Jeopardy! Host Ken Jennings Sidesteps Strike Controversy in Season 40 Premiere

When Jeopardy! kicked off its milestone 40th season on Monday, Ken Jennings was indeed standing behind the game show’s iconic lectern. The franchise’s GOAT contestant-turned-emcee, however, dodged the elephant in the studio — AKA his decision to stay on as host during the ongoing writers’ strike — in his opening remarks.

Jennings — whose Season 40 return was only confirmed hours ago by producing studio Sony — had been facing pressure to follow co-host Mayim Bialik’s lead in not crossing the picket line. (As you’ll recall, Bialik bowed out of Season 39’s final weeks in a public expression of solidarity with the show’s striking writers, prompting Jennings to step in and close out the season.)

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Up until this morning, Sony refused to officially confirm that Jennings would handle hosting duties, although he foreshadowed his return last month on Twitter. Responding to a fan who called him a “disgrace” for crossing the picket line, Jennings highlighted the section of Sony’s recent press release noting that his predecessor, Alex Trebek, did the same thing during the last writers’ strike in 2007-2008.

As we previously reported, Season 40 of the mothership will feature — at least in the early going — both recycled questions and contestants (from Season 37) amid the current writers’ strike.

“I believe, principally that it would not be fair to have new contestants,” showrunner Michael Davies shared via the Inside Jeopardy! podcast last month. “Making their first appearance on the Alex Trebek stage, doing it with non-original material or as we’ll talk about a combination of non-original material and material that was written pre-strike. And so we decided that really we needed to invite back and give a second chance in general to players who probably thought that their chance to come back and play on the Alex Trebek stage had gone forever. So we’re gonna open the season with a second chance tournament for players from Season 37 who lost their initial game, and winners from that will advance to a Season 37 and Season 38 Champions Wild Card.” (FYI: S38 contestants have already had their Second Chance competition.)

Once the writers’ strike ends, “We’ll head into our Season 39 post-season, which will culminate with the [Tournament of Champions],” Davies continued. “So episodes at the beginning of the season for the Season 37 and Season 38 contestants, the material that we’re gonna be using is a combination of material that our WGA writers wrote before the strike, which is still in the database and material that is being redeployed from multiple, multiple seasons of the show.”

This all comes as questions continue to swirl around Bialik’s future with the franchise, post-strike. On Aug. 18, Jeopardy!‘s official social handles released a new poster celebrating the syndicated show’s just-wrapped 39th season that featured Jennings but not Bialik. Sony declined to comment on the apparent snub, although the artwork has since been deleted from the show’s social handles.

ABC, meanwhile, announced in late August that Jennings would replace Bialik at the helm of Celebrity Jeopardy!, when the prime time iteration returns on Sept. 27.

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