I’ll take Grass-Roots Uprisings for $800

Fans leverage online engagement to pick the next full-time host of Jeopardy!

Populism has its moments. (If you can call trivia nerds populists.) Thanks to a fan’s online petition, LeVar Burton will host this week’s episodes of “Jeopardy!” His first show airs tonight, and yes, I’m excited. I’ve been a Jeopardy! fan since Art Fleming hosted and Don Pardo was the announcer. I’ve been around the block a few times. 

Before Alex Trebek’s terminal cancer diagnosis was revealed, plenty of drama surrounded who would succeed him when his contract was up in 2022. I was on Team Dan Patrick for awhile, even though he’s not that much younger than Alex.

Ken Jennings, the GOAT, was the presumed front-runner, especially when he became a consultant for the show not long before Trebek’s passing. But Jennings was clear he didn’t want the gig permanently, even after a successful six-week stint as the first guest host.

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Burton fan Joshua Sanders posted a petition on Change.org days after Trebek died to push for Burton as the permanent host. Sanders’ initial goal: 25,000 signatures. It has nearly 270.000.

Burton endorsed the idea in November —long  before the show’s producers invited him to sit in the host’s chair for a week. 

I saw the petition and signed not long after it launched. On paper, he’s perfect — the acting skills he displayed as Kunta Kinte and Geordi LaForge, along with his advocacy for literacy hosting “Reading Rainbow,” check every box.

But he wasn’t among the first group of guest hosts announced in November. Or January. Or February.

In April, Burton offered a little nudge.

It didn’t hurt.

Online fandom won Burton an audition.

He should be an excellent full-time host because (unlike some of his predecessors) he’s relatable. Viewers would invite him into their living rooms. The interview he gave to The Associated Press after his tapings gave you a taste of that.

Guest-hosting was “Scary. Really, really, really scary. Did I mention it was scary?” he said.

The pressure of following Art Fleming and Alex Trebek showed in his first episode, he said. “Like all the hosts, I had one day of rehearsal and the following day I shot five episodes of ‘Jeopardy!’”

His wife Stephanie, who was his makeup artist, told him after the first episode he was “ehhhh.” Too stiff. 

With the second episode, he decided to be himself. 

You’re not going to be as smooth as Alex, let go of that. But what you can bring to the table is you. So that became my point of focus. And when it did, I started having fun.

Can’t wait.

I hope he gets the gig full-time.

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The best boy, hanging in there

Our very large, very senior dog Baxter gave us a health scare over the weekend. A digestive system crisis more acute than his baseline digestive issues. He’s on meds, and is doing better, but he’s been living on house money for months. (Did I mention he’s really old?)

He’s the sweetest, goofiest, best-behaved dog I’ve ever been around. He’s also been the perfect companion as I’ve worked from home. We adopted him nearly 2 ½ years ago, and he’s always been a delight. Even this nasty health problem didn’t overcome his superb house training. He insisted on doing all the truly disgusting stuff outdoors. He’s the best.

Taking stock of your social portfolio

The Sunday Axios newsletter addressed social networking and friendship, a recurring theme here. Data from the American Enterprise Institute shows “Americans have fewer friends than in the past, and are less likely to have a best friend.”

Newsletter editor Mike Allen sees a glass half-full. He acknowledges the challenges COVID-19 and remote work pose to building strong personal bonds. But, citing Kate Murphy in The New York Times, he also says the pandemic gave us an opportunity to decide who’s really important. How we might prune our contact list and choose who’s worth serious investments in time and social capital.

I can’t leave a newsletter featuring “Jeopardy!” without paying tribute to ...