A Brief History of LeVar Burton’s Eight-Year Campaign to Host “Jeopardy!”

The "Star Trek" actor starts his guest-hosting stint tonight after years of lobbying

LeVar Burton
LeVar Burton attends the 70th National Book Awards Ceremony & Benefit Dinner at Cipriani Wall Street on November 20, 2019 in New York City.

For most of the Jeopardy! guest hosts who have filled in on the game show since the late Alex Trebek’s final episodes aired back in January, the gig has been a fun break from their day jobs. But when actor LeVar Burton finally gets his turn to host this week, it’ll be the culmination of a years-long campaign on his part to get the job.

The Reading Rainbow host has been tweeting about his desire to host Jeopardy! since 2013 — long before Trebek announced he was ill with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer or gave any indication that he was thinking about retiring — writing, “My dream job…? The new Host of Jeopardy,” and adding a #notevenkidding hashtag to prove he meant business. He followed it up by tweeting out a link to an online petition for him to be the new host, adding, “I signed!”

In 2018, the subject came up again on his social media, as he tweeted, “There is only one game show I’ve ever wanted to host…This is Jeopardy!” Later that year, a TMZ reporter stopped him outside LAX to ask him about it, and he affirmed his strong desire to take over for Trebek. “Oh, I’m more than interested,” he said. “I want that gig.”

After news broke of Trebek’s illness and fans began speculating who would replace him, Burton once again threw his hat into the ring, tweeting, “Not gonna lie, I feel like I’ve been preparing my whole life to occupy the @Jeopardy host podium when Alex retires.” He’s been regularly retweeting fans calling for him to host since then, and he tweeted out a link to another online petition — this one with more than 200,000 signatures thus far — calling for him to host as recently as last April.

Burton also is reportedly the only Jeopardy! guest host who reached out and asked for the gig. “LeVar and I’ve been speaking for a very long time,” Jeopardy! executive producer Mike Richards told USA Today that month. “I think he was the first person to reach out to me after Alex passed away, so this is not a new conversation … It came down to LeVar … speaking to his passion and really believing that he would be a great fit to be a guest host, and as we came down to the final group, we were excited to get it all to work together. This is not an easy process. It’s not a matter of picking up the phone and people clearing their calendars, and then just showing up. There’s a lot that goes into these bookings. It was much more about the conversations that we had than really him lobbying, because really, no one else has lobbied.  It’s really been a kind of a a very quiet path to cerebral conversations, and then us making decisions.” 

“I’ve thought and thought and thought — I’ve asked friends and family to help me identify someone out there who’s more qualified for the job than I am,” the Roots  actor told EW earlier this year. “I don’t believe there is anyone out there who is better suited for this job than me. And I will go to my grave believing that. I think my whole career is an advertisement for being the host of Jeopardy.”

Last month, he attempted to explain why he wants to host Jeopardy! so badly in a New York Times profile, saying, “It’s difficult to explain, but there’s something inside me that says this makes sense. I feel like this is what I’m supposed to do. I have been watching Jeopardy! more or less every night of my life since Art Fleming was host. Jeopardy! is a cultural touchstone, and for a Black man to occupy that podium is significant. Look, I have had a career for the [expletive] ages. Roots, Star Trek, Reading Rainbow. Won a Grammy. Got a shelf full of Emmys. I’m a storyteller, and game shows are tremendous stories. There’s a contest, there’s comedy, there’s drama. If you don’t know your [expletive] on Jeopardy! you’re sunk in full view of the entire nation. The stakes are high. I love that.”

This week, he’ll finally get to realize his dream and host the show. (His episodes will air July 26 through July 30.) There’s still no word, however, on who the show might select as Trebek’s permanent replacement.

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