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Scott D. Pierce: Is ex-Utahn Ken Jennings the leading candidate to be permanent ‘Jeopardy!’ host?

He’s had the best ratings of any of the guest hosts.

(JEOPARDY! via AP) This image released by JEOPARDY! shows Ken Jennings, a 74-time champion the the set of the popular quiz show.

There’s been excitement in some quarters for Levar Burton’s turn as a “Jeopardy!” guest host, but I’m still rooting for a former Utahn to get the gig full time.

Not that I have anything against Burton or most of the other temporary hosts trying to fill the shoes of the late, great Alex Trebek, but I’m a big Ken Jennings fan. Both because he’s proven himself to be a good host and because he’s proven himself to be a great guy.

Burton has been openly campaigning for the job — Not that there’s anything wrong with that! — and a social media campaign by his fans caught the attention of “Jeopardy!” producers.

Jennings has been more low key about his ambitions. And he ended up on the show because, well, pretty much everybody thought of him first. Certainly the producers did.

The former Utahn is smart, obviously. He is, arguably, the greatest player in “Jeopardy!” history, with the longest winning streak (74 in a row) and a win in the “Greatest of All Time” event in 2020.

But, beyond that, he’s witty and personable. I’ve interviewed him numerous times over the years — both in person and on the phone — and he’s always struck me as charming, funny, and unassuming. We once met at a Beverly Hills hotel for an interview, and he both drove himself and tried to pay the check at the restaurant. Lemme tell you, most stars don’t do that.

And sure, Jennings is confident. He knows he’s smart. But he has a sense of humor about himself and he doesn’t condescend.

In that way, he’s a lot like Trebek. He’s got the right attitude to be Trebek’s permanent successor.

We don’t know exactly when Sony will make an announcement about who’ll get the job. But, in all likelihood, it’ll be soon, because we’re just weeks away from taping episodes for the 2021-22 season, and the plan is to have the new host in place when those episodes start airing on Sept. 13.

I hope it’s Jennings.

(In Utah, new episodes of “Jeopardy!” air weeknights at 6:30 p.m. on KJZZ-Ch. 14.)

(Eric McCandless/ABC via AP) In this image released by ABC, host Alex Trebec, left, appear with contestants, James Holzhauer, center, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, right, on the set of "Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time," in Los Angeles.

Utah ties

By the way, when Jennings became a media sensation by winning all those “Jeopardy!” matches (and $2,522,700) back in 2004, he was a Utahn. The BYU grad and then-software engineer was living in Murray.

Two years after he won the big bucks, he moved back to his home state of Washington. But, he said, still visits Utah “all the time.”

While his religion hasn’t come up much during this be-the-next-host derby, it was a major thing when Jennings first became a “Jeopardy!” champion. An ESPN: The Magazine columnist referred to him as “the Mormon assassin.” And David Letterman, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien all joked about it in their monologues.

(By the way, Jennings’ appearances on various “Jeopardy!” tournaments and events have upped his earnings to more than $4.5 million.)

(Fox/Robert McKee) Homer Simpson (voiced by Dan Castellaneta), Neil deGrasse Tyson as himself, Suze Orman and Ken Jennings are hired to teach at Mr. Burns' for-profit university on "The Simpsons."

Jennings is No. 1 in the ratings

For what it’s worth, Jennings had the longest stint of any of the guest hosts — six weeks — and the highest Nielsens. He averaged a 6.0 national rating.

Only one other guest host hit a 5.9, and that was, oddly enough, “Jeopardy!” executive producer Mike Richards, who hosted the two weeks directly after Jennings.

Ken Jennings • 6.0 average (6.1, 5.9, 6.0, 6.1, 5.9, 5.8, 6.1)

Mike Richards • 5. 9 averaged (5.9, 5.9)

Aaron Rogers • 5.55 average (5.6, 5.5)

Katie Couric • 5.45 average (5.6, 5.3)

Bill Whitaker • 5.2 average (5.2, 5.2)

Buzzy Cohen • 5.1 average (5.1, 5.1)

Mayim Bialik • 5.0 average (4.9, 5.1)

Mehmet Oz • 5.05 average (5.2, 4.9)

Anderson Cooper • 4.95 average (5.1, 4.8)

Savannah Guthrie • 4.9 average (4.9, 4.9)

Sanjay Gupta • 4.8 average (4.9, 4.7)

George Stephanopoulos • 4.8 average (4.8)

Ratings for Robin Roberts — week of July 18 — and Burton are not yet available. David Faber and Joe Buck will host in the next couple of weeks.

What, exactly, does all that mean? Well, a tenth of a rating point is worth millions of dollars, so there’s that.

But other factors play into this. Jennings was the first guest host, and “Jeopardy!” was much in the news at the time. Ratings tend to be lower in the summer, which no doubt hurt some of the more recent hosts.

And Sony executives are, no doubt, pouring over research and testing of all the guest hosts.

However, those ratings certainly won’t hurt Jennings’ chances to land the job permanently.

Anybody but Dr. Oz

When I said I don’t have anything against most of the other guest hosts, I meant everybody but Mehmet Oz. The host of “The Dr. Oz Show” shouldn’t be on the air in any capacity, what with his long history of promoting dubious, dangerous and/or disproved treatments. Remember, six years ago more than 1,300 doctors signed an open letter calling him “a quack and a fake and a charlatan” whose “advice endangers patients.”

Why is he still on the air? And why are stations around the country — including KSTU-Ch. 13 in Utah — still airing his show?



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