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Reaction online was largely supportive, with one person praising his “touching opening statement,” while actor Justin Long tweeted, “I thought @KenJennings did such an admirable job stepping into those hallowed shoes tonight.”
Jennings will be the first in a series of guest hosts, with former Today show personality Katie Couric also lined up to sub in. Executive producer Mike Richards said in an interview with Deadline last week that a permanent new host won’t be named before spring.
“We are going to take our time and talk to a lot of people, have some people guest host and see what our fans think as well,” he said.
Trebek, who passed away on Nov. 10, had hosted the show since Sept. 10, 1984.
Although he had planned how he wanted to conclude his time on the show, Trebek’s final episode, which aired Friday, Jan. 8, ended with his familiar sign-off: “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen for spending the time with us. We’ll see you again next week.”
“Alex didn’t think that was going to be his last episode,” Richards said.
In an interview with Good Morning America on Monday, Jennings revealed that he spoke to Trebek on the weekend he died.
“I remember him just being very confident in me to be a guest host if he ever needed that,” he said, adding that he was reminded by Trebek that “the host is not the star of Jeopardy!”
“It’s just hard to imagine that in the TV landscape today, a star of his size saying, ‘Hey, the game is not about you.’”
On Monday’s episode, Jennings provided an emotional coda after naming Kothari the night’s winner.
“Thank you, Alex,” he said.