1. AARON (TREBEK) RODGERS. In the first of 10 “Jeopardy!” episodes guest-hosted by Aaron Rodgers—who had prepared for this opportunity with the intensity he’d use to prep for a playoff game—there was a commercial break, as always, halfway through “single” Jeopardy. Rodgers had studied old show episodes for weeks, and spent all of the previous day in practice rounds, simulating exactly what he’d do in these 10 games, over and over. But he found game one to be . . . intense. The moment this commercial break started, Rodgers said to longtime executive producer Mike Richards, “Whoa! You were right. The real game is totally different.”
“The intensity goes up in the real game, which Aaron found out,” Richards told me from California on Friday night. “You can see, even with the second show, his voice got better, his command got better, he started to enjoy it and have fun. But the truth is, you never truly relax. You’ve got the open, introducing the categories, 15 questions, the short interviews with the players, 15 more questions, 30 questions in Double Jeopardy, sum up, introduce Final Jeopardy, then do that, and through it all, you’re the arbiter of every question.
“And,” said Richards, “there’s no huddle.”
Richards is right—Rodgers did get better as the week progressed. In the interviews during show three, a contestant said she’d once been on Willie Nelson’s tour bus. “Lotta smoke?” Rodgers shot back. I don’t think he mispronounced one proper or place name all week, and handled clues like this, from a category called “Mythological Trios,” adroitly:
“Fenrir, Hel and Jormungand were the 3 children of this trickster and the lovely Angrboda.”
Not exactly like pronouncing “Ndamukong Suh.”
Also notable: Two weeks of shows are done in three days. The first day—Feb. 16, in this case—was the all-day rehearsal and meeting with the crew at the Sony Studios in Culver City, Calif. Day two (Feb. 17): Two shows in the morning, lunch, three shows in the afternoon. Day three (Feb. 18): Repeat day two. “At the end of the three days,” Richards said, “Aaron was exhausted. But he was so complimentary to everyone in the studio and on the team. We were his offensive linemen for those three days. He treated us all so well. He hated to go, and we hated to see him go.”
Richards saw that Rodgers, in the wake of doing the show, says he’d love to be the permanent host, and Rodgers told The Ringer he didn’t think he’d have to give up football to do it, seeing that a year’s worth of shows are taped in 46 days. “It’s the ultimate compliment to Alex and to the franchise that Aaron is that forward with his thoughts, and so complimentary of the show,” Richards said. With guest hosts working through the summer, it’s likely that Sony will look at the performances, ratings and TV-comfort of all the guest hosts before making a call on the successor to Trebek. Former champ Ken Jennings is likely the sentimental favorite, but who knows? It’s hard for me to think Jennings would drive more traffic to the show than Rodgers. My feeling is the biggest hurdle for Rodgers is the show being on hiatus from July 20 to the end of January, give or take a couple of weeks, every year he continues playing football. Six-plus months, dark, is a potential issue, I would think. But if Sony loves Rodgers, anything’s possible.
“What I find fascinating about Aaron,” said Richards, “is his second career could be better than his first.”
Last thing from Richards: “Fun moment in the second week. I can’t give it away, but it’s Packer-related. And Aaron’s exasperated.”
Ratings gold in Wisconsin.