Next week marks the beginning of LeVar Burton’s much-anticipated guest-hosting stint on Jeopardy!, a five-episode run that’s likely to undergo increased scrutiny even when compared to the attention that’s already been focused on the show’s efforts to find a formal successor to the late Alex Trebek. That’s both because a) hey, it’s LeVar Burton, but also b) Burton has made a point of campaigning for the job very explicitly, up to and including his endorsement of a massively successful petition designed to get him a shot. (Not that he’s alone in that; several other recent guest hosts, including the NFL’s Aaron Rodgers, have been publicly angling for the job.) Now, his run on the series (which has already been filmed) will transform Burton’s candidacy for the gig from “Oh, yeah, that’d be a really good fit!” to a practical reality. So: How’d it go?
Not so great at first, according to no less informed a critic than Burton’s wife, Stephanie Cozart Burton, who was on hand for the tapings. This is per an interview the Reading Rainbow and Star Trek actor gave to The Seattle Times this weekend about the gig, including his first-episode jitters. “I came backstage after taping the first episode and I said to Stephanie, ‘Well, how did I do?’ She said, ‘Ehhh.’”
Both Burtons agreed that the would-be host had let himself get caught up on the procedural minutiae of Jeopardy!, which runs pretty fast, what with all those categories and answers and questions, to say nothing of the nightmare scenario of having to make three avowed trivia maniacs seem normal during the dreaded interview segment. Luckily, Burton apparently managed to loosen up and be himself with his next four eps:
I made it my business for the next four chances at bat to just be myself, to forget about the procedure, to forget about the process, stop trying, stop focusing on the wrong thing. You’re not going to be smooth as Alex, let go of that. But what you can bring to the table is you. So that became my point of focus. And when it did, I started having fun.
Burton also noted that the whole concept of hosting Jeopardy! was “Scary. Really, really, really scary. Did I mention it was scary?,” likening it to jumping out of an airplane. That being said—and noting that he remains hopeful about getting the full-time job—Burton says he’s just glad to have gotten his shot at the Nerd Throne. “The most important thing is that I went for it and my passion was rewarded,” he told The Seattle Times. “I got what I wanted, which was an opportunity to compete for the job. If I don’t get the gig, it’s not immaterial, but it certainly is secondary. I got what I was after. The chance—get me in the room.”