Once upon a time, Alex Trebek wrote fondly of an unusual property of his longtime television home: that it was, well, a little bit boring. “We’ve been like this nice warm bath,” he wrote in 2004’s This Is Jeopardy! “You feel so comfortable with Jeopardy!”
Smash-cut to present, where things at the stalwart quiz show have been anything but boring. In the past two and a half years, Jeopardy! has seen the death of Trebek after more than 36 years as host; the departure of longtime executive producer Harry Friedman, who stepped down in 2020 following nearly a quarter-century as showrunner; a headline-grabbing, seven-month rolling host audition to replace Trebek, featuring everyone from LeVar Burton to Aaron Rodgers to Mehmet Oz; the announcement that Mike Richards, Friedman’s successor as EP, would take over as the syndicated host, with actress Mayim Bialik hosting specials; Richards’s removal days later as both host and producer in the wake of reporting by The Ringer and other outlets; the appointment of new EP Michael Davies, a multihyphenate producer-podcaster-writer most famous in the game show world for bringing Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to the U.S. from his native U.K.; the return of Bialik and guest host Ken Jennings, who split hosting duties throughout the 2021-22 season after Richards’s abrupt exit; and the emergence of 40- and 38-time champs Amy Schneider and Matt Amodio, respectively, now holders of the second- and third-longest winning streaks in Jeopardy! history, as well as a smattering of other notable streaks. There has been an enormous amount of change, both in front of the camera and behind it. Jeopardy! was never meant to shock, and yet here we are.
And now, Jeopardy! has announced another bit of news—or, rather, that it won’t actually be making much news at all. On Wednesday, Davies—who in April announced he would be staying on as EP long term—confirmed what Variety and Deadline reported earlier in the week: that the show will be sticking with Jennings and Bialik as hosts, with Jennings hosting the nightly syndicated edition until January, at which point Bialik will step in.
It seems clear that for Sony Pictures Television, which owns and produces Jeopardy!, the directive of late has been to restore order amid the chaos. It’s little surprise, then, that the studio has decided to stick with Jennings, the 74-time champ turned author and consulting producer, and Bialik, best known for her role as Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory. The pair, after all, helped steady the ship in the wake of the Richards turmoil; for much of last season, Jeopardy! led all syndicated shows in ratings. For all the partisans who griped about their preference for one or the other, and for the bizarre (and Jeopardy!-diehard-irking) proliferation of tabloid-style coverage of even the show’s most mundane happenings, Jennings and Bialik proved to be a reliable duo that kept Jeopardy!’s place in television and trivia secure.
But while the announcement doesn’t represent a major shift, more change is coming to Jeopardy! all the same—principally in the form of growth. Under Davies, the show is expanding its offerings. The 2021–22 season featured the first Professors Tournament for college- and university-level educators, as well as the National College Championship, a twist on the long-running College Championship that featured 36 contestants compared to its precursor’s usual 15. This fall will see Schneider, Amodio, Mattea Roach, Ryan Long, and the rest of Jeopardy!’s most recent titans return for a Tournament of Champions. The traditionally semiannual contest is being retooled as an annual contestant postseason, and will be preceded by an inaugural Second Chance Tournament—a longtime fan pipe dream that will allow the players that coulda, shoulda, woulda come out on top another shot; the winner, and perhaps other contenders, will advance to the Tournament of Champions (and perhaps to a rematch with the super-champion who felled them in the first place). Both of the fall’s tournaments will be hosted by Jennings.
Notably, last fall’s National College Championship aired not in Jeopardy!’s usual syndication timeslot but on ABC in prime time, which appears to be where Davies and the Sony brain trust are most eager to experiment. This September will bring the debut of Celebrity Jeopardy!—once again in prime time on ABC and on a weekly basis, a format initially piloted by the celeb edition of Wheel of Fortune, a fellow Sony production that was originally pitched by Richards. Per Wednesday’s announcement, Bialik will host the celebrity tournament, a new National College Championship, and “a couple of new tournaments” that have yet to be announced.
