Risk Aversion Is Now A Risk

So, to reiterate an oft-repeated line I heard at a recent writer’s conference; traditional media isn’t interested in unknown quantities, they want big, well-known names that can sell books long before those books are published. I guess I understand that; nobody enjoys taking risks, especially with money. Having said that, by refusing to take risks, Jeopardy now serves a perfect primer for why that approach is now actually riskier than gambling on an unknown.

Most of us are aware of Alex Trebek’s recent, tragic death, from pancreatic cancer. and, thanks to the MeToo movement, most of us are aware that traditional media has fostered and harbored some genuinely psychopathic monsters, and not just at Fox News.

In recent weeks, most of us are aware of the massive search for a replacement host to a television show most Millennials remember from “That one time I got a really bad flu and couldn’t leave my room for two weeks,” or “Weekends at Grandma’s.” It’s not exactly big among my generation. And then, there was a brief, shining chance at renewing some interest, by bringing back LeVar Burton as host. The calm, soothing voice of my PBS-based childhood could come back and calmly explain why Milwaukee isn’t the source of the Nile. Or Mayim Bialik; she’d be good.

No. Sony, who owns Jeopardy went with the Executive Producer Mike Richards. Who has an already-established audience with — screw it; Richards was the supposedly known quantity to the owners of Jeopardy, so they went with him over what the fans wanted. And, in doing so, they inadvertently took a massive risk. In addition to absolutely no one other than daytime television producers knowing him, and the charisma of a very large moth, Mike got caught on a podcast saying some terrible things. Which may or may not upset you, but, when coupled with allegations of racist practices and sexual harassment, meant that Jeopardy willingly ignored its fans in favor of hiring Bill O’Reilly 2. Admittedly, it’s possible that LeVar Burton insisted upon a gold-plated elephant for his dressing room, or some other ludicrous request, but I strongly suspect it was an executive decision to assume that Richards was a known quantity, and then blunder ahead without conducting any sort of due diligence checks. And, subsequently, wound up taking a far greater risk than if they’d hired any of the presumed front-runners.

The owners of Jeopardy find themselves in the unenviable position of owning an intellectual property that has worked overtime to alienate potential new viewers, and, in the weeks it takes them to disentangle themselves, they’re likely to lose chunks of that sweet, established audience Richards was designed to appeal to. My generation has been brutally taught, yet again, that if we want innovative, daring content, we should check out Youtube or Hulu. And that’s the heart of the matter, really — Mike Richards represented that brief period of television history when there were a handful of television networks that competed with each other for viewers, but, now; television competes with every single person who can get a camera and an e-mail. And, to be honest, in a global marketplace of ideas, playing it safe is a gamble unto itself. And Jeopardy somehow not only made that clear; they branded their show as, “Perfect for any time travelers from 1985.” So, yeah, it would be great if Jeopardy used this brief time to decide if they want to appeal exclusively to that coveted over-80 demographic, or attempt to appeal to younger audiences who spend far too much of our time dealing with catastrophes previous generations saddled us with. The real tragedy here is; Jeopardy permanently screwed up that one shot, in favor of playing it safe right into irrelevance. Sony itself admitted that they’d hoped ousting Richards would magically relieve the tension it invited on itself, but I’m not inclined to be charitable for a group that insisted on treating fans exactly as G. Lucas treated his fans. My generation will remember Jeopardy as the show that could’ve been.

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Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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Patrick Koske-McBride

Patrick Koske-McBride

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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