voiced an interest.
Richards said that while he “wouldn’t rule anything out,” he would be surprised if the job went to anyone who didn’t serve as one of those guest hosts. That means fans who are tuning in and speaking out about the rotating lineup of talent will get a say in the process ... sort of.
“It’s definitely going to play into it, and I think there’s different ways fan response can play into it,” Richards explained. “What we are working on, as far as really understanding what the fans are saying and who’s saying it, is very important.”
However, when you’re talking about a show that can average, according to Richards, “70 million-plus” viewers in a week, it’s not just a matter of listening to the loudest responses on social media. It’s about listening to the ones that “carry the spirit of the fans.”
Whether the powers that be decide the gig should go to Rodgers or upcoming guest host Levar Burton or anyone else that has the support of the fanbase, Richards envisions it becoming that person’s sole job.
“I feel like it worked out pretty well for Alex as one job,” he noted. “It’s not a side hustle to me, and we’ve been clear about that.”
On top of all of that, the candidate has to possess one important qualifier Trebek had — credibility.
“Do you believe in them when they’re making a ruling in the game?” Richards mentioned. “The host of ‘Jeopardy!’ is the arbiter of the game. So do you buy them going, ‘Yes, that’s correct’?”
Trebek, who hosted the show for 36 years, really is the ultimate hard act to follow, with some longtime “Jeopardy!” viewers believing no one — with the possible exception of Trebek-inspired A.I., which one “Journal” listener recommended — could possibly fill his place.
“I think one of the beautiful things, the blessings that came, if you can call it a blessing, is that he got to really see the outpouring of love and admiration that he gave to the world,” Trebek’s widow, Jean, recently told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie of the impact he had. “Some people just, you know, you don't see that while you're still embodied, you don't get to really witness all the love that people feel for you. And I know that that was in and of itself a huge inspiration for Alex.”