In 2013, LeVar Burton tweeted, “My dream job…? The new Host of #Jeapordy,” complete with the hashtag #notevenkidding. The following day, he tweeted a link to a petition nominating him. He said much the same in 2018—“There is only one game show I’ve ever wanted to host… This Is Jeopardy!”—and again in the fall of 2020: “Not gonna lie, I feel like I’ve been preparing my whole life to occupy the @Jeopardy host podium when Alex retires.” After the 2018 declaration, TMZ stopped him at LAX, that perennial place of celebrity stop-and-chats, where he once again declared his candidacy. “Oh, I’m more than interested,” he said. “I want that gig.”
Which is to say that Burton’s ascendance on Monday to Jeopardy!’s storied Culver City lectern has been a long time coming. Given that a more recent petition in support of him becoming the show’s permanent host has now topped 250,000 signatures, his one-week stint as Jeopardy!’s latest guest host is by far the most intensely anticipated as the quiz show winds down its season. (He did eventually correct that initial misspelling—which, for what it’s worth, is fitting for Jeopardy!, where spelling does not matter for contestants so long as it doesn’t affect a word’s pronunciation.)
Burton’s qualifications are self-evident to anyone who grew up around a television in the 1980s and 1990s, when he held court on PBS’s Reading Rainbow, which, together with Wishbone, was the kind of edutainment that schoolkids pined for substitute teachers to put on. Add to this the bona fides from his star turns as Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Geordi La Forge and Roots’s Kunta Kinte, and Burton occupies an exceedingly rare position in pop culture: With his air of benevolent academic authority and seemingly of-another-era universal appeal, he is adored by generations of viewers. A whole lot like … Alex Trebek.
And, well, Burton knows it. Along with Aaron Rodgers, who began his own guest hosting stint by telling The Ringer that he thought he could continue to play football and be the permanent host, Burton is one of just a handful of guest hosts to publicly campaign for the job. Others have somewhat bizarrely made clear that they don’t want it at all: Bill Whitaker and Savannah Guthrie professed themselves fans of their respective day jobs, while Katie Couric said of wanting the gig, “I don’t think so.” Buzzy Cohen, meanwhile, has technically been in the game since 2017, when he told Trebek he was gunning for his job.
But in recent months, Burton, who won a game of Celebrity Jeopardy! in 1995, alone has been making the rounds professing himself the best possible successor. According to Jeopardy! executive producer Mike Richards, Burton was “the first person to reach out to me after Alex passed away” in November, before the show had even announced plans for the guest host rotation that began in January and will see a total of 16 guest hosts step in ahead of the show’s August 13 season finale. “I don’t believe there is anyone out there who is better suited for this job than me,” Burton said this spring; “I feel like this is what I’m supposed to do,” he told The New York Times last month. He has pointed out, rightly, that in a game show industry that has historically been fronted overwhelmingly by white men, Sony’s hiring of a Black man to be the face of a show like Jeopardy!—with its enormous audience and enduring cultural capital—would be no small thing. “It will hurt,” he told the Times of potentially not getting the permanent job. “I’m not going to lie.” (Burton did not respond to a request for comment.)
In turn, parent studio Sony, which Richards has previously said would have a permanent host in place “by the end of July or early August,” might find itself in an awkward place if Burton’s week of hosting fizzles, or if the powers that be simply have someone else in mind. Given Burton’s willingness to rally his fans—even as late as this spring, just weeks before taping his episodes—the hiring of anyone else might be the occasion for a fair bit of disappointment. It’s not hard to imagine that Burton’s supporters, who have spent this season being told that Jeopardy! and Sony are using viewer response as one of the primary factors to determine the permanent host, might feel some degree of betrayal if their guy doesn’t end up being the one.
“Our passionate fans are telling us what they like,” Richards said this spring, “and we are listening.”