Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings, who was thought to be in the running to replace Alex Trebek in the first place, is reportedly now in the lead to replace Mike Richards. Sony Pictures Television was forced to restart its host search last week after Richards, the show’s executive producer, bowed out of hosting because his offensive podcast comments were unearthed by a journalist for The Ringer. Jennings served as Jeopardy! guest host in January and February, and is by far the show’s most famous contestant.
In his What I’m Hearing newsletter Sunday, former Hollywood Reporter editor Matt Belloni reported that the hosting gig is Jennings’ “job to lose,” citing two show insiders. Belloni noted that Jennings has not been overly critical of Sony brass during the fallout of the Richards scandal, plus he already works as a consultant for the show. Although Twitter users have dreamed of LeVar Burton getting the job, Belloni notes that it is unlikely Sony executives would hire someone without closer ties to Jeopardy! and with an already-established personality.
Jennings was the first guest host after Trebek’s death in November 2020. The 47-year-old hosted from Jan. 4 to Feb. 19. He still holds the longest winning streak in Jeopardy! history with 74 consecutive wins. He also won the first primetime Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time tournament last year. After the tournament, Sony hired him as a consulting producer, and to introduce categories.
Jennings has his own set of controversies that were already exposed late last year. After it was announced that he would host episodes of Jeopardy!, Twitter users found insensitive jokes Jennings made on Twitter years ago. In one tweet that many zeroed in on, Jennings wrote that there was “nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair.” Jennings also co-hosts the podcast Omnibus with John Roderick, Twitter’s infamous “Bean Dad.”
In December, Jennings published a long apology for his insensitive tweets and for deleting them. “Sometimes they worked as jokes in my head and I was dismayed to see how they read on-screen,” Jennings wrote. “In the past, I’d usually leave bad tweets up just so they could be dunked on. At least that way they could lead to smart replies and even advocacy. Deleting them felt like whitewashing a mistake.”
“But I think that practice may have given the impression I stand by every failed joke I’ve ever posted here. Not at all!” Jennings continued. “Sometimes I said dumb things in a dumb way and I want to apologize to people who were (rightfully!) offended. It wasn’t my intention to hurt anyone, but that doesn’t matter: I screwed up, and I’m truly sorry. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we should be kinder to one another. I look forward to heading into 2021 with that in mind.”
Richards will stay on as executive producer for the time being. He filmed five episodes, which will still air when the season begins. Actress Mayim Bialik, who was hired to host primetime specials and tournaments, will be the first guest host filling in for Richards.