Mayim Bialik is standing with striking Jeopardy writers, while Ken Jennings is crossing the picket line and resuming hosting duties.
Not long ago, the general consensus was that Ken Jennings was a better Jeopardy host than Mayim Bialik, the Big Bang Theory veteran who alternates hosting with Jennings. Fans and contestants complained about things like how Bialik delivers her questions, but just this week, she managed to win fans over. As the Daily Beast reports, Bialik decided “to stand down from her Jeopardy hosting duties in the show’s final week in deference to the Writers Guild of America strike,” but Jennings is crossing the picket line to host the show.
Part of what makes this so significant is that Mayim Bialik is an actor and not a writer, so she is under no union obligation to strike. However, she is stepping down to express solidarity with writers who are striking to secure better wages as well as protections against emerging technology such as AI. Ken Jennings is not a writer either, but since he is returning to host Jeopardy! in its final week, many fans are angry that Bialik is standing with struggling writers and that Jennings is not.
Ken Jennings’ decision might have made fewer ripples if Jeopardy was not a WGA show. Because of this, many of its writers are currently on strike, though since they completed their writing duties before the strike began, it hasn’t affected the current season. By voluntarily stepping down as host for this final week, Mayim Bialik is expressing solidarity with the show’s writers in a very public way.
Making Ken Jennings look even worse is that Mayim Bialik stepping down from Jeopardy hosting is merely the latest example of a Hollywood celebrity standing with the WGA. Another high-profile example is Drew Barrymore, who stepped down from hosting the MTV Movie & TV Awards this year in solidarity with striking writers. And social media is filled with celebrities like Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk expressing complete support for the writers.
Again, Ken Jennings is not a writer and under no obligation to join his striking WGA team, but many Jeopardy fans can’t help but see his actions as a kind of betrayal in the wake of Mayim Bialik stepping down. If the show’s final week were to be delayed, it would send a clear message to the producers of this WGA show that they need to stand by the writers who help make it so great. But as Jennings crossed the picket line, it looks more and more like he is simply looking out for his own bottom line.
A somewhat more cynical explanation for why Mayim Bialik stepped down from her assigned hosting duties is that she is getting ahead of what might be a historic joint Hollywood strike. There is currently no way of knowing when the WGA strike is going to end, and the Director’s Guild of America began their own negotiations on May 10, with the actors union set to begin negotiations this summer. If negotiations break down and actors and directors join writers in striking, it could grind Hollywood production to a halt, leaving Ken Jennings to ask himself a question in the style of Jeopardy!: “Why are workers’ rights more important than my paycheck?”