Who Will Be ‘Jeopardy!’ Host? Who Cares? The Show Is Having a Great Season

“Jeopardy!” hit disaster last year when its host search turned into a sideshow. There is still no permanent host, but the game show is on a hot streak in its 38th season.

A historic series of winning runs this season has produced three super champions with at least 10 victories in a row. Reigning champ

Amy Schneider

became the fourth person in show history to pile up more than $1 million in nontournament play. She’s the second player to join that club this season alone, after

Matt Amodio’s

38-game, $1.5 million run ended last October. With 34 wins as of Monday, her streak is surpassed only by Mr. Amodio and

Ken Jennings.

A new top producer is hyping the streaks and pushing an approach that treats “Jeopardy!” more like a sport.

Michael Davies,

a 55-year-old game-show guru known for “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire,” stepped in after the ouster of producer-turned-host

Mike Richards.

Mr. Davies is updating “Jeopardy!” with game stats typically seen on live sports broadcasts and data—tracking contestants’ clicks of their hand buzzers—that superfans have long craved.

All this has helped push “Jeopardy!” to 9.2 million total same-day viewers on average in its current season, according to Nielsen data. That is up 7% from the same period last season, and a return to numbers associated with late host

Alex Trebek.

The show is capturing the biggest audience of any program on TV outside of sports.

Mr. Trebek’s death in late 2020 thrust one of

Sony

Pictures Television’s biggest profit machines into uncertainty. “Jeopardy!” producers are still figuring out how much of the show’s performance and identity is tied to who hosts it.

Reigning champ Amy Schneider on the set of ‘Jeopardy!’.



Photo:

Jeopardy Productions/Associated Press

Mayim Bialik

and Mr. Jennings are alternating in the role through the end of the season in July. They were among 16 guest hosts last year during Sony’s search for Mr. Trebek’s successor. That quest imploded last August when Mr. Richards, who helped lead the search, got hired as host, then stepped down, and then was fired from “Jeopardy!” altogether (following uproar over past employment lawsuits and misogynistic and anti-Semitic jokes he made on a podcast). Mr. Richards didn’t respond to a request for a comment.

Talent Pool

The spectacle of the season, including the story of Ms. Schneider’s success as a trans woman, has given “Jeopardy!” a reprieve from the host drama.

“That seems so far in the rearview mirror,” said

Suzanne Prete,

executive vice president of business and strategy overseeing “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” at Sony Pictures Television. With the show on good footing, she said, there isn’t a rush to name a permanent host. She declined to comment on who might get the nod and when.

One factor in the mix for Ms. Bialik, a veteran actress with a neuroscience Ph.D., is the fate of her Fox sitcom, “Call Me Kat.” If the show is renewed for a third season, she hopes to rework her contract to allow more space in her schedule for “Jeopardy!” tapings, according to a person familiar with her situation.

Mr. Jennings, a record-setting champ with some 70 episodes under his belt as host, is a consulting producer on “Jeopardy!” and has a production deal with Sony.

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There is more “Jeopardy!” ahead than one host will be able to handle. People who have discussed the studio’s franchise expansion plans speculate that one host could land the full-time gig, with the other handling prime-time specials and potential spinoffs.

No host negotiations are happening yet, according to multiple people with knowledge of the process.

Stats and Box Scores

Like the current hosts, Mr. Davies is on “Jeopardy!” through the current season. He wants to keep that job.

“I would find it very difficult to leave now,” he said by email.

The showrunner is using a playbook for “Jeopardy!” that has worked for other pop-culture franchises: superserve hard-core fans, and broader audiences will follow. For a game show rooted in facts, geeking out is on brand.

‘Jeopardy!’ executive producer Michael Davies, left, hosts the ‘Men In Blazers’ podcast with Roger Bennett.



Photo:

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last week Mr. Davies introduced a sports-style box score to be published after every game. It features data that hasn’t been public before, namely, the success rate contestants have in clicking their hand buzzers to provide responses.

“Jeopardy!” buffs have coveted ways to measure buzzer skills, said Andy Saunders, who operates the stats-heavy site The Jeopardy! Fan, adding, “The core fan base knows that the signaling device is the singular most important part of the game.”

Analytics are flowing as #jeopardata in social-media feeds and on-air commentary. Mr. Jennings began recent games by noting Ms. Schneider’s percentage of runaway wins, and her then-average of 31 correct responses out of a possible 60 in the game’s two rounds. The goal has been to improve the show’s opening moments, Mr. Davies said, and provide audiences better insights into the game.

He first laid out his approach to the job in a blog post last month, stirring fans with a tale about “Jeopardy!” creator Merv Griffin, a “Doctor Who” reference and a promise to go all-out for next November’s Tournament of Champions when Ms. Schneider, Mr. Amodio and others will compete head-to-head.

“Our champions are our All-Stars—our Jordans, our Kobes, our Candace Parkers—and we want to elevate them as such,” Mr. Davies wrote.

Beyond his résumé as a producer, Mr. Davies has cult-hero status as co-host of the hit soccer podcast “Men in Blazers.” He has been on the comedic show with fellow British expat Roger Bennett for over a decade, recapping matches, hosting famous guests and creating a cottage industry with live events and merch. The podcast comes from Mr. Davies’s production company, Embassy Row, which is owned by Sony Pictures Television.

There is overlap between the “Jeopardy!” and “Men In Blazers” audiences. Mr. Davies said “Jeopardy!” contestants sometimes use his nickname from the podcast: “Davo.”

‘Healing’ Season

During the host scandal, reports of low morale among “Jeopardy!” staffers circulated. Mr. Davies’s presence is a lift on set, Ms. Prete said: “He’s got this infectious, joyful vibe.”

“Jeopardy!” fan Lilly Nelson describes the current season as “healing.” The 39-year-old school cafeteria worker in Chattanooga, Tenn., catalogs outfits worn by hosts and contestants using spreadsheets and countless screenshots. She shares the results on Twitter, such as the blouse Ms. Schneider wore on days 6, 10, 21, 28 and 32 of her streak, the eight pairs of spectacles Ms. Bialik rotates through and patterns in Mr. Jennings’s choice of neckties.

While fans debate the two hosts’ merits on social media and Reddit, winning streaks now dominate the conversation. Some say the pandemic has given contestants more time to prepare. Others cite evolving player strategies and the show’s 2020 introduction of an online “anytime” application test. Some complain that the marathon streaks make the show boring. And a camp of conspiracy-minded viewers say the streaks are designed to pump ratings and repair the show’s brand—a notion that ‘Jeopardy!’ executives and experts dismiss.

“People want to think it’s like pro wrestling. It’s not. Game shows are a federally regulated industry,” said Cory Anotado, founder of the game show news site BuzzerBlog and a “Jeopardy!” contestant who fell to Ms. Schneider on Jan. 13. “‘Jeopardy!’ is more sport than TV show.”

Alex Trebek, the Canadian-American host who led the long-running syndicated game show “Jeopardy!,” died in November 2020, the show said in a statement on social media. He was 80 years old. Photo: Amanda Edwards/Getty Images (Video from 11/8/20)

The Search for the Next ‘Jeopardy!’ Host

Write to John Jurgensen at john.jurgensen@wsj.com

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