When the fans speak, brands need to listen—and that includes beloved television game shows.
When Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek passed away after 37 seasons, everyone knew there wasn’t a person who could fill his shoes perfectly.
He taught us trivia for multiple generations. He made being smart cool. And he did it with effortless flair and poise. Simply put, Alex Trebek is a legend.
But you must rebuild, even if you can never really replace.
Jeopardy! paraded out some really enticing guest hosts while the search for a permanent replacement was under way: Ken Jennings, Katie Couric, Aaron Rodgers, Bill Whitaker, Savannah Guthrie, Robin Roberts, LeVar Burton and Mayim Bialik.
And then there’s Mike Richards—the man no one asked for. He never had a chance.
As much as some want to blame cancel culture for coming after the man, he orchestrated his own downfall.
Richards stepped aside as Jeopardy! host following an outcry over offensive comments he’d made mocking Haiti, women and Jewish people (among other derogatory remarks) on an old podcast and resurfaced by The Ringer. He has also been fired from his executive producer roles at both Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.
Enter LeVar Burton: the man who gave us iconic TV, from Roots to Star Trek and the show that made me (and surely millions of other kids) fall in love with books, Reading Rainbow.
While he may not have been the choice of the network, he surely was the choice of the fans, who showed their support through a very visible campaign on social media.
Anyone who has ever had a client (or boss) that doesn’t listen to their ideas or advice knows how this feels.
While the concept that the customer is always right isn’t necessarily true for all brands, for a show like Jeopardy! that’s been on the air for nearly four decades, with a host who had achieved legendary status, more empathy should have gone into the selection.
Empathy requires understanding the audience. The audience wants Burton. The empathetic decision (read: the right decision) is Burton.
Mistakes can be forgiven, but doubling down on a bad decision is always a bad idea. Especially in today’s world, where word spreads as fast as a retweet.
Although every whim of every customer (or, in this case, audience member) can’t and shouldn’t be granted, there’s a lot to be said for movements. When there’s velocity behind an idea, you’ve got to open your eyes.
Jeopardy! was in a position to win more eyeballs based on its choice of host. Throughout the process of auditioning these candidates, the attention it got was more than the majority of shows could wish for. By listening to its audience, Jeopardy! not only could have avoided the backlash, but catapulted itself to another 37 years of greatness.
Now, only time will tell if the show will bounce back. Your move, Jeopardy!