Los Angeles Times

What is ... going back in time?

This week’s episodes of “Jeopardy!” feature already-fired host Mike Richards. A critic tunes in.


In the time between his being named the new host of “Jeopardy!” and being named the ex-new-host of “Jeopardy!” Mike Richards taped a week’s worth of programs. (That is just a day’s work on the “Jeopardy!” set.) Because those were part of the narrative of the show — especially with 18time returning champion Matt Amodio, the thirdhighe­st “Jeopardy!” winner in regular season play, looking to add to his $574,801 — those episodes were never going into the dumpster, no matter how awkward the situation.

Richards, who had been an executive producer on “Jeopardy!” since 2020, lost the host job he had just stepped into after offensive things he’d said on his 201314 “Randumb” podcast and elsewhere, along with tales of an uncongenia­l workplace on “The Price Is Right,” where he’d been an executive producer, were floated into public view. (He has also had his vocal defenders.)

Apart from that, however, there was always something in his election that smelled a little fishy, as if the whole guest-host rotation — which seemed implicitly if not explicitly an audition — had been an elaborate sham to mask a decision that had already been made. Soon after stepping away as host, he left his position as executive producer, and so this week — the beginning of the series’ 38th season — sees him as the face of a show with which he no longer has any connection.

What’s that phrase? Dead man walking? “The poor bastard,” one can imagine a bit player saying in the movie version of this moment.

This week’s “Jeopardy!” is a time capsule from before the apocalypse, honeymoon photos printed the day after the divorce becomes final. Perhaps the contestant­s will meet regularly in days to come, veterans sharing memories of a singular single week on what is now called the Alex Trebek stage, for the man whose death necessitat­ed this search and whose shoes, briefly worn if not actually filled, are empty again.

“Here is the host of ‘Jeopardy!’,” announcer Johnny Gilbert declared at the show’s opening, “Mike Richards.”

Controvers­y aside, one looked at him closely, as one would any new leader of an establishe­d institutio­n. It is fair to say he brings nothing distinctiv­e to the job and impossible and pointless to say whether that might have changed in the fullness of time. (Richards actually did pretty well with “Jeopardy!” audiences when he convenient­ly “stepped in” to fill a scheduling hole in the guest host rotation earlier this year.)

The midshow contestant interviews lacked Trebek’s particular mix of interest and disinteres­t that felt like a good host putting a stranger at ease before moving quickly on to greet the next in line. Richards was a little stiff, perhaps, and bland, but when the game is going you quit paying attention to the host and concentrat­e on the questions.

As half an hour of answer-along-at-home game play — high-stakes game play — it was perfectly involving. (And former Times writer Lynell George was a clue — now that was exciting!) Amodio won again, easily.

A new host has not yet been named. “Jeopardy!” GOAT Ken Jennings seemed a likely choice but was reportedly disqualifi­ed on the basis of, what else, an old tweet. Though she will guest host the next three weeks of episodes, Mayim Bialik has not been officially called down from her perch hosting prime-time specials to host the daily show; LeVar Burton has been sent no congratula­tory telegram that we know of. Buzzy Cohen, the 2017 Tournament of Champions winner and a Season 37 guest host, has been the subject of an ad hoc fan campaign.

But the impression from the great ship Sony is that it is embarking from scratch on a new expedition — a new round of guest hosts is supposed to follow Bialik’s stand — hopefully not to run aground again.

Taking Trebek as a model, one would say that a “Jeopardy!” host should be respectabl­e and respectful; care about the show more than oneself; sound as if one knows the answers, not just because they are written on a card, but because one has made a study of the subject, in the quiet of one’s enormous library, and of every subject; communicat­e power in stillness — be more

Obi-Wan Kenobi than Han Solo; and sound sympatheti­c (and no more than very, very, very, very slightly patronizin­g) when a contestant gets an answer wrong.

It’s hard to imagine any mere human ticking all the boxes, not being a disappoint­ment to some segment of the fanship in some foreseeabl­e or unforeseea­ble way. Trebek is literally irreplacea­ble — we’ll never have that recipe again — and yet also replaceabl­e: The show, as the guest host weeks have shown, is structural­ly sound; it can withstand a range of approaches.

Of course, in the end it may be just an Alex Trebek hologram — they have the technology — or a giant AI brain, like former contestant Watson, the machine that beat Jennings and Brad Rutter, as if in some modern update of “John Henry.” Something without old tweets to embarrass it, programmed to avoid making racist or sexist or remotely political remarks, something you already speak to in questions: Siri, what is ornitholog­y?

 ?? Daytime Emmy Awards 2021 ?? MIKE RICHARDS is no longer host or executive producer of the show.
Daytime Emmy Awards 2021 MIKE RICHARDS is no longer host or executive producer of the show.

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