Ken Jennings may get another shot at guest-hosting Jeopardy! following Mike Richards’ tenure blowing up on the launchpad, but now we have a better idea of why Jennings didn’t get the nod initially: his tweets might have disqualified him from the job.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday about the lengthy and disastrous search for a full-time host of Jeopardy! following the death of Alex Trebek. The details about Richards and his return to his executive producer gig are particularly juicy, but so is confirmation that Jennings’ own controversy while guest-hosting the show ended his hopes of actually winning the job himself.
Jennings scored the best ratings of any guest Jeopardy! host and got the longest stint behind the podium, though his six weeks ended abruptly, reportedly due to some Mike Richards-related chicanery. But when it came time to actually pick a host, multiple reports have indicated it was Mayim Bialik and then Richards, in that order, who got the job offer.
Left out in the cold was fan favorite LeVar Burton, but also Jennings. And many speculated that some controversy over past offensive tweets — and a haphazard defense of Bean Dad, you know, a thing that also happened in this year — was what torpedoed his odds. According to the report, that was exactly the case.
While Mr. Jennings didn’t have much experience hosting, the executives at Sony and producers at “Jeopardy!” were confident that he would grow into the role. He was a fan favorite and already a familiar face to the “Jeopardy!” machine from working as a consultant on the show since 2020.
Then came the old tweets.
The old tweets, in this case, were jokes the Jeopardy! GOAT made on social media that he apologized for when they resurfaced as his guest-hosting appearance kicked in early this year. They’re offensive, for sure, and were apparently enough to change his perception among focus groups the show convened as part of their selection process.
“Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair,” read one of the tweets from 2014. Mr. Jennings apologized, but the succession plan started unraveling.
Reaction to the tweets gave Sony executives pause, said people familiar with the selection process. Focus groups also didn’t react well to Mr. Jennings afterward, one of the people said.
Jennings’ tweets were bad, but it’s curious that his online missteps weighed heavier than an actual lawsuit Richards was involved in, as well as his own controversial comments on a podcast. It took all of that, and outrage over the influence he had on the selection process, to finally sink the embattled executive producer who somehow, as of now, still plays a role in the day-to-day operations of the show.
What happens next is, well, entirely unclear. And while Jennings paid the price for his bad tweets, it’s possible he may reemerge as an option to at least guest host again as the show struggles to find a path forward.