LeVar Burton says hosting ‘Jeopardy!’ started scary but ended on fun note

LeVar Burton’s stint as “Jeopardy!” guest host begins Monday, and after taping five episodes for the game show he said that hosting was “a natural progression” to him.

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The experience was not without some anxious moments for the “Roots,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Reading Rainbow” actor, who was chosen as a guest host after an online petition yielded more than 250,000 signatures.

“Being at home, it feels like a really relaxed half-hour, but it’s not relaxed at all,” Burton told The Associated Press. “You can’t let your focus drop for a nanosecond.”

In an interview with the AP, Burton said the experience was “scary.”

“Really, really, really scary,” he said. “Did I mention it was scary?”

Burton said it was intimidating to take over for Alex Trebek, who hosted the show for 37 seasons before his death in November 2020 from pancreatic cancer.

But Burton, in an interview on the “Tamron Hall Show,” said he was ready, Entertainment Tonight reported.

“I think that having the job of hosting ‘Jeopardy!,’ for me, it just feels like a natural progression,” Burton told the talk show host. “It encompasses almost everything that I’ve been about for the last 45 years of my career. It just seems like a good fit to me.”

Burton was one of six people chosen for the final round as “Jeopardy!” guest hosts. The show announced in April that Burton would be one of the hosts along with Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, David Faber and Joe Buck.

“I feel like this is what I’m supposed to do. I have been watching “Jeopardy!” more or less every night of my life since Art Fleming was host,” Burton told The New York Times Magazine. “I’m a storyteller, and game shows are tremendous stories. There’s a contest, there’s comedy, there’s drama. If you don’t know your (expletive) onJeopardy!’ you’re sunk in full view of the entire nation. The stakes are high. I love that.”

After a shaky start, Burton relaxed after receiving some advice from his wife, Stephanie Cozart Burton, who doubled as his makeup artist for the game show.

“I’ve jumped out of airplanes. I’ve walked over hot coals. This was a real challenge,” Burton told the AP. “First of all, because (‘Jeopardy!’) is singular in the culture and what it means to people as a part of their daily lives. And the fact that there are only two hosts (Trebek and Art Fleming) who have ever stood in that spot. The pressure, the natural tendency was to want to live up to Alex’s example, his legacy.

“I had, like all of the hosts, one day of rehearsal and the following day I shot five episodes of ‘Jeopardy!’ I came backstage after taping the first episode and I said to Stephanie, ‘Well, how did I do?’ She said, ‘ehhh.’ Now, this is a woman who loves me enough to tell me the truth. She said it wasn’t me.”

Once Burton stopped trying to emulate being Trebek and started being himself, he was able to relax.

“You’re not going to be smooth as Alex, let go of that,” Burton told the AP. “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.”

If he does not land the permanent hosting job, Burton told The New York Times Magazine that “it will hurt.”

“I’m not going to lie. But if that happens, I will get over it. I will be fine,” Burton told the magazine. “Remember, everything happens perfectly and for a reason. That is my default. It’s all going to be OK. Because it always is.”

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