‘Jeopardy!’: Mike Richards Speaks Out on LeVar Burton’s Chance, Responding to Vocal Fans

by Suzanne Halliburton

Fans of Jeopardy! started a write-in campaign to get LeVar Burton a spot as a guest host of the beloved quiz show.

And it worked. Burton got a five-day hosting gig and was added to the celebrated list of guest moderators. There was a lot of online energy for Burton.

But how much emphasis do the producers and other executives at Jeopardy! place on fan energy and social media buzz? About as much as you’d think from folks who need to be both creative and even-keeled about the future of Jeopardy! It takes a special someone to replace Alex Trebek.

Jeopardy! executive producer Mike Richards spoke to USA Today this week about the search for Trebek’s replacement. And of course, he answered questions about LeVar Burton.

“We want to hear from our fans,” Richards said. “And I’m online every day looking at it and checking it out. But we’ve got to be careful about the 20,000 people or whatever that are screaming the loudest.

“We’re pretty astute in the way that we approach that,” Richards said. “What we’re going to look for is the best candidate for the show, and we’re not going to limit it to anyone based on anything. That would be the “Jeopardy!” way. “

LeVar Burton Fits the Jeopardy! Brand

No doubt, LeVar Burton fits the “Jeopardy! way.” For one, he’s brilliant. Burton hosted a PBS show — Reading Rainbow. He won 12 Emmys and a Peabody Award.

Plus, the 64-year-old represents living, breathing television history. He played Kunta Kinte on the mini-series Roots. The series ran in 1977 and its viewing numbers were phenomenal. The only televised event that can beat it today is the Super Bowl. The first episode, where viewers were introduced to the African warrior-turned slave Kunte Kinte, drew a ratings share of 40.5. That translated into almost 29 million households. The finale drew a share of 71.1. Jeopardy! is about history and pop culture. LeVar Burton checks those boxes.

In an interview with USA Today last month, Richards said Burton contacted him almost immediately after Alex Trebek died last November. Burton is a huge fan of Jeopardy! That checks another box, too.

“LeVar and I’ve been speaking for a very long time,” the Jeopardy executive producer said last month. “I think he was the first person to reach out to me after Alex passed away, so this is not a new conversation.

Richards said that after several more conversations, “it came down to LeVar … speaking to his passion and really believing that he would be a great fit to be a guest host. And as we came down to the final group, we were excited to get it all to work together. This is not an easy process.”

Burton’s spot behind the Jeopardy! dais is scheduled for July 26-30.