By Ryan Lack
I’ll take “Words That Sound Like ‘NO'” for 1,000, Alex.
You might be wondering what the hell we’re doing writing about Jeopardy and the devastating news of Alex Trebek’s impending retirement when this is supposed to be a sports site. Bear with me.
Ok, so it’s not so “impending.” We’re talking about 2016 here, but what’s troubling outside of the new of the legend’s eventual departure is what Sony Pictures Television, which owns the show, intends to do about replacing him.
If you watch the show you know it’s a pretty easy gig. As the host, you facilitate the game, reply condescendingly to stupid question responses to clues, and give off a general air of intellectual superiority. It’s not a hard job. But, it’s something that has become synonymous with Alex Trebek and, thus, synonymous with the show. The show IS Alex Trebek.
Trebek has been at the helm for nearly 30 years. You don’t just replace him. It’s not a decision you take lightly. Sure, the show will go on. It’ll be the same format, it will include the same nerdy and ridiculously intelligent contestants, and also their idiotic stories, but will it be the same?
History shows us that replacing a legendary gameshow host is no easy task. Just look at the laundry list of wannabes that Family Feud has trotted out to replace Ray Combs since his suicide in 1996: Louie Anderson? (what?), Richard Karn (who?), John O’Hurley (stick to Seinfeld, bro), and now Steve Harvey (GFY). It’s very, very difficult, if not impossible to replace someone that is so readily identifiable with the brand.
Here’s your sports angle: Just look at the Chicago Bulls. Sure, different business, different legend, but to this day and likely for all-time, the organization’s successes and struggles will be defined by one man: Jordan. The guy could go by “Michael” or “Jordan” and you know who is being talked about. His contributions to the team and the game of basketball are indisputable and even now the Bulls are still struggling to find their identity as an organization and brand that has largely remained overshadowed by Jordan.
So, what do we have against Matt Lauer. Oh, nothing, really. Only that he’s currently leading a failing program, The Today Show, or that he’s nowhere near the intellectual equal of Trebek. If Sony Pictures Television is targeting anyone to replace Trebek, let it be someone with some brain credibility, not some lame stand-in like Drew Carey on the The Price is Right.
My fear is that Jeopardy will become a shell of itself – a gameshow you can play at home with no backbone. Without Trebek, I see it failing miserably in the long-term. No one will be excited about Matt Lauer, except for maybe Katie Couric and we’ve seen how well she’s done since leaving The Today Show …
You don’t just replace a legend. You don’t just move on. You don’t just replace Alex Trebek with Matt Lauer.
This … ISSSS … JEOPARDY! That sound you hear is the fizzling out of an era, or, as Sean Connory would say, “That’s the sound your mother made last night.”