Skip to main content

Let’s Make it a True Daily Double, Uh, Aaron?

As I have, in the last year, pretentiously weighed in on some of the more pressing issues of the Covid Era, any speculation about the future of Jeopardy might well strike my readers as frivolous. I totally agree.

Nonetheless, I ask that you indulge me as I veer off my beaten track to acknowledge this fraught crossroads in American cultural history.

Let’s be clear about the stakes here. Whoever replaces the late Alex Trebek might well take up a space in your living room — and your 7 p.m. time slot — for the next thirty years.

So who will it be? Who will feed us the “final jeopardy answer” going forward? Who will lend sufficient gravitas to making the daily double a true one? These are not small matters.

Because in an age of toxic know-nothing-ness — a time of arrogant ignorance and educational dysfunction — Jeopardy is unapologetically intelligent.

Unlike any other regularly scheduled event in our culture, Jeopardy celebrates the know-it-all. It’s a safe space for eggheads, smart-asses, and those strange kids who pay attention in class. It’s for people who know stuff for the sake of knowing stuff.

How many shows can say that these days? Yes, there is real intellectual content on TV, but it needs to be looked for, it rarely gains mass acceptance, and it tends to disappear sooner than the crap around it.

But Jeopardy is a unique institution, with a generous and inclusive agenda. It invites everyone to play. All demographics — all races, religions, sexual preferences, education levels, political persuasions — all are welcome to match wits with our current champion.

The show values its intellectual credentials and it won’t stoop to anyone’s level. The answers are rarely easy, which is why you always feel good when you get one right — putting it, of course, in the form of a question. And Alex always made you feel okay about getting it wrong, which was one of his gifts.

So Jeopardy is dealing with an interesting business problem. How do you maintain and perpetuate a known winning formula once the iconic personification of that formula leaves the scene?

Alex’s death has left a vacuum, and it shows. Especially in the writing. There have now been a half dozen or so “guest hosts,” each one a known and estimable personage, each one coming up short. They’ve all had their own two-week run, reading lines that were quite obviously written for Alex.

The results range from okay (Katie Couric), to bland (Ken Jennings), to controversial (Dr. Oz), to WTF (Aaron Rodgers). But nobody has stood out as a real contender.

To the producers' credit, they’re moving slowly. They’ve found ways to keep our interest as the process plays out. As of now, they’re accentuating the politically correct, giving us a veritable cavalcade of diversity. So far, we’ve seen a woman, a gay guy, a Black newsman, a Muslim doctor, and a star quarterback.

The preponderance of TV newscasters — three, at last count — makes sense, at least in the short term. All three have mastered the knack of speaking on-camera while listening in their earpiece — a crucial element of the host’s skill set — which can’t be easy to learn on short notice. Even so, they’re all struggling with it — even the newscasters, judging from the awkward pauses — which speaks to the difficulty of the job. Aaron Rodgers in particular seemed way over his head, and seemed to know it.

But the bigger problem is that Alex’s style is so ingrained in the heads of the writers — and no doubt the entire production staff — that all the guest hosts are coming across as Alex Lite.

The eventual winner will have to be someone who can break that mold, who can take the show in a new direction.

The show, not the game itself. The game is set in stone. It will stay exactly as Merv Griffin envisioned it, over half a century ago. You don’t mess with that kind of success.

But everything else is up for grabs — the production design, the sets, the color palette, the soundscape — even the announcer, Johnny Gilbert, who is well into his nineties. It won’t be the show’s first makeover — it’s been done many times before — but it will be the most consequential.

So when it comes to choosing a new host, the producers will need to think outside the box. Sort of like turning The Price Is Right over to Drew Carey.

Personally, I would give the gig to Harvey Fierstein, sight unseen. Besides being a unique visual, he has that one-of-a-kind voice, a low, raspy growl that drips nuance and innuendo into every sentence. In three episodes, we’d forget all about Alex.

Okay, I admit he wouldn’t be everyone’s first choice. But how about Ru Paul? Or Samantha Bee? Eddie Izzard? Wanda Sykes? There’s no shortage of quirky personalities with the chops to take the show in another direction.

Remember, it’s virtually a lifetime gig, with the kind of money and job security that would be extremely attractive to any entertainer who’s not a major star. So the choices are many.

Of course, Jeopardy can continue doing what it’s doing currently, at least for a while, with a new host every two weeks. The producers could make it a thing, a cultural phenomenon. They could build up the anticipation and involve the public in rating the hosts.

This could work for a while. It certainly comports with the zeitgeist, with our need, as a society, for constant and unending novelty.

But at some point, that approach will get old. At some point, the ratings gods will weigh in and tell the producers that naming a permanent host can’t wait any longer.

By which time, hopefully, the answer will be obvious. And in the form of a question.

 

Comments

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The GOP's Weaknesses are More Apparent than its Strengths

  Anyone who’s paying attention now understands that this election is a whole lot scarier than it ever should have been. It’s a shame — and an indictment of our constitutional system — that it comes down to an election at all. Surely, the Trump problem should have been settled by now, with no further elections required to get him out of our lives. His crimes were such that the real crime was letting him remain at large. All those checks and balances we were taught to revere should have somehow found a way to rid us of this monster. But the Supreme Court seems to have Trump’s back, though it’s not clear what that gains them. If anything, it makes one wonder what Trump is holding over them, and what might happen to their families if they don’t keep him out of prison. So it will come down to the election, and the lines couldn’t be drawn more indelibly. I prefer to think this can work out well — that these scorched-earth hacks can be overwhelmed at the ballot box

The New York Times has Gone Over to the Dark Side

  A week or so ago, Trump took a break from the courtroom and held a rally in a picturesque corner of New Jersey, a state he has no hope of winning. His speech at this rally was even more unhinged than usual, featuring his now-famous tributes to Al Capone and Hannibal Lecter — the latter being as fictional as Trump’s medical records, but seemingly real in his mind. These speeches are growing worse over time, and they seem to betray a worsening cognitive condition. Unfortunately, the New York Times doesn’t see it that way. Their reporting of the event was basically a puff piece . To them, this rally was Trump’s well-deserved break from the rigors and indignities of his criminal trial. They marvel that, “after a long and tense week,” he could now head to the Jersey Shore for some much-needed rest and adulation: Against the backdrop of classic Americana, Mr. Trump repeated his typical criticism that Mr. Biden’s economic policies were hurting the middle class.

Trump and Pecker Sittin’ in a Tree

  Before there was Fox News, before there was Rush Limbaugh, before there was the sprawling rightwing ecosystem of fake news and vicious smears we so enjoy today, there was the National Enquirer . For most of our lives, the Enquirer stared up at us from the checkout aisle of our local supermarket. Somehow, we never made the connection that its readers would one day fit the stereotype of the Trump voter — under-educated, gullible, malleable, easy targets for disinformation. The Enquirer nurtured those targets over many decades, got them to believe virtually anything, and helped lay the groundwork for the sort of know-nothing insurgency that brought Trump into all our lives. Decades ahead of its time, the Enquirer was peddling fake news long before it was fashionable. It appealed unapologetically to humanity’s baser instincts, the ones most of us try to rise above. It was always flamboyantly sleazy, and always there in plain sight, something we could dependably