‘Jeopardy!’: LeVar Burton Says He Was ‘Petrified’ to Host the Show

by Josh Lanier

After months of anticipation, LeVar Burton will begin his week as guest host of Jeopardy! on Monday.

But despite his full-court press to be Alex Trebek’s successor as Jeopardy! host, Burton said he was terrified when he finally took control of the show. In his pre-taped interview with producers, Burton said he was “absolutely petrified” during his time on the show.

“Was I nervous? I was more than nervous,” he said. “I was absolutely petrified, and I don’t know if that feeling ever went away.”

Burton has spent his life in high-profile television roles from Roots to Reading Rainbow to Star Trek: The Next Generation. So, it’s telling how seriously he took this audition. And make no mistake, this is an audition. Jeopardy! producer Mike Richards said there is a team of Sony executives and show producers analyzing the attributes of all of the guest hosts from every angle.

“We have the most robust team of people I have ever seen looking at this and analyzing it in a very cerebral way,” he says to the Associated Press. “It’s a real change from the way casting has traditionally been done on television. It’s usually been a gut instinct of the head executive: ‘How about that person?’”

LeVar Burton has been hoping for months that it will be him. He reached out to Richards shortly after Trebek’s death last year to express his interest in the job. And many fans are also pulling for Burton. More than 200,000 people signed an online petition demanding producers choose him as host.

Burton said he has a calling to be Jeopardy!‘s next host.

“It’s difficult to explain, but there’s something inside me that says this makes sense. I feel like this is what I’m supposed to do,” Burton told the New York Times. “I have been watching Jeopardy! more or less every night of my life since Art Fleming was host.”

Burton: ‘Jeopardy!’ Host Under Constant Pressure

LeVar Burton said one of the first things he noticed when he started his first day as guest host was the speed of the game. It’s much faster in person. This was something that surprised CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta as well when he guest-hosted.

“I would have 61 clues to deliver for every game,” Gupta said. “Thirty for the first round, 30 more for Double Jeopardy! and then one Final Jeopardy! clue. When I did the math for a half-hour show, accounting for things like commercial breaks and interviews with the contestants, I calculated I needed (to) recite a new clue roughly every 15 seconds.”

Trebek made the game seem smooth and calm. But Burton said the speed of the game is shockingly fast. And getting up to speed takes some time.

“Being at home, it feels like a really relaxed half-hour, but it’s not relaxed at all,” he told the Seattle Times. “You can’t let your focus drop for a nanosecond.”

But Burton said he was able to find his rhythm after the first game.