"Jeopardy!" sticks with basic flavors: Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik named co-hosts

Among a world of zippy, multicultural condiments, the quiz show's choice is to double down on inoffensive dollops

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published July 28, 2022 6:30PM (EDT)

Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Sandwiched between either Ken Jennings or Mayim Bialik as the new permanent host of "Jeopardy!" – which is basically the equivalent of agonizing over whether to put Miracle Whip or mayonnaise on your lunchtime hero – Sony Pictures Television made the safest choice possible.

It's slathering on both. 

"The fact is, we have so many healthy, basic turkey sammies to churn out, and so many plans for the future, that we always knew we would need multiple condiments that taste almost the same, but not quite, to maintain our longstanding flavor profile," executive producer Michael Davies definitely did not say in a statement posted on Wednesday on the show's official website.

However, Davies did point out in that release that since September 2021, when Jennings joined Bialik in co-hosting "Jeopardy!," its year-over-year viewership has climbed substantially. That's nearly a given. Like any other longstanding institution, Jeopardy!" relies on stability. That's part of the brand, catering to a devoted audience that views the show as a dependable oasis of intellectual civility. 

Jennings, a legendary contestant and official "Jeopardy!" GOAT, provides that. From the moment he stepped in to temporarily fill the void left by the late great Alex Trebek, who died in November 2020, his selection as the show's permanent host seemed all but inevitable. His seven-week hosting run in the wake of Trebek's death went well, and he's a familiar respected presence among longtime viewers. 

But Jennings also represents the latest in a line of white guys holding court on "Jeopardy!" and other trivia game shows, a streak Trebek himself hoped producers would break. Sony and Davies likely view naming Bialik as the show's co-host as a sufficient show of progress, since the legend expressed he would like be succeeded by a woman. He also specified he would have liked a person of color to take of his post, naming CNN legal analyst Laura Coates as the person at the top of its list. 

Apparently Sony and the executive producers of "Jeopardy!" ignored that as entirely as it pretended that the fan campaign to hire LeVar Burton as its new host didn't exist. Instead, like that infamous David Brooks brain dump about sandwich elitism, it assumed that its audience would freeze up when confronted by the host equivalents of "soppressata, capocollo and a striata baguette."

By the time Bialik stepped behind the podium in August of last year, however, the trivia institution was recovering from a highly publicized blunder of its own making. 

Following the show's much-ballyhooed rotation of celebrity hosts who ostensibly were auditioning, it announced its own (and now former) executive producer Mike Richards had scored the job.

Like any other longstanding institution, Jeopardy!" relies on stability.

When the public reacted with about the same level of enthusiasm that greeted McDonald's introduction of The McHotDog – another real thing you either forgot about or never heard of – Sony had to know it was in an uphill battle. 

But even Brooks' unnamed friend who was intimidated by foreign lunch meat names settled on Mexican food. After feigning an unofficial contest featuring a rotation of celebrity hosts, including Bialik, Sony revealed it was sticking with what it already had in its pantry: a moldy Wonder Bread loaf named Mike Richards, who was already the show's executive producer.

The producing studio overlooked the stains Richards had on his record, including several gender discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits filed by models who worked for him when he was the executive producer of "The Price Is Right."

 Once his old podcast "The Randumb Show" surfaced and was revealed to be a veritable hoagie of racism, sexism, and antisemitism passing off as jokes, Richards was wiped from the podium and eventually fired from "Jeopardy!"

Fortunately, Bialik was already in place as Richards' co-host, leaving them to turn to Jennings, long rumored to be the second choice for the job all along. Neither Jennings' nor Bialik's public reputations are entirely unblemished, mind you. Jennings has several controversial tweets he's had to either apologize for or downplay, and Bialik, who has a PhD in neuroscience, has previously expressed doubts about the safety of vaccinations and hormonal birth control.

"We are just so grateful that Mayim and Ken stepped in and stepped up to put the show in a position to succeed. And succeed it has," Davies said, adding that more than 27 million viewers have been tuning in each week this season. 

"We're the most-watched entertainment show on all of television," he claimed. "Yes, all of television." 

In September Jennings kicks off the season's hosting duties, who will also host the show's first Second Chance competition and another Tournament of Champions featuring past winners Amy Schneider, Matt Amodio, Mattea Roach, Ryan Long, and others. 

For those craving that tangy zip spiked with a touch of corn syrup, the statement explains, producers are offering bites of Bialik by way of ABC's "Celebrity Jeopardy!" on primetime. Jennings hosts through December before Bialik takes over Original Flavor "Jeopardy!" in January, after which she'll host a couple of new tournaments and the "Jeopardy! National College Championship."

Davies expresses the hope in his statement that Bialik will host "as many weeks as she can manage with her other primetime commitment to 'Call Me Kat,'" her Fox primetime sitcom.

"We know you value consistency, so we will not flip flop the hosts constantly and will keep you informed about the hosting schedule," the statement reads.

So rest, "Jeopardy!" bingers. There's no need to fear that your weeknight brain snack will be changing things up with left-field flavors like aioli or pesto or, heaven forbid, some type of reduction that your snooty pal will try to explain to you, nose upturned

It's sticking with all-purpose utilitarian sauces, thereby ensuring your favorite quiz show that was once distinguished by a gentleman who was both elegant and pleasing to all palates, will keep sliding through the system in as unchallenging a manner as possible. 

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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