Kareem Abdul-Jabbar believes that Jeopardy! is much more than a game show. He said it’s a part of American culture that stresses the importance of education and the power of knowledge. But producers have bungled the search for a new host and risk tarnishing what Alex Trebek built over his 37 years as host.
In a column for The Hollywood Reporter, the NBA legend said finding a permanent host that embodies what Jeopardy! stands for is paramount. Abdul-Jabbar has competed on Jeopardy! and is a dedicated fan of the show. He offered some suggestions on what qualities Trebek’s successor should have.
The show originally hired executive producer Mike Richards, but he stepped down after only a day of hosting. That’s because The Ringer reported on several sexist and anti-semitic comments Richards made on his Randumb podcast in 2013-14.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called Richards’ hiring a “tone-deaf misstep” that “suggests the problem may not be just a bad branch, but a rotten root.” Though, he praised Sony’s move to make Mayim Bialik, actress and neuroscientist, the temporary host while the search continues.
“The ideal host for Jeopardy! should embody what the show means to its viewership: a passion for knowledge and a respect for a diverse community,” he writes. “Maybe the host would also reflect that diversity in order to show that it’s not just white males who can be the gatekeepers to these values.
This season, Jeopardy! used 16 guest hosts. Each of them “represented a cross-section of America: women, men, Black, white. Many were more than just entertainers, they were also doctors, journalists, people with demonstrable interests beyond the television industry,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. But in the end, Sony “defaulted to a white male with a background as a television producer and game show host.”
Richards Will Remain ‘Jeopardy!’ Showrunner
The newspaper said Sony business and legal affairs executive Suzanne Prete will lead Richards through the training.
Richards staying on is a point of contention for several fans. Many believe he swayed Sony’s search for a new host toward himself and undercut other potential hosts. He admitted that some of the guest hosts were never considered for the permanent hosting job. And it was reported that Richards decided what clips from the guest hosts were shown to focus groups and test audiences.
Richards apologized for his previous offensive comments. He called it a “terribly embarrassing moment of misjudgment, thoughtlessness, and insensitivity from nearly a decade ago.”
Jeopardy!‘s 38th season premieres on Sept. 13. Richards will host the first five episodes of the season. With Bialik taking over after that. Mayim Bialik will also host Jeopardy!’s primetime shows and spinoffs.