Most intriguing, Davies has said that at least one Jeopardy! spinoff is in the works. In a conversation with reporters at June’s Daytime Emmys, at which Jeopardy! once again won for Outstanding Game Show, Davies said, “We are working on developing a pop culture version of Jeopardy!” Separately, he told Variety that “with all of our plans for Jeopardy!—which is more Jeopardy!, not less, more versions—we’re going to need multiple hosts to represent the entire audience, to represent the entire country, in order to take this franchise forward.” More versions, plural, seem to be on the way.
Jeopardy! spinoffs have been attempted before. 1998 saw the debuts of both Rock & Roll Jeopardy!, with a pre-Survivor Jeff Probst as host, and Jep!, a children’s edition hosted by Bob Bergen, the voice of Porky Pig. In 2014, the Dan Patrick–hosted Sports Jeopardy! followed suit. None of these stuck around for the long haul. Sony, and to some degree ABC, seems to be betting that the last few years of intense interest in the goings-on at Jeopardy! will translate to audiences wanting more of it. That includes a weekly Jeopardy! podcast that was also teased in Wednesday’s announcement. It will be hosted by Davies—who is known to many of his fans as “Davo,” a nickname from his mega-popular Men in Blazers podcast—and the show’s other producers.
Jennings and Bialik make for an unusual pair. In 2004, the then–software engineer Jennings went on a six-month-long Jeopardy! winning streak and became a national sensation. In the years since, he has written books about maps, comedy, and trivia, in addition to further solidifying his status as America’s most notable quizzer with appearances on game shows like The Chase and Master Minds. He was also widely viewed as Trebek’s successor of choice; days before the late host’s death from complications of pancreatic cancer in 2020, Trebek called Jennings to ask if he would fill in for him, and a pair of his cufflinks awaited Jennings in the dressing room at his first guest host taping.
Jennings was even once slated to create a new show with Davies on Comedy Central. It never made it to air: “They were looking for a half-hour show to pair with The Daily Show, as I understand it, and even though they really liked the game show we came up with, Stephen Colbert’s show was doing so well in its post-Daily Show spot that they decided they weren’t in the market for a quiz show anymore,” Jennings wrote in the aftermath. “Sadly, there are no current plans to rescue the modestly titled Ken Jennings vs. the Rest of the World from limbo, but you never know.”
Bialik, meanwhile, cut her teeth on sitcoms, with the title role at Blossom propelling the then-teenager to stardom and earning her People’s best dressed honors in 1993 and her own clothing line at Dillard’s. Following Blossom’s conclusion in 1995, Bialik turned her sights on UCLA, where she obtained a PhD in neuroscience. In 2009, the year before joining The Big Bang Theory, Bialik joked that an appearance on What Not to Wear—a far cry from that People spread of old—was “the start of [her TV] comeback.” Off camera, she too became a prolific author, writing extensively about religion, veganism, and (occasionally controversially) parenting; she has also written about not watching television.
In 2009, as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire celebrated a decade on air in the U.S., Davies recalled one of that show’s original obstacles: convincing American audiences—who Davies said believed prime-time game shows were “totally old-fashioned, like something out of the ’50s”—that marquee games were worth tuning in for. It worked for Millionaire, with the Regis Philbin catchphrase “Is that your final answer?” emerging as a national obsession. Now Davies, together with Jennings and Bialik, will attempt to have the same type of impact at Jeopardy! while keeping the daily game going strong.
Jeopardy! “is still the same show today that it was in 1984, just in a slightly different costume,” Trebek wrote in 2004. “So, although we have evolved over the years we have remained true to our roots, and I think the fans appreciate that. When they tune into us, they know what to expect. No surprises.”
On the hosting front, at least, this week’s news certainly qualifies. But with a new era beginning, Jeopardy! is gambling that its audience might find a few surprises worth its while.