Following perhaps its most awkward week of episodes in the program’s nearly 60-year history, the second week of “Jeopardy!’s” 38th season in syndication contained less drama than the first. It also included a different host: Mayim Bialik.
Bialik, named in August as the host for “Jeopardy!” special projects and network specials, agreed to host the syndicated program on a temporary basis. She replaced Mike Richards, who stepped aside mere days after being named the permanent “Jeopardy!” host (and after taping the episodes that aired last week), upon the discovery of offensive comments in years-old podcasts that he had not disclosed to Sony Pictures Entertainment executives.
None of that drama appeared on camera, however. On Monday’s program, announcer Johnny Gilbert introduced Bialik as “the host of Jeopardy!” — not the guest host — and she made no reference to the change in emcees while starting the program. A contestant during Richards’ week of shows said Richards made remarks acknowledging his appointment as host during the first episode of this show’s 38th season; that speech got scrubbed from the broadcast, likely replaced by footage of the dedication of the “Jeopardy!” studio in Alex Trebek’s name.
That on-camera silence seems unsurprising, for one big reason: Richards, who had just stepped down as host, remained as executive producer during the taping of the shows that aired last week. While Sony subsequently fired Richards from that role as well, Bialik had little ability publicly to acknowledge Richards’s comments or his resignation while he remained her “boss,” likely watching over her in the studio.
But in an essay published in Newsweek on Monday morning, Bialik addressed the controversy before her first episode as “Jeopardy!” host aired. She wrote that “as a person who has been acting since I was a kid, I go where I’m pointed and I do the job I’m told to do. I do what’s in front of me.” She did speak of her desire to help the (wonderful) “Jeopardy!” staff, who went through a lot of unwelcome, not to mention unnecessary, drama over the Richards saga.
Reigning champion Matt Amodio took much of the same “head down” philosophy to the controversy. He told the Washington Post in a recent interview that “the last thing I’m thinking about when I’m in the middle of a game is who’s hosting.”
If either Bialik or Amodio had publicly criticized Richards, it could have accelerated his departure last month. As it was, however, Sony eventually made the right decision, terminating Richards not just for his comments, but for the way he had failed to disclose them at a time his prior conduct was already under scrutiny.
Mayim’s Second Appearance
During her first week behind the lectern this fall, Bialik made several notable adjustments when compared to her episodes as guest host, which aired in May and June. She spent more time updating contestants on scores. For instance, she did so when a contestant took the lead, or got “out of the hole,” moving from a negative back to a positive score.
Last season, most of the guest hosts appeared too busy to pay much attention to the scores during gameplay. Of the 16 guest hosts, for instance, only Robin Roberts ever used the Trebek-esque phrase “it is not a runaway” heading into Final Jeopardy! It appears that Bialik, and perhaps the production staff, made updating the scores a point of emphasis for the current season, and much better for viewers, and the contestants.
Bialik also said she tried to tone down her reactions to contestants’ responses: “I had to be reminded that viewers watching at home expect the contestants to get a lot [of responses] right, so I don’t have to say ‘YES!’ every time.” That problem plagued LeVar Burton’s week as guest host, but it did not crop up during Bialik’s first week back as host.
That said, the one tic this column noticed during her spring episodes remained. On several occasions, Bialik seemed to ignore commas and punctuation in ways that altered the pronunciation of clues. Because it affects the ways contestants hear and comprehend clues, better inflection would help them respond and react more quickly and clearly.
Million Dollar Matt
As for Amodio, he concluded the week where he started: Still reigning champion. On Friday, he extended his winning streak to 28 days, topping the $1,000,000 mark in the process.
But the week didn’t come without two significant scares, when Amodio got Final Jeopardy! clues incorrect. On Tuesday, challenger Melissa John-Guisti kept the game competitive into final, but could not come up with the correct response when Amodio stumbled, allowing Matt to hang on.
On Thursday’s show, Guhan Venkatesan came up with a correct final response to a clue Amodio missed. But because Venkatesan did not make a maximum bet on a Daily Double — a strategy Amodio regularly follows — early in the game, he was not within striking distance to capitalize on Amodio’s incorrect response to Final. Had he made that “all-in” wager early in the match, he could have dethroned the champion at the end of the half-hour.
For both Amodio and Bialik, the future looks bright, but still unclear. TMZ previously reported that Sony wants to make Bialik the permanent host for the nighttime syndicated version of “Jeopardy!” How long will she and Amodio remain behind their respective places at Sony Pictures Studios? As always in television, the answer lies in two simple words: Stay tuned.
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