Matt Lauer, Anderson Cooper, Dan Patrick, Or Brian Williams? Either Way, A Game Show’s Brand Is In Jeopardy

Morning television host Matt Lauer arrives for the International Radio and Television Society Founda..
Morning television host Matt Lauer arrives for the International Radio and Television Society Foundation Gold Medal award dinner in New York on March 9, 2006. REUTERS

Matt Lauer, the public-relations-challenged co-host of NBC’s “Today” show, is reportedly a leading candidate to replace Alex Trebek when the iconic quizmaster retires from “Jeopardy” in 2016.

The New York Post reported the rumor on Thursday, citing “knowledgeable” sources, but not everyone thinks the aloof morning-show mainstay -- who has been blamed in the media for “Today’s” sagging ratings as well as the high-profile departure of Ann Curry -- would be a suitable fit for the intellectual-but-amicable Trebek.

Case in point, the following Tweet from the “official” US Dept. of Irony:

 

Such say-it-ain’t-so sentiments were echoed as the rumor of Lauer’s possible “Jeopardy” takeover reverberated throughout the Twitterverse on Friday. The Post also reported that Lauer is not expected to renew his $25-million-a-year contract when it expires in 2015.

At 72, Trebek is not in the best of health. The host has suffered two heart attacks, one in 2007 and another in 2012. Sony Pictures Television (NYSE:SNE), owner of “Jeopardy,” announced a search for his replacement, but reactions to the company’s rumored choice underscore the precarious nature of its situation, and the unenviable task of remaking a game-show brand in the wake of a longtime host’s departure -- which is so often simply due to retirement. Trebek has been the face of “Jeopardy” since 1984. His even-keeled, likably snobbish demeanor is as inseparable from the show’s high-brow image as its Bizarro World answer-and-question format. And it’s almost impossible to imagine another host delivering more earnest attempts at proper pronunciation.

Which might be the reason Sony executives are willing to gamble on a decidedly non-Trebek type such as Lauer. It’s a strategy that has both succeeded and failed for game shows in the past. Drew Carey has been relatively successful in making “The Price Is Right” his own, despite lacking the 1950s-dad demeanor of Bob Barker, who spent 35 years doling out new cars and presiding over showcase showdowns before Carey took over in 2007. On the flip side, the rotund Louie Anderson couldn’t seem to fill Richard Dawson’s smooch-happy shoes on “Family Feud” when it returned to syndication in 1999. Anderson was let go after only three years, a pretty short stint in the game-show world.  

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Meanwhile, Deadline Hollywood reported that “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams and sports personality Dan Patrick are also on the short list of Trebek-replacement possibilities. According to the Post, Anderson Cooper -- whose contract with CNN ends next year -- is also being considered, but, as it stands, Lauer is the supposed front-runner. The idea that Cooper could either be ousted from CNN or jump ship is not the craziest notion in the world, given Jeff Zucker’s recent housecleaning at the Time Warner Inc. (NYSE:TWX) cable network. Cooper -- who mixes serious and silly better than any newsman on TV, as shown by this video on YouTube -- would perhaps be the safest bet for “Jeopardy.”  

As far as we’re concerned, though, Sony should seriously consider giving the gig to NY1’s Pat Kiernan, who is known to be looking for bigger and better things. New Yorkers would no doubt miss his longtime “In the Papers” segment, but, considering the trajectory of the newspaper industry, how long can that segment really last?

Got a news tip? Send me an email. Follow me on Twitter: @christopherzara

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