Next week, Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings returns to the show, this time as the first guest host following Alex Trebek's death. But will his gig become permanent? It's complicated.
Days after the iconic star died of pancreatic cancer in November, producers announced that the game show will resume taping with a series of interim guest hosts, beginning with Jennings, who won 74 Jeopardy! consecutive games in 2004, receiving the title of the show's "Greatest of All Time" in 2020.
Just before Trebek's final episode aired on Friday, Jan. 8, E! News learned that Jennings has taped six weeks worth of shows, which will start airing on Monday, Jan. 11, and that other guest hosts are still expected to take the helm following Jennings, although no names or dates have been announced.
Meanwhile, the situation remains "fluid," multiple sources say. One insider told E! News that the search for a permanent host continues, that the chosen person will not be named before the spring, and that "while Ken is a very capable host, there are concerns that he may not be the right personality to be the face of the long-running show." E! News has reached out to reps for Jeopardy!, who have not commented.
Last year, after he was named the first interim guest host of Jeopardy!, Jennings, 46, drew controversy over resurfaced offensive tweets. Jeopardy! producers have not commented on them. But on Dec. 30, the champ responded to the backlash and issued an apology on Twitter.
"Hey, I just wanted to own up to the fact that over the years on Twitter, I've definitely tweeted some unartful and insensitive things," he tweeted. "Sometimes they worked as jokes in my head and I was dismayed to see how they read on screen."
He continued, "In the past, I'd usually leave bad tweets up just so they could be dunked on. At least that way they could lead to smart replies and even advocacy. Deleting them felt like whitewashing a mistake. But I think that practice may have given the impression I stand by every failed joke I've ever posted here. Not at all! Sometimes I said dumb things in a dumb way and I want to apologize to people who were (rightfully!) offended. It wasn't my intention to hurt anyone, but that doesn't matter: I screwed up, and I'm truly sorry."
The source told E! News that Jennings "has done well-enough to have his guest host run extended," adding, "He will now be hosting for six weeks while the show's producers widen their search to include well-known broadcasters."
The source also said that Katie Couric, Meredith Vieira and Jeopardy! executive producer Mike Richards have been "frequently mentioned as potential candidates" for Jeopardy! host. Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times reported that Couric is slated to guest host a week's worth of episodes. She has appeared on Jeopardy! before as a clue presenter. Fellow veteran newswoman and former talk show host Vieira competed on Celebrity Jeopardy! in 1999 and has game show hosting experience, having hosted Who Wants to Be a Millionaire for more than a decade until 2013 and currently hosts 25 Words or Less.
The Jeopardy! showrunners, the source said, want to make sure whoever is picked is "absolutely the right choice, and they will take the time they need to select the right host."
Another insider told E! News that it was Trebek's wish to keep Jeopardy! going after he passed, and that after his death, Jennings was available to help.
The first source said that the discussions to find a permanent host only began after the show resumed production following Trebek's death, as it had long been decided that the search would only commence after he died or if he was unable to perform his job. The TV vet, who was contracted to host the show through 2022, announced his cancer diagnosis on the series in March 2019 and continued to film episodes until 10 days before his passing.
Trebek's final show on Friday, Jan. 8 featured a touching tribute, a montage of his most memorable moments on the show. One of his three children, daughter Nicky Trebek, shared it on her Instagram, calling her dad "extraordinary."
Jennings shared it as well, tweeting, "Alex was always a familiar TV face, but it was so gratifying during the last years of his life to see him universally recognized as the national treasure (or bi-national treasure!) that he was. We're always going to miss him. Thanks for everything, Alex."