I’ll Take ‘Succession Plan’ for $2,000

The most high-profile job opening in America right now is host of the game show Jeopardy! Our experts weigh in on whom they’d audition to succeed the beloved Alex Trebek.

There are more than 8.1 million job openings in the United States, according to the latest government stats. But only one comes with the chance to be adored by millions of fans and hand out thousands of dollars in prizes to people who can give a correct response—in the form of a question.

As almost anyone knows, the trivia game show Jeopardy! has been looking for a new host since Alex Trebek, the show’s beloved emcee for 37 years, died last November. For the past couple of months, the show has been rotating through a series of guest hosts in semi-tryouts, with appearances by several prominent news anchors and TV personalities, the show’s all-time greatest player, and even Aaron Rodgers, the NFL’s reigning most valuable player and a self-professed superfan of the show. While many of the guests got good reviews—especially Rodgers—the show’s producers haven’t named a permanent successor.

Much like any high-profile succession of a successful leader, the show has a tough task ahead of it. Producers must thread a needle between redefining the show while not damaging its legacy, says Bill Sebra, global operating executive for Korn Ferry’s professional search and recruitment process outsourcing business. “Whomever they pick will have to harness Trebek’s persona, honor it, but also make it their own,” he says.

The host tryouts are an unusual move, but Sebra says they help gauge fit and drive ratings around new potential hosts. The show has scheduled more guest hosts through August, when it’s expected that producers will name a permanent successor.

But why wait until then? We gathered more than a dozen Korn Ferry experts—world-class recruiters in their own right—for their thoughts. "The host needs to have that strong interpersonal orientation," says Stu Crandell, the global leader of Korn Ferry's CEO and Executive Assessment pratice. Here’s a short list of people our experts would nominate.

Malcolm Gladwell

The author of numerous best sellers, including The Tipping Point and Blink, would make an ideal host, says Deepali Vyas, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and global cohead of the firm’s Fintech practice. Vyas, an avid Jeopardy! fan, says part of what made Trebek so successful was his ability to “maintain the storyline of the game” and make the contestants “come to life.” That’s why she thinks a cerebral storyteller with knowledge of a broad range of topics, like Gladwell, would make a good candidate. “He’s smart, authentic, has a high degree of emotional intelligence, and can tell a story people will remember,” she says.

Wayne Brady

Not only does Brady have experience hosting game shows and his own talk show, but he also possesses a range of skills that the producers could use to give the show a new energy, says Kevin Cashman, Korn Ferry’s global leader of CEO and executive development. He points to Brady’s comedic and improvisational ability—his role on Whose Line Is It Anyway? won him five Emmy Awards—as skills that could play off contestants to create a more spontaneous feel.

Bob Barker

Why not pick the man who oversaw the longest-running daytime game show in North American television history? Cashman is a fan of Barker, who hosted The Price Is Right from 1976 to 2007 (and emceed another game show, Truth or Consequences, for 19 years prior to then) with a perfect combination of enthusiasm, authenticity, empathy, and humor. But since he’s 97, the producers might be looking for a younger host.

Condoleeza Rice

The former US Secretary of State would bring the same sort of natural curiosity and passion for learning to the show that Trebek did, says Vyas. Rice is an expert in politics and history, two areas that the show leans heavily on, of course. But she’s also a golfer, world traveler, business professor, and NFL superfan. Her years in diplomacy have honed her ability to let others shine while still be the boss, a key intangible trait of a successful host.

Conan O’Brien

O’Brien has always been considered late-night TV’s cerebral comedian. He’s also one of the most self-deprecating. That mix is what makes O’Brien so engaging to watch, says William Simon, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and global leader of the firm’s Media and Entertainment practice. “He’s bright, articulate, very well read, and can engage with a wide range of people,” says Simon. Plus, O’Brien might have an opening in his schedule. This week, he announced that he’s ending his talk show in June after 11 years on TBS and nearly 30 years in total hosting talk shows.


Matthew McConaughey

Alright, alright, alright. We’ll admit he isn’t the most obvious choice. But neither was Trebek. The Academy Award–winning actor has the same easygoing, friendly, everyman vibe as Trebek, and throughout his career, he has reinvented himself in unexpected ways. “He’s relatable, agile, compassionate, and can hold the current audience while pulling in a new audience,” says Sebra. That, in a nutshell, is exactly what a host is supposed to do. But better hurry—rumor is, he’s considering a run for Texas governor.