Welcome to the beginning of the end of Alex Trebek. The 72-year-old host of Jeopardy! is under contract to host the show he's hosted for 28-and-a-half years, but his so-so health and, more importantly to the rumor-mongers, the job prospects of Matt Lauer at the Today show have somehow launched the preparations for the preparations for the next phase of the most popular quiz show on television. Following Friday morning's Lauer-to-replace-Trebek tabloid bombshell, in came Nellie Andreeva of Deadline on Friday afternoon to report that Sony Pictures TV is linning up more potential hosts on its post-Trebek wish list.
So, two more to add to the list before the Jeopardy! fans/Matt Lauer haters stalk the night: NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams and NBC Sports's Dan Patrick are also apparently in the (very preliminary) running. Andreeva writes: "I hear all four have had exploratory conversations with Sony TV though the studio is not actively pursuing anyone at the moment." But that doesn't mean we can't explore the possibilities:
Matt Lauer: If the New York Post's "exclusive" is to be believed — and it's hard to believe any exclusive about Lauer these days — the Today show anchor's 2016 exit strategy may be looking into blue TV screens. He's "at the top of the list," apparently, with a contract that's conveniently expiring in 2015. Except Lauer is now attached with a stigma, suddenly seen by viewers and staffers alike as an unappealing figure even on the morning show where he has reigned for so many years. But you know what? Not everyone can be as lovable as Trebek, and "Suck it Lauer" might not sound so bad...
Anderson Cooper: He's certainly a do-it-all type, with Vanderbilt charm and Katrina rugged reporting skills, plus a genuine curiosity for information — in CNN's newfound devotion to blanket breaking news, he even seemed interested in that Carnival cruise liner. But it's unclear whether he's up for a sedentary gig, or whether audiences are, despite the Post reporting that Sony is also is also "strongly considering" him in addition to Lauer. His syndicated talk show got canceled and will end this summer, by which time the revamped CNN may have figured out what do with him — either keeping him on at the 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. slots, or turning him into a kind of roving reporter. Or maybe he'll spend a couple years figuring it out and then get down to all those questions/answers; Cooper apparently "likes the idea" of replacing Trebek, according to the Post. Probably because he's a pretty good (and popular!) three-time Celebrity Jeopardy! competitor, or at least he used to be:
(He won, by the way.)
Brian Williams: Williams is a quote-on-quote serious newsman with a funny streak who loves to do his cameo thing on shows like 30 Rock. Somehow, given his love for the Lorne Michaels crew, we always saw him moving into that world if he chooses to branch out, rather than pursuing something like Jeopardy! In any case, Williams took the NBC News anchor chair from Tom Brokaw in 2004 and will have served a full dozen years by the time Trebek's contract is up. And while a network anchor gig isn't just something you relinquish, who knows where the nightly newscasts will be in a couple years? Odds are he stays through the 2016 election at the very least, and even then he'll only be 56 years old.
Dan Patrick: The ESPN legend turned Sports Illustrated columnist turned radio host turned NBC football and Olympics anchor is — well, that's a lot of sports, and that's a lot of jobs. But as Deadline's Andreeva points out, all of these guys could always do double Jeopardy! duty — it makes for a relatively easy "second job" because of the shooting schedule. (The Post points to Meredith Vieira hosting Today with Lauer while she was hosting Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? on syndicated TV.) Then again, all of these guys are based in New York, and the show would have to move from Los Angeles for any of them. Times of change may be ahead for America's favorite quiz show, unless...
Alex Trebek: Maybe we're pushing him out too soon? Or maybe not. Trebek spoke about retiring even before his June heart attack. But he hasn't said anything since the Lauer-fueled speculation began the retirement talk again. He's practically synonymous with the show, of course; while there were other pre-Trebek incarnations, the syndicated Jeopardy! is the version that's existed since 1984, and it's the one that will linger in the pop-culture consciousness. Especially if, someday, Merv Griffin Enterprises pulls a Price Is Right and goes with, like, Drew Carey or something. At least so far, the rumors are A-list.