4/21 Update: Burton will become part of the rotating guest host pool of “Jeopardy,” doing a two-week stint that will air in the summer. Burton shared the new on his Twitter feed saying, “THANK YOU… to all y’all for your passionate support! I am overjoyed, excited, and eager to be guest-hosting Jeopardy!, and will do my utmost best to live up to your faith you in me. YOU MADE A DIFFERENCE! Go ahead and take my word for it, this time.”
LeVar Burton has been a staple of television for generations of fans, whether that was as the blind Geordi La Forge in the “Star Trek” series, Kunta Kinte in the groundbreaking adaptation of “Roots,” or inspiring a love of reading on “Reading Rainbow.” Burton has been there for viewers as a staple of TV history, and as a result people want him to take on full-time hosting duties for one of the biggest icons of American television: the host of “Jeopardy.”
After the passing of long-time host Alex Trebek from pancreatic cancer in November, a petition on Change.org was quickly started asking the producers to pass the torch to Burton. Since Trebek’s death, the show has brought on a series of guest hosts, including Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Dr. Oz, the latter seeing criticism from fans considering Oz’s controversial medical claims. For a time, “Jeopardy” player Ken Jennings was in contention for the permanent position until ableist tweets from the past forced him to apologize.
All of this only adds further credence that Burton is the right host from the start. Burton himself is surprised that the petition is gaining new ground, with over 230,000 signatures and the endorsement of hall of fame TV stars like Dick Van Dyke on social media. Burton said during an interview with IndieWire it shows the support of the fanbase that they’d be willing to go to a website and take the time to sign their name.
“It confirms for me what I, myself, believe in that I think I’m the best person for the job,” Burton said. “I can’t think of anybody, and I’ve tried, [that] I’d be OK with having the job beside myself.” And that’s not ego talking by a long shot. Burton has a love and reverence for the series, right down to winning an edition of “Celebrity Jeopardy” back in 1995.
“It just makes sense to me,” Burton said. “It just fits right into the other things I am known for in my career. I’m just following my heart here, this isn’t nearly as much an intellectual decision as it is emotional.” And that emotionality doesn’t come with every project. Burton said he’s only felt it a few times, such as when he was offered his role in “Roots,” as well as with “Star Trek.” “To have that feeling about something doesn’t come along very often for me and I do feel that way about ‘Jeopardy,'” he said.
Burton has been breaking down the barriers of representation for decades, so it’s not lost on him that it would be significant for Black man to take over the position. If anything, he sees it as a natural progression that’s been a part of his career since he first saw Nichelle Nichols on “Star Trek.” “To be there for people of color makes so much sense to me,” he said.
Since the petition has been out, numerous news organizations have posted stories and talked to the actor about being a part of the show. However, Burton has yet to hear from the producers of “Jeopardy” themselves. “I’ve got to believe they’re aware,” he said. “All I’ve ever really wanted was to be in the conversation and to have an opportunity to [use] my skills at the job.” (IndieWire has reached out to “Jeopardy” for comment.)
Burton said he knows he could never replicate Trebek’s performance, but he would hope to provide the same respect for the series that the late host did. “I can’t be anybody but me. Not gonna try but every night I will bring the best LeVar that I can,” he said. If anything, considering the love and admiration fans have for “Jeopardy” — including 500 contestants decrying putting Dr. Oz in the hosting position, even temporarily — casting someone like Burton would continue to bring in the same comfort and familiarity Trebek fostered that made us love him and the show.
As fans wait for “Jeopardy” to comment on Burton, they can listen to the actor regularly on his podcast, “LeVar Burton Reads.” New episodes of “LeVar Burton Reads” are released every Tuesday, with additional advance episodes available on Stitcher Premium.