Ken Jennings is hosting 'Jeopardy!' through the writers strike — just like Alex Trebek did

Ken Jennings and Alex Trebek had similar takes on
Ken Jennings and Alex Trebek had similar takes on Jeopardy! continuing during a writers strike. (Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images)

Like all of TV, Jeopardy! has been affected by the ongoing strikes by both writers and actors.

Co-host Mayim Bialik stepped back from her role in May in solidarity with writers. The SAG-AFTRA member's own organization has since created their own picket lines, resulting in the first such double strike since 1960. Jeopardy! officials have announced plans to skirt the rules by using prewritten clues and recycling both old clues and contestants. However, that doesn't fly for some viewers, who have publicly criticized the show's other co-host, Ken Jennings, for being disloyal to the show's scribes, who are calling for higher pay and protections against Artificial Intelligence. What's more, Jeopardy! has even delayed its annual Tournament of Champions, after contestants refused to return to the show amid protests.

The truth, though, is that the late Alex Trebek also hosted the game show during the last writers strike, which lasted from Nov. 5, 2007, to Feb. 12, 2008.

But it was Jennings who was reprimanded by actor and Celebrity Jeopardy! contestant Wil Wheaton for agreeing to continue standing behind the podium amid the picket lines.

"This is a VERY small town, Ken Jennings, and we will all remember this," the Stand by Me alum wrote on social media. "Your privilege may protect you right now, but we will *never* forget."

Another critic received a response directly from Jennings, whom the commenter called a "disgrace" and whose actions would make Trebek "turn over [in] his grave." Yikes.

To which Jennings replied with a statement from Sony Pictures TV, which produces the show: "Jeopardy! has a long history with and tremendous respect for the WGA and our writers. We have always been careful to honor our WGA agreements and we would never air game material not created by WGA writers. However, just as we did, led by Alex Trebek, during the 2007-2008 strike, we will deliver first-run episodes again this fall to more than 200 affiliate stations nationwide. Our current plan is to go into a holding pattern of sorts, pushing back the season 39 postseason to first produce original episodes featuring the best of our WGA written material."

In short, Jeopardy! has a lot of previously used material written by guild members that would still stump much of the population.

The statement continued, "Everyone at Jeopardy! hopes that the guilds and the AMPTP can reach a fair resolution quickly. Celebrity Jeopardy! will return on ABC this fall with original material written by WGA writers before the strike. Jeopardy! and Celebrity Jeopardy! are covered under the SAG-AFTRA Network Code, which remains in effect."

The syndicated show is expected to return for its 40th season on Monday, Sept. 11, although there will be the changes noted above.

Showrunner Michael Davies also explained differences this month on the Inside Jeopardy! podcast.

"I also believe, principally, that it would not be fair to have new contestants making their first appearance on the Alex Trebek Stage, doing it with non-original material," Davies said. "Or as we’ll talk about a combination of non-original material and material that was written pre-strike. 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 wildcard."

To which James Holzhauer, the Jeopardy! champ and record-holder for the most money won in a single game, chirped back, "If you don't have time to listen, here's the executive summary of today's announcement: "1:00-2:00: Jeopardy's writers are invaluable and we couldn't produce the show without them, 2:00-15:00: Here is how we will produce the upcoming season without them."

Davies had mentioned in that same podcast that the people who had scored highest on the Jeopardy! test, who normally wait to be called up for the show for up to 18 months, would now be in the pool for up to 24 months. He also said that contestants who come in second- and third-place would begin receiving an additional $1,000 in prize money. That means the third-place contestant will take home $2,000 and the second-place contestant will leave with $3,000, to help defray increased travel costs.

Trebek, who died of pancreatic cancer in November 2020, praised the writers in a 2010 interview with the Television Academy. "The writers, god bless them, are really sharp, and I'm happy to see they've won so many Emmys because of their writing. They can take a mundane fact and make it very entertaining, make it light."

The show touts 43 Emmy awards, several explicitly for writing.

Variety spoke to Jeopardy! writers Michele Loud, Jim Rhine and Billy Wisse as they picketed outside the Sony lot in Culver City, Calif., on May 6, just four days into the strike.

"Our words are on the screen every night," Loud told the publication. "There is no Jeopardy! without writers. Without us it's just an empty blue screen."