Alex Trebek wanted to keep hosting Jeopardy! as long as he was able. On Monday night's episode of Entertainment Tonight, Kevin Frazier speaks to Jeopardy! Executive Producer Mike Richards, who reveals that he and Trebek never discussed who'd be the host's replacement. The TV personality, who began hosting the show in 1984, died on Sunday at age 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
"He never mentioned names to us. He really wanted to be the host of the show, while he was the host of the show," Richards explains. "So we didn't say, 'Hey, what about this person? What about that person?' It was his show until he told us he was going to retire and, amazingly, he never did. I think that's a blessing."
While Trebek didn't get specific with Richards about the host's eventual replacement, "he did talk about what it would take to be a good Jeopardy! host."
"Typical Alex. He was self-deprecating [and] said, 'It's not that hard.' Let me tell you that it is maybe the hardest show on TV to host; 61 clues in 22 minutes, accents, pronunciations, scoring, calling on people, ruling on the answers," Richards says. "He talked a lot about how it needs to be someone that the audience will respect, that's believable in the role [and] has credibility... He was so smart that you bought it, because you knew he knew the answer, too."
People who fit that description from Trebek's point of view include actress Betty White, Los Angeles Kings play-by-play announcer Alex Faust, and CNN legal analyst Laura Coates, all of whom the host said had the chops to helm the show. Following Trebek's death, Coates called him a "humble legend."
Though Trebek tossed those three names out during interviews over the last couple of years, Richards says that the Jeopardy! team has "not actively pursued people" for the job just yet.
"We still had our guy and and now we don't," Richards explains. "We will eventually, in a couple weeks, start having those conversations, because we owe it to Alex to keep the show going. That's the only thing that will propel us, to be honest. That's when we'll start to really talk to people and see who can do this. It's going to take someone with an amazing skill set."
In fact, Richards reveals that Trebek made him and others "promise" not to end the show after his death.
"That is the one thing he made us promise, that this great show was not done. He did not want to be bigger than the show. [He] fought that his whole time. He said, 'It's the show. It's the clues. It's the contestants,'" Richards says. "Obviously, we all feel that he was an incredibly huge part of that, but that was his take."
It's in their return, Richards says, that he and the Jeopardy! team will pay tribute to Trebek.
"We will be back. We're in mourning now, as a group, as you can imagine, but we will be back and will honor his legacy by producing more great shows," he says. "... Every show this season, obviously, will be dedicated to him."
"I think the best thing that we can do to honor him is to come back and make great Jeopardy! shows. He loved a great competitive Jeopardy! game... He would look at the contestants and say, 'Thank you, guys and thank you for watching at home,'" he continues. "That's how we honor him -- you keep that hope, and that dream, and that intellectual curiosity going."
Tune in to Entertainment Tonight on Monday to see more of ET's interview with Richards during a special tribute episode to Trebek.