LeVar Burton’s first TV acting job was playing Kunta Kinte on the smash hit 1977 miniseries Roots. His second was participating in the original Battle of the Network Stars.
He’s done several acting jobs since then, including hosting Reading Rainbow for 23 years. Then there were those Big Bang Theory episodes where he appeared as himself. There’s one obvious acting gig, however, they haven’t called him in to audition for yet — hosting Jeopardy!
Burton showed he had the smarts on a 1995 episode of Celebrity Jeopardy!, winning $14,5000 for the Somalia Foundation. He won a further $167,500 for charity as part of a special Star Trek cast member episode of The Weakest Link in 2001.
So he knows game and quiz shows. And while it’s been fun to peek back into Jeopardy! while Green Bay Packer QB Aaron Rodgers has been calling out signals (answers?), other recent hosting tryouts have been audience repellent. Doctor Oz? Puleaze, this will only encourage Dr. Phil. Katie Couric? As Trebek used to say, “No, sorry.”
Anderson Cooper is scheduled to host Jeopardy! for the next two weeks, and he’ll likely do well. Mayim Bialik is scheduled to host May 31 – June 11. Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Savannah Guthrie will also take part in two week hosting assignments.
Before any of this even began, however, most fans felt the impossible job of following long time host Alex Trebek would fall to one of two people: Ken Jennings — an ultimate champion with the game show’s longest winning streak — and Burton. Jennings aced his weeks at the helm in January. Burton, however, hasn’t even been contacted yet by the producers despite a “Make LaVar Burton the Next Host of Jeopardy!” petition which, as of this writing, has 237,689 signatures. Make that 237,708. You can add your name here.
Burton himself has let it be known he’d love to test for the job:
Leaving this here in the event the powers that be are listening… https://t.co/xB3x8atDCv— LeVar Burton (@levarburton) April 6, 2021
I interviewed Burton five years ago when he was a guest of the Banff World Media Festival. We didn’t talk about Jeopardy!, but we did touch on Roots, Star Trek and another epic series he took part in: Battle of the Network Stars. This was way back in 1977.
“I was a 19-year-old kid from Sacramento, Calif.,” says Burton, “so to be dropped into the middle of that universe was really kind of overwhelming.”
Burton says he lined up for track and field events with Gabe Kaplan, Linda Carter, Farrah Fawcett and Robert Conrad. Another competitor he met for the first time on Battle was original Star Trek captain William Shatner. “He was on the Canadian team,” says Burton, who would later boldly go off on his own seven year mission as chief engineer Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The 64-year-old recalls various versions of Battle, including a U.S. vs. the World celebrity competition. “Because I was born on a German military base, I was on the rest of the world team,” he says. “I met Roger Daltrey (of the Who) and Dudley Moore on the British team. It was crazy! They don’t make television like that anymore.”
Therefore, if just to have contestants confronted with the answer: “The only person to host Jeopardy! and be on Battle of the Network Stars,” the answer has to be: Who is LeVar Burton. Make it so!