Mayim Bialik: From JF&CS to Jeopardy!

Mayim Bialik: From JF&CS to Jeopardy!

The Hollywood actress, who steps in to host Jeopardy this month, is also an activist for a variety of Jewish causes.

Mayim Bialik is the first guest host on “Jeopardy!” this month.
Mayim Bialik is the first guest host on “Jeopardy!” this month.

Mayim Bialik, the popular sitcom star and outspoken supporter of Israel, is the first guest host of “Jeopardy!,” the syndicated television blockbuster that returned for its 38th season on Sep. 13.

For three weeks, Bialik will replace Alex Trebek, who died in 2020. She was also named the host of a series of “Jeopardy!” specials on ABC.

Bialik said she was thrilled about the opportunity: “What started out with my 15-year-old repeating a rumor from Instagram that I should guest host the show,” she said at the time, “has turned into one of the most exciting and surreal opportunities of my life!”

For fans like Mike Levine, a retired Atlanta pediatrician, Bialik is a classy choice for a program he considers something more than just another quiz show. Levine has watched almost every one of the 7,000 “Jeopardy!” episodes aired since the show began in 1984. “I think it’s on a higher level than so many of the game shows. I mean, I don’t watch any other game show. And I think that it’s just on a different level.”

The choice of “Jeopardy!” Executive Producer Mike Richards to succeed Alex Trebek as permanent host created controversy.

Levine’s wife, Esther, who prior to the pandemic hosted visiting authors on national book tours, remembers how intelligent and charming Trebek was on a visit to Atlanta in 1990. “I remember that, as I was taking him around the city, he was soaking up information. He was very down-to-earth, and he related really well to people.”

Bialik also has a strong appetite for learning. Although she played fictional neuroscientist Amy Farrah Fowler in the CBS hit “The Big Bang Theory,” in real life Bialik has a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA.

She hosts a podcast on mental health and is also interested in a variety of public issues. Her comments about children’s health issues have stirred controversy, and she’s endured hate mail for being a committed Zionist. Bialik’s grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.

Several years ago, she helped drum up support for the Jewish state by recounting that she has visited Israel regularly. Numerous members of her family live there. “I’ve been there at least a dozen times and plan to go at least a dozen times more and then some. I love the state of Israel. I love what it stands for. I love what it can be,” she said.

Mayim Bialik was the featured speaker at last year’s JF&CS annual fundraiser.

Last fall, she was a popular headliner for Jewish Family and Career Services’ annual fundraising event, which attracted a virtual crowd of 700. Allison Holmes, who manages JF&CS’s special events, was grateful for her support.

“Mayim Bialik had so much to offer us through her advocacy of mental health support, especially during the trying times of 2020, when so many of us came to the realization that we need some extra help dealing with anxiety, depression, and stress.”

But Bialik is facing a considerable amount of stress herself, as she takes up her new job on “Jeopardy!”

In August, Mike Richards, the person chosen to host the daily “Jeopardy!” program, was accused of making disparaging comments about women and Jews. The ADL called for an investigation into his background.

Richards, who was also the executive producer of the show, in addition to longtime game show success “Wheel of Fortune,” resigned after a storm of bad publicity.
It was an unexpected blow to a program that, over the years, has won 39 Daytime Emmy Awards from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It also received a prestigious Peabody Award in 2012 from the University of Georgia for “encouraging, celebrating and rewarding knowledge.”

Entertainment critics like Tom Jones, writing for the well-respected Poynter Institute for Media Studies, called Richards’ resignation a major dilemma for the popular program.

“The question now is how ‘Jeopardy!’ gets its credibility back,” as Jones put it. “For nearly four decades, it was one of the classiest and most respected shows on TV. In a matter of a few weeks, because of the whole Richards shenanigan, the show’s reputation has gone down the sewer.”

Part of Bialik’s job during the three weeks that she is set to guest host the daily program, may be to restore some of the prestige the show has lost in the last month, while avoiding any major hits to her own reputation. Depending on how she does, she could become the program’s permanent host.

It’s a considerable responsibility, according to Mike Levine, who has spent all these years as a “Jeopardy!” fan.

“It’s about more than the future of the game show. This has been a test of the morality of the entire television industry. It’s about keeping the reputation of at least one television program on a high plane.”

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