‘Jeopardy!’: Why Staffers Say Ken Jennings Was Alex Trebek’s ‘Preferred Successor’

by Clayton Edwards

When Alex Trebek passed away in November of 2020 he left a hole in the television world. He helmed Jeopardy! for decades. So, showrunners immediately set to work looking for a new host. The show had to go on. Ken Jennings stepped up to the plate to try his hand at hosting. After Jennings, a long line of celebs stepped in to guest host.

Many believed that each guest host was auditioning for the position. Almost every guest host had a segment of the Jeopardy! fanbase behind them. However, Ken Jennings remained one of the favorites to take the job. It wasn’t just a large portion of the audience that was pulling for him, though. In fact, oddsmakers in Las Vegas had him as a frontrunner for the gig. More importantly, the show’s staff thought that Ken was a shoo-in for the job, according to a New York Times story.

Ken Jennings stepped up to the legendary lectern on the Jeopardy! just three weeks after Trebek’s tragic passing. When he entered his dressing room for the first time, he found two very special things waiting for him. The first was a pair of Alex Trebek’s cuff links. That gift was doubtlessly touching for Jennings. After all, he and Trebek were friends. They had plenty of time to bond while Ken was racking up win after win in 2004. However, the second item might be the more touching of the two. It was a handwritten note from Alex Trebek’s widow, Jean.

Unfortunately, we don’t know what the note said. However, we do know that most people who worked on the show believed that Trebek all but hand-picked Ken Jennings as his successor.

Instead, Sony announced that Mike Richards, Jeopardy!’s executive producer and the man tasked with finding Trebek’s replacement, would host the regular episodes of the show. Mayim Bialik will host the primetime spinoffs.

Ken Jennings on the ‘Jeopardy!’ Hosting Job

Ken Jennings spoke to the Times about the Jeopardy! host selection process. He told them that people who don’t watch the show don’t understand how seriously people take the show and the hunt for its host. In fact, he said, “It is a little like choosing a pope.”

The job itself comes with some great perks. For one, the host is at the head of the show. However, Trebek never saw himself as the show. Instead, he let the game and contestants be the focus. On the other hand, no one can deny that Trebek was the face of the show.

At the same time, the hours and compensation for the position are pretty nice. They tape five episodes of Jeopardy! at a time. The New York Times stated that the host works roughly two days a week, two weeks a month. Richards’ salary hasn’t been announced. However, before Trebek passed away, he was making an estimated $16.5 million per year.  

Ken Jennings still works behind the scenes on Jeopardy! as a segment producer.