‘Jeopardy!’: Taking a Closer Look at Why LeVar Burton Had Major Fan Support But Lowest TV Ratings

by John Jamison

LeVar Burton had an unparalleled amount of momentum among potential replacements for the hosting job on “Jeopardy!” The “Reading Rainbow” star and all-around crowd favorite had a petition in his name that collected hundreds of thousands of signatures. Yet the show’s ratings suffered when he stepped up to the podium. On the surface, the ratings would suggest that fans simply didn’t like him in the role. The reality, however, may be completely different.

According to the Nielsen ratings, as reported by Entertainment Weekly, that have been made available recently, it looks like “Jeopardy!” itself was on a downswing when LeVar Burton inherited the guest-hosting role from Robin Roberts. Burton came in with only a 4.4 rating. For reference, Roberts earned a 4.7 the week prior. CNN’s David Faber, who came immediately after Burton, had a 4.5.

Worth mentioning is the fact that Burton took over during the first week of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And David Faber was the guest host during the second week. Beyond that, there was the NBA draft. That certainly didn’t help things in terms of viewership. But there was a larger trend at play over the months before Burton took over.

Among the biggest names in the potential replacement conversation, the ratings consistently got lower as the season went on. Ken Jennings had a 6.0 Nielsen rating, one of the highest of the entire season. He also happened to be the first guest host and spent more than a month on the show.

Following Jennings, there was a drop-off in rating. Mike Richards himself, the executive producer who landed the job, had a 5.9 rating. And Mayim Bialik, who came later but also landed the replacement job, had a 5.1. Clearly, ratings alone weren’t the biggest factor in the decision.

LeVar Burton Had an Army of Supporters in Campaign to Land ‘Jeopardy!’ Job

Of all the guest hosts, none had close to the same level of popular support enjoyed by LeVar Burton. There was a literal campaign in the form of a petition to get him the job. More than 250,000 people have signed the Change.org petition, and despite “Jeopardy!” announcing their new hosts, people continue to sign it.

And Burton himself was well aware of the sheer amount of fan support he had ahead of, during, and following his “Jeopardy!” stint.

“I have said many times over these past weeks that no matter the outcome, I’ve won. The outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and fans alike has been incredible! If love is the ultimate blessing and I believe that it is, I am truly blessed beyond measure,” Burton tweeted earlier in August.

Even though Burton may consider his “Jeopardy!” foray a win, his fans were furious in the wake of him being passed up.