Filed in: Accidental Turitz, Featured, Television

The Accidental Turitz: Why the Search for a New Jeopardy! Host Has Much Wider Implications

August 11, 2021 09:00 | By
Jeopardy

LeVar Burton on Jeopardy!

I used to be a big Jeopardy! fan, but as with many things that catch our fancy, that faded with time. I still have affection for the show, but I don’t watch religiously like I used to and as some of my friends do. Still, when Alex Trebek died, I poured one out for him and lamented his passing. I also started paying attention to whom might be selected to replace him. 

As the weeks passed and one guest host after another trundled through the old studio, I would check in now and again, see how everyone was doing, and then get back to my life. I enjoyed Aaron Rodgers’ stint, was charmed by Mayim Bialik, underwhelmed by Joe Buck, revolted by Mehmet Oz, and now a bit stunned by the news that the show’s producer, Mike Richards, is in line to actually get the job. I’ll come back to this.

Honestly, I’m not sure who I was rooting for the most. Maybe LeVar Burton. Initially, I was cheered by the fan movement to get him to the host’s podium for a guest run. Once I thought about it, though, I found myself a bit troubled, and had to wrap my head around why this was sort of a dangerous event. At some point, I did, and it made me feel better from an emotional standpoint, but worse from a practical one.

Allow me to explain.

It used to be that people would watch a TV show or a movie franchise, and they would have their opinions and maybe share them with friends and family, and that was it. With the rise of social media, though, people found their voices and often banded together to try to save a cherished show. Sometimes, they even contributed financially to the continuation of the series in some form or another, like, for instance, when I personally gave 50 bucks to the Kickstarter campaign to finance a Veronica Mars movie. I got a free movie ticket and a T-shirt out of it, and it was worth every penny, because it led to a fourth season of the show on Hulu.

As people found that combining their voices gave them strength and could potentially move major corporations to change their minds about a show or film, they started getting more aggressive. A perfect example of this is the Snyder Cut of Justice League, which didn’t actually exist until Warner Bros. gave Zack Snyder money to finish a movie he left before it was finished. The story behind his leaving the project has been out there for a long time, and many journalists have parroted the company line, but I know for a fact there’s a lot more to it than is being told, and that Snyder is an expert at self-promotion, but that’s a whole other rabbit hole it’s not worth pursuing here because it’s off-point. Maybe another time.

Jeopardy

Mike RIchards on Jeopardy!

Back to the subject at hand, Snyder whipped up his fans into a frenzy and had them browbeat Warner Bros. into spending money to complete something which they’d previously had no intention of completing, and it really only happened because of HBO Max and the desire to get more people to sign up for the service. That didn’t work out the way the company hoped — the numbers of new subscribers weren’t what they’d expected — and now the fans are screaming for another non-existent director’s cut of a movie, David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Word is that Warner is not going to play that game, but that hasn’t stopped fans before, and is a symptom of what’s wrong with our society. People decide they want something, and if they don’t get it, they throw a temper tantrum until they do. This is not how adults are supposed to behave.

What does this have to do with the Jeopardy! guest hosts and LeVar Burton? If it’s not abundantly clear yet, I’ll clarify now: toxic fandom, and the expectation that fans know better than creators what’s good for them. 

Here’s a potentially controversial statement on that matter: they don’t. Fans think they know best, but if they did, they’d be creating. There are things they hope will happen to and with their favorite characters, but the truth of it is that, if fans are given everything they want, it becomes boring. Stories should be fresh. They should surprise you. One of the best shows ever made is Breaking Bad, and while it’s incredibly well done — and I tend to think it stuck its landing — it also went a great distance to serving its fans. On the other hand, a different show on the all-time list, Mad Men, ended on its own terms and basically said to the fans, “Well, here it is. Like it, don’t like it, we don’t care. Deal with it.” I would argue that the latter treated the fans with more respect.

I brought up the Veronica Mars thing, and my participation in it, to demonstrate that I am not immune to this, and have certainly gotten personally engaged with a show I enjoyed. But even with my participation, I expected nothing in return other than to be entertained. When creator Rob Thomas brought the show to Hulu after the movie, and ended the season by killing off a major character, fans were furious, but it served the story, and so it was the right call, regardless of what the fans thought.

Now, many of the fans think they want LeVar Burton. They made a rather large fuss about it, because they thought he would make a great host. And you know what? They were right. He was terrific, and clearly loved every second of it. This was the fulfillment of a dream for him, and it was wonderful that we all got to witness it firsthand. To see him behind Trebek’s podium — and let’s face it, that’s how we will all think of it forever — was a pleasure, and if he’d been given the permanent job, that would’ve been fine by me.

But, and this is another important thing to point out here, he never really had a shot. He got the gig, because people cried out for it, and it was a gimmick. I take nothing away from him or his work, but the show’s producers never for a moment took him seriously. They were serving the fans, and now they’re doing what they want, which is to name Executive Producer Mike Richards as the new permanent host, regardless of what the fans think they desire, because they know better than you how their show should run. Even if, as was revealed last week, he has the whiff of scandal hanging over him from his days at The Price Is Right, because he was mentioned in a 2010 discrimination lawsuit brought by one of the show’s models.

That, most assuredly, will pass, and he’ll get the gig, and he’ll do fine and the show will carry on and fans will keep watching, because of course, they will.

Even though we all know for damn certain it would have been better with LeVar. 


Neil TuritzNeil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.

You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.

(All Jeopardy! photos courtesy Sony Pictures Television.)