As seamless — and bland — a start as he and longtime fans could have possibly hoped for, Ken Jennings began his run as "Jeopardy!" guest host Monday, replacing longtime host Alex Trebek who died last year.
At a few moments past 7, with announcer Johnny Gilbert's "Here is the guest host of 'Jeopardy!' as Jennings' cue, out stepped that guest host, who said that "sharing this stage with Alex Trebek was one of the great honors of my life [but] let's be totally clear: No one will ever replace the great Alex Trebek, but we can honor him by playing the show he loved."
No flash, no drama, no fireworks. It was just the sort of brisk, show-must-go-on performance you'd expect from someone who knows the show as well as anyone — with the exception of Trebek, who died Nov. 8 at age 80 and whose last episode as host aired Friday.
If he had opening day jitters, Jennings masked them well. He efficiently pushed through categories, clues, answers, Daily Doubles and the Double Jeopardy round. There were no gaffes, or any noticeable ones. Jennings even managed the requisite contestant/host chitchat asides — those corny icebreakers designed to slow the game and humanize the contestant.
Trebek was master of these, but Jennings at least got the corn right. To returning champ Jim Gilligan of New York: "You did get lost once?" Yes, as a matter of fact, Jim had been lost on mountain once. Jennings: "We know you got off the mountain eventually because you're here with us today!"
The "Jeopardy!" champ — with a record 74-game-winning streak, crowned the greatest of all time almost exactly one year ago in that much-hyped playoff series with James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter — may be first in a line of guest hosts before a permanent replacement is named later this year. (Per reports, former "Today" c-anchors Katie Couric and Meredith Vieira may get tryouts.) In public comments, Jennings has sought to downplay both his qualifications and ambition for the job. For example, in a show "tease" released Monday morning, he called the job of hosting "nerve-wracking" then said, that "I'm with the audience: I don't want me out there."
In that tease, posted on YouTube Monday morning, Jennings recalled "the best piece of advice I got was probably from my wife. I called home after the first five shows were recorded as guest host and she said 'How'd it go.' I said, 'listen, I obviously am no Alex Trebek.' And she was very kind: 'Of course not but do you think you might stand up to what he did on his first day?' "
Bottom line: He stood up just fine.