By Elaine Low
As news of the passing of beloved "Jeopardy!" game-show host Alex Trebek continues to ripple through the entertainment industry and trivia community alike, many are wondering: After nearly four decades at the helm, who could possibly replace Alex Trebek?
For one out of two of the respondents to a 2019 Morning Consult poll, that answer is: no one. Just months after Trebek disclosed his Stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis, half of those surveyed last July said they couldn't imagine watching "Jeopardy!" without him as the host. Sources with knowledge of the situation say that Sony Pictures Television, the studio behind "Jeopardy!", has had internal long-term discussions about succession long before Trebek's diagnosis as the longtime host neared retirement age.
But when the show is ready to get back into production, one frontrunner has long appeared quite clear. The easygoing and quick-witted Ken Jennings, who was earlier this year crowned the champion of the "Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time" tournament in a matchup between him, James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter, is a fan favorite for the spot. He was first catapulted into the spotlight in the mid-aughts with a famous 74-game win streak and is a (distant) second to Trebek when it comes to being synonymous with the show.
That Sony brought Jennings on board in September as a consulting producer for "Jeopardy!" also indicates that track has been laid for Jennings to potentially succeed Trebek. And he certainly has no plans to return to the stage as a contestant -- in a January interview with Variety, Jennings said that he was hanging up his buzzer.
"It's not like how running backs pretty much have to retire at 29 because their bodies fall apart," he said, regarding his decision. "But in this case I had noticed myself slowing down - mostly [in the way of] recall, no longer automatically quick to remember names and facts like I used to. And I notice it every day; it's like living inside 'Flowers for Algernon' - you feel a tiny bit dumber every day, as I move into my 40s. And I think there's a reason why all the big 'Jeopardy!' champs are men and women around 30."
Jennings also said then that it "just wouldn't feel right" to compete without Trebek there.
"I don't see how I can top it," he said in January. "The win was great. It's a great punctuation mark, and I absolutely mean what I said about not wanting to play past my prime. And at some point Alex is going to retire, I assume, and it just wouldn't feel right to play with a different host. It'd be like cheating on Alex. I think this is a perfect time to go out on top."
A number of more famous names are also being floated as potential new hosts, including CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. According to a person familiar with the matter, Cooper is not currently pursuing the position, although the prospect has come up for discussion in the past. Another name in the mix is George Stephanopoulos, though it is not clear that any active discussions with the ABC News anchor have taken place. In May, the TV journalist told Howard Stern that he thought it "would be a lot of fun, but I like what I'm doing, too."
Sony Pictures Television has no doubt cast a wide net, though a spokesperson would only say that the show is not announced a new host at this time.
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