As the summer rolls on, “Jeopardy!” ends its final five weeks of original episodes in season 37 with five new guest hosts. Last week, ABC News anchor and “Good Morning America” co-host George Stephanopoulos took over from CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta.
As guest host, Stephanopoulos designated Share Our Strength’s campaign to end childhood hunger as the recipient of a donation the show gives in the amount of the contestants’ winnings.
Unlike the past guests, who hosted “Jeopardy!” for a fortnight (or six weeks, in the case of Ken Jennings), Stephanopoulos hosted only one week’s worth of shows. Because the program traditionally tapes the five shows that comprise a calendar week in a single tape day, Stephanopoulos had only one 12-hour period on-camera with which to master the game and potentially audition for the full-time job. (The guest hosts do get a day to rehearse with production staff prior to the cameras rolling.)
That said, the ABC anchor did a workmanlike job behind the lectern. Stephanopoulos kept the contestants appraised of their scores, ruled definitively when a contestant mispronounced the title of a book, and seemed at ease interviewing the players about their hobbies and interests. For some unknown reason, he also used his glasses as a prop, taking them off and waving them in his hand when he knew the camera was on him.
Like most of the other guest hosts, Stephanopoulos included more monologues than Alex Trebek. Between talking about the honor of hosting “Jeopardy!,” praising the late host Trebek, and plugging their charities, the guests seem not only to spend more time talking, but more time talking about themselves, which Trebek rarely did. Viewers anxious to test their trivia knowledge, or simply watch the contestants compete, might find themselves muttering at their televisions: Get on with it already!
In an interview promoting his appearance, Stephanopoulos disclosed a somewhat surprising fact: The “Jeopardy!” producers gave him the clues for his tapings ahead of time. At the end of his rehearsal, the writers handed him a spreadsheet with the next day’s clues to take back to his hotel and review.
By contrast, Trebek wrote years ago that he would normally receive an entire day’s worth of clues only on the morning of taping. And because “Jeopardy!” tapes five shows per day, that meant he would receive 306 clues when arriving at the studio.
Giving guest hosts like Stephanopoulos access to the clues the evening before taping allowed them more time to study and prepare, reducing the need to cram on the morning of taping. But it also presented a new level of security risk, if the guest host lost custody of material to be used in the next day’s gameplay. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the show’s production staff instructed Stephanopoulos to keep the spreadsheets with the next day’s clues in his hotel safe.
Replaced by His Co-Anchor
Starting Monday, Robin Roberts will take over behind the “Jeopardy!” lectern. Interestingly, Stephanopoulos announced at the end of Friday’s show that Roberts would replace him on Monday; heretofore, guest hosts have not announced their replacements, perhaps because “Jeopardy!” initially kept the identity of its guest hosts “something bordering on a state secret.”
Roberts, the former women’s basketball star and ESPN sportscaster, works with Stephanopoulos in their day jobs, having co-hosted “Good Morning America” since 2005. Now the two may find themselves competing head-to-head for the “Jeopardy!” hosting gig.
One can only speculate how Stephanopoulos—who reportedly would stay in the ABC anchor chair until 6:29 p.m. to prevent colleague David Muir from covering breaking news stories, and whose feuding with Muir prompted Disney Executive Chairman Robert Iger to fly across country during the pandemic to mediate the dispute—would react if his colleague Roberts and not he receives the permanent hosting slot.